Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays!

It's been a busy holiday season once again at Hacienda Contreras. The weather has been beautiful - warm and sunny during the day but cooling down at night.
We went into town a few days ago for the children's fiesta, which of course was followed by the adults' fiesta. There were games for the kids, including sack races for both boys and girls.
The jardine, or town square, in Valle de Juarez is one of our favorite jardines in Mexico.  The Christmas tree was decorated, lights were strung, and people were out enjoying the festivities.
We had dinner that night with a nice group of friends at one of our favorite restaurants on the jardine that specializes in really good enchiladas suiaza. Then out to dinner again the following night at another favorite restaurant in the nearby town of Mazamitla. It was Barb and Sal's 40th wedding anniversary and a great celebration. Two of their five daughters and their son-in-law flew in for the occasion and all the campers were invited as well. It was a fun group!
Lots of good conversation, good food, and even mariachis to entertain us.
The traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Mexico is tamales, and we made them once again this year on Christmas Eve Day. Sal's sister Juana was up at the crack of dawn to have the corn ground for the masa, and she and Barb got everything ready for us to help assemble the tamales. Corn husks were soaked in water to make them soft and then coated on the inside with the masa. The filling, in this case shredded pork in a spicy sauce, was added and the corn husks were folded.
Even though Juana cut the proportions in half from last year, we still had a huge amount that were then steamed for several hours.
The tamales were served that night at our Christmas Eve Fiesta Dinner. In addition to the tamales, everyone brought a dish or two to share and it was quite a Christmas feast. Chris even got us a fresh turkey from a farm just up the road - can't get much fresher than that.
Christmas Day has been fairly quiet and it's been nice to have some time to sit down and get caught up. Tonight we'll get together again and try to demolish some of the leftovers, including some turkey soup.
I think it's time to plan some hikes and work some of this food off. 

More Mezcal Fun

We made our third visit to a very secluded mezcal still near Valle de Juarez. Mezcal is similar to tequila in some ways but different in others. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal and produced in a similar fashion. Real mezcal has more of a smoky flavor and we find we prefer it to tequila. This is fine sipping liquor and should not be used in mixed drinks or slugged down like some people enjoy doing with tequila. Some say the best mezcal comes from the state of Oaxaca but maybe those folks have not tasted this mezcal yet.

Each time we go we learn a bit more about the process, and it's fun to share the experience with our fellow campers. We blogged about it last year when we visited so I didn't take as many pictures since information and pictures can be found at this link.

During our visit this year we learned more and of course we purchased more mezcal. Last year we were told by Don Jesus, the patron of the operation, that he can tell if the mezcal is just right by looking at the bubbles. This year he demonstrated how that's done. Long evergreen needles found in the area are bent in a loop, similar to a whisk. A portion of the freshly distilled mezcal is poured into a small bowl that looks like a coconut shell and is whisked briskly. If there are no bubbles, the mezcal is ready. If there are many bubbles or small bubbles adjustments are made. As near as we could tell it mostly has to do with the temperature of the fermented mash being cooked.
The mash is cooked for about 12 hours and then another batch is started. All of this is constantly tended 24 hours a day, taking about two weeks from start to finish. Approximately 500 liters of mezcal are produced each time, beginning with cooking the pinas in a deep, rock-lined pit....

followed by mashing, fermenting, and then distilling. It's estimated that about 5,000 liters are produced each year.

Some of the above information is a bit different than our previous post in January 2012 as we have learned more and clarified a few things. There may be even more changes next time we visit.

There are some fellow RVers here at Hacienda Contreras that went to the still with us and have their own stories to tell about our visit. Unlike me, they blog on a regular basis and have some very impressive blogs with more to share about their travels in Mexico and other parts of the world.
Check them out at:





And some more links from Brian with info about mezcal and tequila-


Another beverage similar to mezcal and tequila is sotol, which is produced only in the state of Chihuahua from a wild plant

One of the websites with a simple basic explanation of mezcal was added to the following website by a guy who has a mezcal distillery in Oaxaca. He's an American who also has an RV park for small RVs, but you must make a reservation and stay a long time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's About Time.....

It's hard to believe we left Arizona almost three weeks ago and I have yet to sit down and post anything about our travels. I guess I'm more of an event blogger than daily blogger but it's still time to post.
We are now at Hacienda Contreras in Valle de Juarez, our destination for the holidays. The park is looking great and has quite a few rigs with more to come. We are seeing some old friends as well as making new friends, some of whom we have known via the internet but are just now meeting in person. Fun for us!
The weather since we arrived has been great - sunny and very warm, although it cools off at night. We're very happy to be settled in for a bit and are just enjoying being here with our favorite hosts, Barb and Sal.
After leaving Arizona we stopped and walked over the border at Palomas which is just south of Deming, New Mexico. We went to our dentist, Brian got new glasses and we completed our paperwork for the Columbia crossing (near Laredo, TX)  with the Bus and car. Getting the paperwork done in Palomas was very quick and easy. It was a good decision since it saved us a lot of time at Columbia when we crossed a few days later.
We made it to Matehuala the first night, then boondocked in San Miguel de Allende the second night. We'll be returning to San Miguel before heading back and will spend more time at that point.
Our next stop was Roca Azul Resort on Lake Chapala. Along the way we saw roadside stands selling fresh strawberries, and bought this basketful for less than $3. Great deal.
When we were about 3 miles from the RV park at Roca Azul we heard one of those sounds you really don't want to hear while traveling. A fitting on the hose to the right front airbag, part of the suspension, blew off. We were able to very, very slowly creep along until we got into the the park. A really bouncy ride but we made it. And of course the next question was, where in the heck are we going to get another part? Brian did a lot of research and after 2 days driving around Guadalajara we had what we needed. He spent several days replacing the fitting, taking the airbag out and having it welded where a bolt was bent and so on. I'm just grateful that he continues to be able to fix things and keep us going!
We were able to spend a little time with our friend Micky in Ajijic again this year. She cooked us a fabulous dinner one night and we went to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants another day. Unfortunately much of our time was spent making repairs to the Bus, but we hope to visit with Micky again soon.
We are trying out a new feature for our blog with maps showing where we are and the routes we have taken. Hopefully it will help a bit with visualizing our travels. Click on any of the maps to enlarge them.
Overview of our route to Hacienda Contreras in Valle de Juarez

Laredo to Matehuala
Matehuala to San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende to Roca Azul (Jocotopec)
Roca Azul to Hacienda Contreras (Valle de Juarez)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arizona Rest Stop

We arrived back in Fountain Hills at the beginning of October this year, a bit early for us but we had some medical appointments scheduled for that time period.
We usually stay here for a month or two in the spring and a month or two in the fall. It's a time for us to stop for a bit and get caught up. Tilly loves having a yard and enjoys having a routine. We start each day with a walk around the fountain that gave Fountain Hills its name.

Fountain Park is in a beautiful setting and a brisk walk is a great way to begin the day. We have seen coyotes and javelinas as well as a large variety of birds and waterfowl. One of our favorites is the hooded merganser which has some unusual coloring.

We get some striking sunset views from our patio.

We store the Bus at an RV park on theFort McDowell Reservation, which is about 5 miles from the house. Very convenient. We have a nice view of the Four Peaks rising above the desert when we drive over to get the Bus.

Most of our time is spent on projects and maintenance on the Bus, maintenance on ourselves, and catching up with friends. We're only ten minutes away from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and feel fortunate to be part of their excellent health care system.
At this point we seem to be almost caught up and are preparing for our winter in Mexico. We will host Thanksgiving at our place this year. We will be joined by our friends Judy and Jim who we visited in Washington state this summer and who winter in this area, and our friends Kathy and Dan will be flying in from San Francisco. Should be fun!
We plan to leave Fountain Hills shortly after Thanksgiving and work our way across New Mexico and Texas to the Columbia Crossing north of Laredo. After stops in San Miguel de Allende and the Chapala area we hope to be at Hacienda Contreras once again for the holidays.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

California's Central Coast

When I looked at my road log, I was surprised to see that we'd been roaming around the central coast of California for over a month. Time flies.
We love returning to this area and always seem to have some new adventures. Santa Rosa was a new stop for us and we liked it a lot. We were centrally located in our spot at the Sonoma Country Fairgrounds. Among other things we toured some of the many wineries in the area. Most of them were dog-friendly but Tilly wasn't impressed.

Our next stop was Petaluma which is about 35 miles north of San Francisco. From there we were able to take the car into SF. Our friends Kathy and Dan moved there from Santa Barbara and are leasing a condo in the North Beach area. It's a great location within walking distance of Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero, Washington Square and many other interesting areas. And they have off-street parking for us which is a huge plus!
It only took a minute to walk to this view that included Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, so it was easy to bring along some refreshment. It was really fun to have our own personal tour guides while there.
Of course we have the all-important picture with the Golden Gate in the background.
Another great thing about staying in Petaluma was the proximity to Sonoma. We spent some time in Napa a few years ago and it was so crowded thatI couldn't wait to leave. Brian suggested going to Sonoma at that time but I was done with crazy crowds and traffic and wanted to move on. My mistake. The two areas are totally different. I loved Sonoma and the laid-back atmosphere there, even at the larger wineries. We were able to chat with the people in the tasting rooms while sipping some wonderful wines and even met a few winemakers. 
Our other stops after leaving the Bay Area included Moss Landing near Monterrey, Lodi and Paso Robles for more great wine (sensing a theme here?) and Cayucos near Morro Bay for one of our favorite dog beaches.
We wrapped up our central coast tour with a few days in San Luis Obispo (rated the happiest town in America last year), Lake Cachuma, and Santa Barbara. We love this entire area and will be back.
People have been asking for maps of where we've been, so I'll try to start adding them. Here's where we were for this post.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Our Endeavor

It would be a bit of an understatement to write that we had an amazing experience today. It was one of those magical moments that just seem to happen when everything falls into place.
For the past few weeks much of the news in the L.A. area has focused on the final journey of the Space Shuttle Endeavor to its new home at the California Science Center. Of course we thought it would be pretty cool to see the shuttle on its journey, but never really thought about actually being able to see it. Yesterday we realized that we were in the area that it would pass over and we started to do some research.  The news said that one of the flight paths of the shuttle would include a low flyover at Vandenberg AFB which is about 30 miles from Lake Cachuma, where we are currently parked. A little more research turned up a suggestion for a good place to watch the shuttle. The clue was to find the corner of Stardust and Moonglow in Vandenberg Village. I don't know who figured it out, but it turned out to be the perfect spot!

When we arrived there were a few cars that evidently had the same information we had. We had a bit of a wait but really enjoyed talking to the other people who were waiting along with us. One woman had connections at Vandenberg and had a friend call her as soon as the shuttle appeared there so we would know to start looking. I can't begin to describe what is was like to see the shuttle headed our way, escorted by fighter jets. The spot we were in was unbelievable - the shuttle came right over us after making its pass on the base. Looking at Google Earth we figure they must have buzzed the Vandenberg runway and then started to climb while turning east. We were almost directly under the flight path as it flew out of Vandenberg. It was so close we could see the tiles, the windows and the entire setup. Words fail me when I try to describe what it was like to experience this. Absolutely a once in a lifetime, historic event and we were right there.

Here is a Google Earth screen shot of the Vandenberg runway with the yellow pushpin showing the Latitude Longitude where we were watching.
Here is almost the exact location we were standing near Stardust on Moonglow.
Here you can get some idea of where Vandenberg is. We were just north of Lompoc. Our camping site is by Cachuma Lake which is just under the G in Solvang on the map. Remember you can click any of these to see a larger shot.
Absolutely a great day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cruising Down the 101

We had a pretty interesting trip down the coast from Oregon to northern California and came across some totally unexpected things. The coast is beautiful with the steep cliffs, uplifted rocks and pounding surf.

I picked up a tourist guide which listed different things to see along Highway 101. One of them was the 'dolly dock' in Port Orford which is one of only two 'dolly docks' in the U.S. (the other one is in Los Angeles) - and only six in the world - where gigantic hoists lift the vessels in and out of the water each day. The harbor area is too shallow for safe mooring. When not on the ocean, the boats are parked in rows on the dock and cradled in custom-made trailers that are easily pulled around by pickup trucks. We didn't really think we would have an opportunity to see this process in action, but as we were driving through Port Orford we saw a road with the words 'Ocean View' printed on it and of course had to check it out. We were in luck as they were pulling a commercial fishing boat out a few minutes after we pulled in. Pretty amazing and very efficient.

We wanted to spend some time exploring the different parts of Redwood National Park, which also encompasses some of California's State Parks. We weren't sure what the best spot was to have as our home base, but decided on Klamath, California since it seemed to be more or less central to what we wanted to see. Good choice as it turned out. The redwoods were everything we expected and once again we were so happy to see another one of our treasured natural resources being protected.
The redwood trees are the world's tallest living trees. They grow from seeds the size of a tomato seed, weigh up to 500 tons and stand taller than the Statue of Liberty.

One of noteworthy natural features of Redwood National Park is its herd of Roosevelt Elk. They exist in significant numbers now but the Roosevelt Elk approached extinction at one point. In the early 20th century no more than a few dozen, maybe as few as 1 or 2, still existed in California. The only remaining herd made its stand in the area encompassed by Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and is now thriving. Herds of elk were visible in meadows, and some were even napping in one of the picnic areas. This guy had a pretty good rack on him and seemed to be enjoying snoozing in the sun.

The other great part about being in Klamath was the Salmon Festival. We just happened to be there at the right time and totally enjoyed it. The festival is sponsored by the Yurok tribe, which is California's largest Indian tribe. The festival was a celebration of their culture.
The parade was pretty unique, beginning with the flag-bearers who represented a varied group.

They were followed by the Humboldt State University Lumberjack Band, also known as the 'Banned.' According to their website the main requirement to being a member of the band is that you must be breathing, and if this is a problem there is help available. In addition, any 'marchable instrument' is allowed. They were great.

The parade also include several floats, entries from the classic car show, and the ever popular Roller Derby gals from Eureka. Sorry but I didn't get a picture.
The festival celebrated many native traditions including native dresses which were made by tribal members. Some of them have been passed from generation to generation. The woven hats were something we had never seen before as were the beading and natural materials used in the dresses.

We were able to watch a traditional game called the Stick Game. It was played on a large sandy field and began with the youngest kids playing the game first. This was followed by progressively increased age groups playing. The game was described to us as similar to Lacrosse. The game began with pairs of kids using their sticks (3 pairs), which had hook-like curves on the end, to try to move a pair of stringed balls down the court.

A twist in the game seemed to be that it was desirable to be able to tackle and wrestle one's opponent to keep them from gaining access to the stringed balls. Sounds crazy and hard to describe but it was definitely entertaining. I was really impressed by the sportsmanship and caring that all of the kids exhibited. The shirtless kids pictured are the players while the ones in shirts are their "mentors" who make sure they don't seriously hurt each other whilc coaching each player.

All in all, very informative and lots of fun.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Northwest

We've been escaping the heat by spending time in the Northwest this summer. Our first stop was in eastern Washington where we visited some of the wineries. It's also a big hops area since the majority of the hops used in beer production can be found there. Hops plants which reached well above 15 feet were planted adjacent to vineyards, making an interesting contrast.

After leaving Prosser, our base in wine country, we headed for the coast via the White Pass Scenic Drive which runs between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. It's a gorgeous drive and we had many fantastic views, including this one of  Mt. Rainier.

Our friends Judy and Jim were camp hosting at Mystery Bay in the Puget Sound for 2 weeks, and there just happened to be an RV park one mile down the road so of course we joined them. They had a spot on the dock with an incredible view. The crabbing was great and we were treated to fresh crab in every form just about every day. Yum!

Judy and I resumed our lunch and shopping excursions which of course was lots of fun.

After leaving Judy and Jim we headed to Vancouver to visit with Roberta and Matt. We don't consider ourselves city people by any means but sure do love Vancouver (and Roberta and Matt too). Of course we had to sample from the myriad of cuisines - sushi, Ethiopian, seafood, and so on. Matt took us out to Granville Island which is always fun to visit with the markets, artisans, people, boats and scenery. Even Brian seems to enjoy the market there. 

We spent a day at one of Vancouver's beaches where Roberta and Matt did a long distance swim followed by some free diving. Both Brian and I felt like the old fogies hanging out on the beach, watching the kids, but it was fun and we enjoyed our BC beach day.

After Vancouver we began working our way south along the rugged coasts of Washington and Oregon. It's a beautiful and impressive coast with the rough surf and rocky shore. Even with the sun shining the fog is ever present, hanging just beyond the beach, waiting to work its way inland.