IMG_20150118_182657Sunday evening about 5:30 our friend Enrique Jr. picked us up and we headed for the municipality of Tlaquepaque (pronounced tla ka pa ki). He was going there to meet his cousin and help her set up her apartment. So we got a ride and a good introduction to an artsy part of the city. This is an old district with narrow streets and beautiful old buildings. There is one long street in the center that is for pedestrians only and it is packed full of shops and art galleries. We walked the length of it and explored some fantastic galleries. The most famous is by the Mexican Artist Sergio Bustamante who is noted for his triangular headed figures. It was a most amazing collection of bronze sculpture we have ever seen. You can Google him for photos and information.

IMG_20150118_181916One interesting buskers was a guy with a bird cage and a couple of well trained finches. For 10 pesos the guy would let the finch out of the cage giving it treats and then the bird would go over to a small box and pull a folded slip of paper out which was a fortune telling for the person paying. The bird had ample chance to fly but chose the treats instead.

The central plaza was crowded with people and venders and performers. One area was set aside for kids to paint toys and plaques. I took one photo of kids at a table and immediately a little guy comes up for me to take his photo. then another. . . I looked around to see where the parents were and there were only a couple parents watching some other kids. It was like the parents could drop their kids off here to paint and come back later to retrieve them.

IMG_20150118_191644As we were sitting in the plaza, we could hear drumming and see a crowd of people watching something. There was a pole about 70 feet tall with a rotatable frame on top that held five men. Four long ropes hung down almost to the ground which the men rotated the frame until the ropes were evenly wound around the pole at the top. One man stayed up to beat on a drum and presumably control the speed of the unwind as the other four hung by their waist upside down and swung round and round as they slowly decended. This is an indigenous tradition. After all performances there were traditionally dressed men going around with the hat.

We finished the evening sitting in an expresso shop and watching the world go by.


Intro to Guadalajara

It’s chilly in the morning here. When we arrived at our hotel in Guadalajara, the doorman was bundled up with coat, toque, gloves, and a big scarf wrapped around his face. It was only 6C, about 43F. We are at 1566m above sea level (5138 feet), so it is cool at night and warms up quickly to mid 20s during the day. The sun greets us every day, the skies are always blue, and there is an occasional light breeze. For us, it feels perfect. For the locals, it is winter and they are wearing sweaters and coats.

We spent the morning of our first day sleeping, writing, studying Spanish and researching what we wanted to do here. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city, with the population of the metropolitan area being about 5 million. It has a strong economy, low unemployment, and is a cultural centre.

In the afternoon, we managed to drag ourselves down to meet Enrique Jr. Enrique is the son of Navajoa Enrique Sr. and works at this hotel (which is how we ended up here rather than in the city centre). He tells us where to find a bank (a block away) and a supermarket and how to catch a bus downtown.


Since our suite has a kitchen, we decided to stock it with a few necessities. A large supermarket is only about 3 blocks away, next to Home Depot, Office Depot and Starbucks. We have to walk past a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut to get there. We are definitely in the suburbs.

It’s always interesting to see how supermarkets differ in other countries. I’ve never seen such huge containers of coke – do you really drink 3 litres at a time??

IMG_20150115_15084616263913336_ce1c0eb667_z We buy some prepackaged salads, a couple of avocados and limes, some tortillas, tortilla chips, cheese, water and some beer. We pay with a 500 peso bill, just to get some change. It seems like we are always digging for change. . .

The salads tasted great and the avocado was perfect. But now we had dirty dishes. We  searched high and low and couldn’t find anything to wash the dishes with, so we left them in the sink. Magically, the next day they were washed and put away. I could get used to this.

Navojoa to Guadalajara

We decided to take the overnight, double-decker bus to Guadalajara, leaving at 15:00. Enrique suggested the lower level at the front would be best, as no one would be in front of us, leaning their seat way back. It was a great suggestion, for some one with short legs, but for us, there wasn’t enough leg room and you couldn’t see forward, as there was a lounge and sleeping area for the drivers ahead of us. Luckily, the bus was less than half full, so we could switch seats. We even went up to the upper level while it was light and could see more of the amazing landscape.

South of Navajoa
South of Navajoa
Going south from Navojoa you slowly leave the Sonora desert and lush, irrigated agriculture takes over. Big pig and chicken barns are along the highway. Wheat, potatoes and corn, but soon the corn is taller and other crops appear that we couldn’t quite recognize. Probably beans, berries, squash, melons. Huge shade houses that we can only guess what is inside. Cabbage? Cilantro? Something that doesn’t like too much heat.
She looks so excited to find a white-bread sandwich in her bag.
She looks so excited to find a white-bread sandwich in her bag.
When we boarded the bus, we each received a bag of goodies: a bottle of water and one of coke, a really bad ham and cheese sandwich, a tiny bag of chips, some chocolate candies, a cookie and a packet with instant espresso, sugar and creamer. On the upper level is a station that has hot and cold drinking water.
By 6:00 it was dark and then the lower level was more attractive to sit in, less swaying back and forth; closer to the toilets.
We only stopped at a couple of cities along the way. Culiacan was one of them – from the bus it looked shiny and rich, with New Holland dealerships and lots of industry. We won’t take an overnight bus again, as we drove through the mountains in the dark and missed seeing the changing landscape.
We didn’t realize that the time zone changed in between Navajoa and Guadalajara, so when the bus stopped at a station at 10 to 5, we thought we still had another hour to travel. It was only after waking up the phone that we realized that it was actually 10 to 6 and that we had missed our stop. About 30 minutes later, we arrived at the downtown bus terminal, a huge place with several different bus lines and lots of buses.
Near the exit from the terminal was a big map that showed how much a taxi would cost to go to each zone. A helpful taxi driver who knew a little (that would be very little) English showed us where our hotel was on the map and how much it would cost to get there. At just under $20 CAD it sounded like a deal.
It took about 20 minutes to race back out the way we had just come. Guadalajara has limited access freeways that go under and over the streets in town, with one-way streets off either side. It seems like an efficient way of moving lots of cars. And the driver didn’t waste any time. It wasn’t really a white-knuckle trip, the way it would have been in India, but it made me think about where I had written down the numbers to call in case we are injured. . .
We arrived at the European Lifestyle Hotel and Suites and were shown to our suite and informed that breakfast was included and is served from 6:00 to 11:00. Sounds great. We are hungry and tired.
Our suite has a small sitting area, a kitchen, dining, and bedroom and bath. It is a long, narrow suite with tile floors. There is art everywhere – paintings on the walls and lots of sculptures. Beautiful. To see more photos from the hotel, see our Flickr album.

The Pueblo Magico – Alamos

We thought Enrique was taking us to catch the bus to Alamos, but it turned out he was driving us there, along with Anselmo, his personal assistant.

Alamos was designated a “Pueblo Magico” by the Mexican government in 2005 – a “magical town.” It is about 60 km east of Navajoa. Enrique has a few places he wants us to see along the way. The first is an old gold mine in the hills above a little village. He manages to drive his little car part way up the hill, but eventually the car refuses to go any farther and we get out and walk.

Walking up to the mine
Walking up to the mine

It is quite steep, so we make ourselves walking sticks from some of the branches laying along the road. Galen points out the little conical holes in the sand – traps made by antlions to capture their food.

One of the old mine structures
One of the old mine structures

We have to stoop quite a bit to get into the mine tunnel, but then it opens up and we can wander around standing up, using our phones as flashlights so we don’t stumble into any of the numerous vertical shafts. Enrique tells how they used to come up here with their kids and Uncle Bob and Aunt Nellie’s kids and explore.

Inside the mine
Inside the mine

From the mine we go down the road to La Aduana, a village tucked away from most of the rest of the world. The main road through town seems to follow a dry creek bed and Enrique maneuvers his little car around the ruts and holes. We see a carmen bee eater sitting on a fence, a long-tailed magpie, and a group of birdwatchers from the US. After driving around the hillside on the west side of the dry creek, we go over to the east side to the village square. A couple of horses are tied up in the centre of the square and the riders are inside the only store in town, buying snacks. They had guided the birdwatchers and had a US $20 bill that they wanted to exchange for “real” money.

Enrique doing his sleight-of-hand magic tricks
Enrique doing his sleight-of-hand magic tricks

The back wall of the store is stacked from floor to ceiling and the proprietor stands behind the long counter, ready to get whatever you want. Enrique buys the $20 bill from the men, then proceeds to turn a $1 bill into a $2 bill. He immediately has our undivided attention. Well, maybe it isn’t quite undivided, as he manages to play numerous magic tricks and we aren’t able to catch him at his tricks.

After buying some guava jam from a woman Enrique knew, we headed for Alamos.

Alamos was built on the silver and gold from the mines in the area, but the town deteriorated when the mines closed, until it was discovered in the 1940s by Americans and Canadians. Now it is being restored with siver flowing in from the north. Because the economy was depressed for so long, no one tore down the old buildings to build new, so when the expats arrived, the structures were still intact and they set about restoring them. There are a few new buildings around the perimeter, but most of the town has the cobblestone streets and colonial architecture from when it was founded in the late 1600s.

Buying pan dulce
Buying pan dulce
Buying cheese

Our first stop was the market, where Enrique bought pastries and Anselmo bought cheese.

One of the highlights was a tour of the Colonial Hotel, a hotel being restored by a woman and her husband from Louisiana. They have lived in Alamos for 10 years. You can have a tour of it here: Alamos Colonial Hotel. It is a beautiful place.

We wandered the streets. Enrigue entertained a group of school children with his magic tricks. They followed him like he was the pied piper, begging him for more.

School children being entertained by
School children being entertained by Enrique’s magic tricks

And we went geocaching. I found my first Mexican geocache in a cemetery in Alamos.

First find in Mexico. . .
First find in Mexico. . .
Trying to find the elusive cache
Trying to find the elusive cache

As the sun was going down, we drove up to the Mirador, a high viewpoint where we could overlook the whole town, and watched the city gradually light up.

It was an amazing day – a highlight of our trip – thanks to Enrique and Anselmo! For more photos, see the Alamos album on Flickr.

Guaymas to Navojoa

BreakfastWent out this morning looking for breakfast and found a place just across the street. She must only open on weekday mornings. We got pulled pork tacos. Galen keeps looking at the gorgeous old building next to our hotel that is for sale and talks of how he would restore it. Right.

After checking out of our hotel, we had a leisurely walk to the bus station. It is Monday morning and everyone’s going somewhere. Parents and grandparents are dropping children off at daycare, kindergartens, and primary schools. Little kids with big backpacks.

Kindergarten across the street from the bus depot.

Across from the bus station is a drive through coffee shop with outside seating. We order large Americanos. They even had decaf

Menu for Coffee
Menu for Coffee

for Galen. It wasn’t bad coffee, but it wasn’t made with espresso.

We sat out in the shade of an umbrella. We’re wimps. Even plus 20C seems warm.
Our bus to Navojoa was late, and another bus for Navajoa pulled in so we changed our tickets and got on the bus. Amtrak could learn something about electronic seat assignments from Tufesa. Each station knows exactly which seats are available and the location of each bus.

Right after leaving Guaymas, we go through Empalma, the town where the family we met at the Pollo restaurant lives. Lots of seafood cafes line the street. Maybe we should have stayed here.

Seafood restaurant in Empalma
Seafood restaurant in Empalma

Going south on hwy 15, the landscape gradually gets more lush. Close to Obregon there are even irrigated fields.

Landscape along the highway to Navajoa
Landscape along the highway to Navajoa
We arrive in Navojoa just before 2:30 and Enrique is waiting for us. Enrique is a close friend of my aunt and uncle. When my Uncle Bob heard we were passing through Navojoa, he immediately made arrangements for us to stay with Enrique, who took over the church and retreat centre that Bob’s father had started and Uncle Bob and Aunt Nellie had continued. One thing led to the next and before we knew it, everything was arranged. The river of life delivered us into the welcoming arms of a very gracious man.
Enrique took us to his sister’s place, where the whole family is eating dinner on a huge table with a polished stone top. The 97-year old grandmother, the children, and Enrique’s wife, Larena. We are served plates of steak, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, macaroni salad and tortillas. And for dessert,  a lovely cake. All because the beloved Nellie is a sister of my mother.
Elsa, Enrique and their mother.
Elsa, Enrique and their mother.
Elsa, Enrique’s sister, is a very gracious and vivacious host, flitting from table to kitchen to ensure everything is served properly, all the while carrying on a conversation in English. We heard the story of how she met her American husband while her family was vacationing at the beach, how her children went to the same private highschool in Oregon that I attended, and how enthralled she was with the clothes from the Pendleton mill.
After dinner, Enrique took us to see the church and retreat centre, the grounds of which are covered with amazing metal sculptures. The sculptures are being stored on the grounds, a gift from his brother to the town, waiting for various sites to be prepared to receive them. Galen’s jaw is dragging in amazement.
To see more of the photos we have taken of art and sculpture on our trip, see the flickr album
We assumed the evening would be ours, to catch up on writing and studying Spanish, as Enrique had an appointment – someone from his church had built a new house and wanted him to bless it. It wasn’t long before he returned to fetch us – the family was inviting us to join them.
I love the way you can build houses in warm climates, with outdoor courtyards that can actually be used year round. What a concept. And the cool, tile floors. This house has a area at the front that they can rent out to a business. The main door for the living quarters is behind the covered parking.
It wasn’t long before the hostess brought out appetizers. Chicken with hot sauce, crackers with cream cheese and raspberry jam, a fruit and vegetable plate. Then the plates of food arrived. I requested a smaller serving, saying that it seemed like I had been eating all day. Enrique’s daughter said, “Welcome to Mexico. “

Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico – First Day

Guaymas is about 1 1/2 hours straight south of Hermosillo. At least if you take a Tufesa bus. These drivers seem to pass everyone on the road. The road is Hwy 15, a Federal divided highway that stretches from the US border to Mexico City. The lanes seem a lot narrower than what we are used to, and there are no shoulders.

Our bus today has wifi. This is good. I now have access to information, to which I seem to be addicted. Maps that show me where we are, weather apps that let me know what it is like at home, the ability to send and receive email with being dinged an outrageous fee.

Typical roadside scene between Hermosillo and Guaymas
Typical roadside scene between Hermosillo and Guaymas

The barrenness of the Sonora desert stretches out around us. The mountains look strange, as they have all through Arizona and down. I learned that they are the result of molten lava squishing up through the crust of the earth as the Pacific plate pulled and pushed against the continent. And it is dry here. Much of the land is fenced, but it isn’t often that you actually see a cow or other animals. Even mesquite and cactus have a hard time growing here.

Walmart in Guaymas
Walmart in Guaymas

Guaymas is a city along the coast, a port city for industry and the Mexican navy. About 12 km north of Guaymas is San Carlos, an expat community. We chose a hotel in Guaymas, near the city centre. Most city centres that we have seen in Mexico are beautiful and full of people, activity, food, art. . . After being here for a full day, we’re not sure where the city centre might be. I think economically it is out by Home Depot and Walmart.

We arrive around noon, check in to our hotel, and go out looking for food. We walk along Aquiles Serdan, a main street that leads to the Plaza de Los Tres Presidentes (three Mexican presidents came from Guaymas). Quite a few of the shops are vacant and many buildings are in a state of disrepair. We pass an eclectic-looking upholstery shop, a carpentry shop with the doors open wide to the street, notaries and lawyers, hairdressers, daycares, a few restaurants. . . we are trying to find something with seafood, as we are right along the coast. We finally settle on a hole in the wall place that has a few signs and other customers. And we ask for two orders of Birria, not having a clue what we are getting. A large condiment tray was set on our table with shredded cabbage, cilantro, chopped onions, slices of lime, sliced radish and chunks of cucumber. Then a dish of cooked, shredded beef arrived and a container of tortillas. Now for the fun of stacking it all on the tortillas and eating it without having the juice run down your arm. And it was delicious.

We carried on from there, going to the Plaza of the presidents, which was just a large, open space with no trees, benches, shelters. . . nothing but statues of the three presidents. And of course, no people. We sat instead on the veranda of the Palacio Municipal, looking out towards the bay.

From the malecon, looking towards town.The malecon along the bay was wide, but very few people were taking advantage of the cool breeze off the water and the view. Saturday afternoon and the place was basically deserted. Except for the Magnificent Frigatebirds flying over and the unique Heermann’s Gull.

Heading back towards town we met an old man (probably our age) selling pastries from a basket. We each had to have one. I like Mexican pastries. They aren’t as sweet or oily as ours. And we passed a go-cart track that actually had some people racing around in the carts.

We stopped in the little plaza in front of the Iglesia San Francisco as a few birds caught Galen’s eye. He identified the Eurasian Collared Dove, the Gila Woodpecker, and the Great-tailed Grackle. Nice.


Back to our hotel, we set ourselves up in the central courtyard to blog and study Spanish. It was actually cool there, with the tile floor and the natural updraft.

In the evening we asked the front desk about going out and she said as long as we stayed along the main drag it was safe, but not to go down to the water. It was early when we went out to eat – about 6:30. At least it was a little early for Mexicans. Many of the shops are open until 8:00, after which people go out to eat and walk around. But there were enough people around – couples, mothers with small children, single women walking alone – that we felt comfortable.

Since we couldn’t find a seafood restaurant along this street, we decided the next best thing would be sushi. We should have known better when the menu mentioned Philadelphia cheese. Couldn’t be. But we were hungry and didn’t want to go searching further, so we placed our order.

The sushi rolls looked like they had been coated and deep fried. Although we had ordered two different kinds, it all looked the same. And on the side was shredded carrot and a terrible, rich crab mixture. And for sauces: soy, hot sauce, and something that looked like french dressing.  This had to be one of the worst meals I have ever eaten.


San Carlos

San Carlos is a beach town with a large expat community about 20 minutes from Guaymas. The front desk said to catch the bus on the corner. It would be 10 pesos each. We had just left the hotel when we saw the bus pull away from the stop. My reaction was to throw my arms in the air. The bus driver noticed and pulled over. We were worried about having the right change, but at the next stop, a guy got on and handed the driver a 200 note and it wasn’t a problem. A little ways out of town, a car passes us and pulls over in front of us with a hand waving out of the window. The bus pulls over, stops, and opens the door for a young woman, probably late for work and had missed the bus. Breakfast in San Carlos We assumed San Carlos would have a “centre,” but the town just stretches out parrallel to the beach. We finally got off and looked for a place to have breakfast. Jak Snax, probably a chain, had wifi, and I needed to send an email to my mom, so we went inside. The menu was in English and Spanish and had pictures!! And they had coffee with free refills. Not having a destination in mind (since Collin hadn’t told us about the Soggy Peso yet) we meandered down the main drag, then cut off on a side road to the beach.

Beautiful houses lined the little streets. Lots of license plates from the states on cars outside the residences. A woman greeted us and gave us directions to the beach. We were heading towards a geocache that was farther west. The beach was pretty empty. Obviously this wasn’t where people hung out, but we enjoyed wandering along and picking up perfect shells.. We never did find the cache. Our legs and feet were getting tired, so we headed back towards the main road and caught the bus back to our hotel.

Most people eat their main meal of the day about 2:00. Shops close down and it is siesta time. Then about 4:00 the city wakes up again and shops stay open until 8:00. Just down the street from our hotel was a barbecued chicken restaurant where you get a half or whole chicken, along with some roasted potatoes and onions and tortillas. As we were climbing the steps to order, a family sitting at a table nearby greated us. After we had ordered, they invited us to join them. The family was from Empalma, just across the bay to the south from Guaymas. They had come to Guaymas to go to Home Depot. We had a great time together, chatting in English and in Spanish. We learned that Charlie Chaplin married his second wife in Empalme to avoid a scandal, as she was only 16.

We ate with the Gerardo Pérez family who all knew more English than we knew Spanish and had a great time trying to communicate.
We ate with the Gerardo Pérez family who all knew more English than we knew Spanish and had a great time trying to communicate.

In the evening, we made a trip to the supermarket across the street and bought a piece of Tres leches cake (three milk cake), the best cake in the world.

Come with us . . .