Thursday, June 18, 2009

Arizona Spring 2009

After our wonderful trip to Mexico we spent some time at our place in Arizona this spring, which is such a beautiful time of year. We were able to catch up on some chores, see our doctors, and spend time with our friends. One event we always enjoy is watching the Fountain Hills fountain spouting green on St. Patrick's Day. One of the highlights of the Phoenix area is the Desert Botanical Garden. They were featuring an exhibit by Dale Chihuly, who is well known for his free form blown glass and use of light. Unusual glass sculptures were integrated with the plants and the effect was quite spectacular. We went with our friends Vinnie and Connie who live in Paradise Valley and Jim and Judy who winter in Sun Lakes.

All of the glass sculptures were fantastic - the pictures don't do them justice but hopefully you'll be able to get a feel for the exhibit.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hasta Luego Mexico

Our last stop on this trip was San Carlos, a place on the West Coast where we have stayed several times on our way back to the States. It's a beautiful spot with some of the best sunsets we've seen anywhere. It has been compared to the Sedona area of Arizona but on the ocean, which is a fairly accurate comparison. Unfortunately there isn't a lot to do there unless you golf or fish so we were hoping to stay for just a few days while we had some work done on the car and Bus. Both needed some paint touch-up but what should have been done in a few days took almost 2 weeks. We managed to keep ourselves occupied but were happy to get the work finished and be on our way. It was a great trip and we look forward to many more!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Alamos, Uvalama Pottery, and the Brick Factory

We decided to spend a few days in the town of Alamos on our way back north to the border and it was a very worthwhile stop. This is another town with many ex-pats. The homes have been nicely restored and the whole town was quite charming. Some of the homes were restored by movie stars - we saw the former houses of Carroll O'Conner and Mary Astor.

We hired a local guide for a day who gave us the history of the area and took us to some interesting places. We had lunch at a local woman's house and went to a nearby town called Aduana where we helped the local economy by buying a few crafts. In November Hurricane Norbert caused a huge flood that has affected the economy in the area, and with a poor tourist season the people are having a difficult time.

Uvalama Pottery

While exploring Alamos we went into a shop selling Uvalama pottery. We were fortunate to be able to watch a matrimonial pot being made by Carmen Tomasa Ayala, who learned from her grandmother as a child to work with the clay. The clay is from an area called Uvalama, close to Alamos, and the limited number of designs are original. Everything is made by hand. As far as we know Carmen and her husband Enrique are the only people making this unique type of pottery. The pots and vases are all made without a potters wheel and the process is quite fascinating. I was able to take pictures of the process - the pot on the floor in front of Carmen is an example of the finished matrimonial pot that she is making. First, Enrique kneaded and worked the clay to prepare it. He removed all lumps and even tiny bits of sand. Then he added water to get just the right consistency.Once he passed it to Carmen, she began smoothing it onto the bottom of a rounded form used as a base.

Carmen continued to build up the sides of the pot, smoothing and rounding everything by hand. She used a beer can to cut the holes where the spouts on either side would go.

Once the spouts were formed Enrique explained that the pot would have to rest and get strong until the next day when the handle would be attached. In a few days they would take it to Uvalama where it would be fired.

For more about Uvalama go to

The Brick Factory

Another stop on our guided tour was out in the country where they were making bricks and blocks by hand. We have seen these little family brick works all over Mexico. Everything is done by hand. They mix dirt and clay and sand and who knows what else until the mix is just right. Then they put the mix in wooden molds and smooth the surface. They remove the mold to use for the next set of bricks. Then the bricks dry for a few days. As the bricks dry they begin to build an oven/kiln to fire the bricks. They build the kiln all around piles of wood using the bricks they will fire - adding more wood as they add more bricks. Once the kiln is built they have a specialist come in to maintain the fire at just the right temperature for 24 hours. Once the bricks change color they are done. They told us the brick makers get about 4 cents (US) per brick and they are sold at building supply stores for around 2 pesos or 14 cents (US) per brick. Many brick makers sell bricks from their trucks parked by the side of the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guadalajara Area

Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city with many areas to explore in both the city and surrounding area. We stayed about 25 miles south of Guadalajara at an RV park in Jocotepec, which is on the west side of Lake Chapala. We made several day trips into Guadalajara where we visited several areas with craft markets and did some sightseeing around the city.

Much of the glassware, ceramics, silver, pewter and various other crafts that are found Mexico are made in Tonala. A friend of ours from Boulder, Bill, was in Guad and we spent the day with him and his coworker Steve. It was market day and the crowds and wares were overwhelming, so we took a break for a few Sols and some lunch. We all purchased a few things since the prices were pretty unbelievable - screaming bargains to say the least.

We weren't able to see many of the artisans at work so we will try to spend more time there on our next trip. Since leaving Tonala we've been amazed by the number of things we've come across in galleries and stores that were made in Tonala. It's also amazing how much more expensive they are in areas other than Tonala!

Tlaquepaque (Ta-locky-pocky)

This area is in another part of Guad and has many galleries and shops that display the crafts made in Tonala. It's a more upscale area with nicer displays and corresponding higher prices. Tlaquepaque has some nice restaurants.

Lake Chapala

Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico and has a sizeable ex-pat community. Lots of retirees and it's quite Americanized.

Many of the restaurants there, and in all of Mexico, were outdoors and welcomed Tilly. I just had to include a picture of her reminding us that she's still under the table, patiently waiting for any scraps that may come her way.

Another friend of ours from the Colorado days, Micky, lives in a town called Ajijic on the north side of the lake. We were able to make contact and thoroughly enjoyed our time with her. She had us to dinner, showed us around a bit and filled us in on the area.

We went into the town of Chapala and walked along the Malecon where we watched an old Indian woman weaving and were fascinated. She even kept Tilly's attention. We were very impressed and had to buy one of her pieces - they can be seen on the line. I bought the red one.

Following that we took a walk along the lake and looked at the white pelicans

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

San Miguel de Allende - SMA

SMA was a very interesting stop for us. Brian had been there several times to visit his Aunt Mary who lived and worked there for over 30 years, but he hadn't been there since the '90s. He had heard that things had changed and sure enough they had. It was my first trip so I didn't have that comparison but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. The town is quite hilly with narrow streets so it's definitely a walking, not driving, town. One of our stops was at Aunt Mary's former house where we visited with the new owner who now has an art gallery there, and of course I took Brian and Tilly's picture out front.

The number of norteamericanos in SMA has grown from 1,000 when Brian was last there to around 10,000 now and their influence on SMA is quite evident. Fortunately SMA has been declared a World Heritage Site so the main part of town hasn't changed much. The architecture is amazing and we really enjoyed walking the streets, looking into little galleries and haciendas, and admiring the doors and little details that make SMA unique.

SMA is quite well known for the architecture of its Parroquia, or church. Pictures of it are often seen in Mexican travel articles. What makes it unique are its many spires which go all the way to the ground. It had been recently cleaned when we were there and the colors are beautiful. The picture on the left is of the Parroquia at night while the one on the right shows the spires.

We thought the architectural detail below was worth a close-up.

We were fortunate to be able to attend a performance at the Instituto by Aztec dancers. The Parroquia can be seen in the background.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teotihuacan and Mexico City

After leaving Palenque we headed for Teotihuacan, which is the site of the Sun and Moon pyramids. The pictured Sun pyramid is the third largest in the world with a base measuring over 700 feet on each side. The largest pyramid in the world is in Cholula near Puebla with a base over 1400 feet on each side (that's over a quarter mile!). Yes, we have heard of Egypt. We explored the huge pyramid complex and continued to get our exercise climbing pyramids. There were also some well preserved murals, carved columns, and stone adornments on the Citadel pyramid. The central avenue in the middle of Teotihuacan from the Moon pyramid to the Citadel is over 2km long.

We don't make reservations while traveling so kind of take our chances. When we got to the RV park in Teotihuacan we found out that a caravan of 23 RVs was coming in which would fill the entire park. Fortunately for us the owner of the park, a wonderful woman named Mina, told us we could park in her garden. Pretty crazy but things worked out fine and the caravan invited us to have some wine and enjoy a local mariachi band with them. (That's our Bus front left).

While staying in Teotihuacan we were able to go to Mexico City and tour the Anthropology Museum. It was quite overwhelming and a fantastic museum. We could have easily spent a week there since there's so much to see - some of the best relics are there and we hope to go back to see more. Of course Brian was fascinated by the roof in the middle of the complex which is one of the largest cantilevered roofs in the world, an architectural marvel itself. That's the Chac Mool lower left.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Online Once Again with More Fabulous Ruins

One of the reasons I thought a blog would be a good idea is that I could post things regularly and not have to write one long email or post to cover a large period of time. Great idea, but since we haven't had WiFi for quite a while that didn't work out quite as planned. So I will try to sum things up since the last post.

We stayed in PaaMul a total of 5 weeks which is a long time for us to stay in one place. We made some additional dives and took more daytrips, which was fun. My favorite dive was in a cenote. Cenotes are basically sinkholes that go to underground rivers and caves and the Yucatan is honeycombed with them. The water is extremely clear and there are stalagtites and stalagmites just as in caves above water. It's difficult to describe but I thought the dive was absolutely fantastic and an experience I would recommend to any of our diving friends.


After leaving PaaMul we visited the ruins and discovered a new form of exercise - pyramid climbing. The ruins were fascinating and each was unique in its own way.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the must see ruins so of course we had to see it. The buildings and carvings are well preserved and the ruins cover a very large area so it took a long time to see it all. The main temple was huge - to get some idea of its size, click on the picture and you can barely see Brian standing at the bottom. We had the Bus about a mile from the entrance so we were able to get to Chichen Itza before most of the tour buses did which turned out to be a very good thing. Lots of buildings and ruins but also way too many vendors selling junk. Chichen Itza is so large that we spent most of the day there and saw just about all of it.

Ek' Balam

From Chichen Itza we were able to take the car and visit one of the lesser ruins which also turned out to be one of our favorites, Ek' Balam. It's fairly small but the restoration work on the carvings was remarkable.

I climbed up the main pyramid and was able to see the carvings up close. Brian's knee was acting up so he stayed with Tilly while I took a picture of the two of them watching me try not to fall back down the steps.


Our next stop along the ruins tour was Uxmal. This was especially interesting because we were able to go to a sound and light show that night. It was a bit basic but we enjoyed it just the same. We were able to park the Bus and spend the night in a lot at the entrance to Uxmal. There was also a nice restaurant so this was a great stop for us. I was fascinated by the Sorcerer's Pyramid which could be seen from a great distance as well as the surrounding buildings.


The ruins of Palenque are in very dense jungle and are amazing. The buildings, carvings and paintings are in remarkable shape, especially considering how the jungle encroaches on everything. Palenque was known as the jewel of the Mayan world and it's easy to see why.

We were allowed to climb around and look at everything and were basically pretty astounded. Because of its location there weren't many tourists and we were able to get a little bit of a sense of what it must have been like to be in Palenque thousands of years ago.

One of our favorite parts of the Palenque experience was the howler monkeys. The sound they make is difficult to describe - sort of a combination lion roar, elephant trumpet and monkey shriek - and very scary. We were able to walk into the jungle and spot three of them high up in the trees. If you would like to hear what they sound like here's a link.

If the link doesn't work, copy and paste the following to your address line and it will take you to the website.
Staying in Palenque is like being in the middle of a '60s flashback. The RV park we stayed at was called the Mayabelle and was populated primarily by hippies, both young and old. The Bus was a bit large for the park but Brian managed to squeeze into a space. Fortunately the park wasn't full so he was able to maneuver us both in and out. There was a restaurant and live music every night, sometimes all night. We really felt as though we had entered a time warp and it was a bit of a surreal experience.

Since leaving Palenque we've been exploring the interior, or colonial, part of Mexico. We're now in Lake Chapala, just south of Guadalajara, and will head for the west coast tomorrow. I've got more adventures to share but the poor WiFi signal here is making this quite a project. Once we've got decent WiFi I'll try to pick up where I left off.