Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vaya con Dios, Mom

Mom and I on the beach in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, MX 2014
This blog is about Mexico so I'll explain up front how I can write about my mom when she never visited us in Merida. First of all, it's my blog and I can blog about whatever I want to blog about, right? And right now I want to write about my mom. These are my thoughts and my thoughts alone so others may or may not agree with me. Secondly, on a more serious note, my mom had surgery in January to repair an aortic aneurysm. The surgery kicked her butt but through a stay in skilled nursing, more hospital time, and more skilled nursing time she managed to go back to her independent living apartment in Carriage Inn, Bryan, TX and live some more. Read on, the connection will come through clearly. 

On Monday, June 19th she and her lady friends from Carriage Inn took the chauffeur driven limo to a Mexican food restaurant (see, Mexican food, get it?) where they spent the entire day laughing, eating AND drinking margaritas. Now I won't get into whether drinking the margaritas was a good thing for my mom to do or not. She was 86 years old and if she wanted to drink margaritas I personally think it was an excellent idea. I can't think of a better thing to be doing when later on it unveils as being the last hoo-rah. The next day while I'm sitting in a second class bus station in Tizimin, Yucatan with Terry and four of our dear friends, visitors and fellow adventurous warriors, I get a text from Joanne, my sister, saying Mama was being life-flighted to Temple, TX due to her heart. I can assure you she wasn't near as excited about the helicopter ride as she was about the chauffer driven limo. She withstood a second surgery, and fought for another six weeks before saying her final good-bye. 

I flew home the following Sunday to visit Mama, and the very next day Terry received a call that his dad had died. So, he came home the next day which was a Tuesday. Our lives have changed forever since then.

So today is Thursday, August 10th and I am thinking about how I could never stand up at a funeral and do a eulogy. I would be bawling like a baby. But, I can write. So here's some things about my mama that may surprise some of you but it's what I have to say and I'm the one at this time with full editorial licensure. I'm writing this prior to leaving to go to Anderson, TX to attend her funeral.

For some strange reason, I'm proud of her for having those margaritas at that last pachanga to celebrate one of her friend's 90th-something birthday. I mean, what exactly do you expect at a birthday party of mature women? Cake and ice cream? Shish!

She had five kids with daughter-in-laws and son-in laws. In her obituary it says she has 16 grandkids and 29 great-grandkids and 6 great-great grandkids. We know the number is right for the grandkids, but we never could get a good count on the great-grandkids so we should have added mas or menos in the obituary but I know the cost goes up for each line in the obituary so we had to be careful with extra words. Whatever the number, she and my dad left quite a legacy behind. And it's a pretty successful brood at that. If you define fertile as being successful, then one could say very, very successful. She loved family and she was a sweet, kind person. But, she did know how to play family members at times. She had a hard time expressing direct unhappiness with any of us. Her way of doing it was to say something about one of us to the other in hopes we could share the unhappiness and she would kinda be off the hook. Think about it, it always gave her an out. We were all on to it though, and my standard response was , "Mom, if you have a beef about so and so, you need to let them know. Don't tell me as I can't do anything about it."

Another Mexico connection - several years back when Mazatlán was just becoming a place for tourists to go to, ie, still inexpensive to go there, Mama, Joanne and I took a "girl's trip" to Mazatlán. Mom would always say when she was around the two of us she was glad she didn't have a sister because there seemed to be "competition" between us. In Mazatlán my sister and I (with the help of the matriarch Mama) managed to attract every Mexican man's attention. Seriously, it was a pretty heady experience and we were younger and pretty cute at the time. Mix in a little alcohol and you know what you get. Well, one night we ended up putting Mom in bed after a long night of dining, drinking and dancing and we hooked up with a couple of nice-looking Mexican men and went drinking and dancing. Note to the younger set - I do not recommend doing this, but it was damn fun. I mean, husbands were home minding the kids and we were galavanting in Mazatlán with some pretty nice-looking Mexican dudes. They could very well have been members of the Mexican drug cartel but on that night we didn't care. We ended up dancing at a pretty swank, exclusive place. I've seriously read where there have been some bad happenings at that place. Mom was very aware and pretty upset that we had left her behind, but secretly I can say you can only party with your mom for so long. She was still our mom. But, my sister never kept anything from my mom. She always told her too much in my opinion, but that's just my opinion. Mom knows all the details about that night and she won't be telling a soul on this earth now. Very recently, Joanne was talking to my sister-in-law and mentioned something about how Mom was the only person that always thought she was perfect. And my mom did think she was perfect. Honestly, when it came to my mom, my sister was, in fact,  perfect in how she treated her. But, my sister was quickly reminded that my mom didn't think she was perfect after all because, not to forget, Mom was in Mazatlán with the two 'seestas'. So after all these years, me (the younger sister) finally finds out my mom didn't think my sister was perfect after all! 

She was a member of the Catholic Church in Anderson, TX where she will be buried. But, after moving to the Carriage Inn from the ranch, she reluctantly changed churches and attended the Catholic Church in Bryan. She never really felt like it was "her church", but one thing she did enjoy was getting to be chauffeured in the limo. She wasn't used to that growing up or being married to my dad, that's for sure. So it was cool that she was feeling special and pampered at Carriage Inn. She told me about one trip to church and when church was out, she was walking outside next to a lady when the lady spotted the waiting limo and driver and made some comment about wondering who in the parish was getting picked up in a limo. My mom looked and saw it was her ride and turned to the lady and said, "Oh, that would be me!" When my mom was telling me about it, she told me she felt like a "rich bitch" as she stepped outside and got helped into the back of that fancy limo. 

While in the hospital, a couple of funny things come to mind. One was that it drove my mom crazy when all of her offspring texted. I guess she thought we were talking about her behind her back, and for the last six weeks of her life we were. We shared when she ate, what she ate, how much she ate, how long it took to go through her, her blood pressure readings, whether she felt nauseous, whether she was able to do her daily physical therapy or not, whether or not she was breathing with oxygen, and the list goes on. She was vain and wore these little tiny hearing aids. I wish I had the money she spent on the ones she misplaced or couldn't wear because they didn't fit in her ears correctly, etc. She had a constant problem with them but one thing was damn sure, you couldn't see them and it didn't appear she had to have hearing aids. But, she had a tendency to not wear them and they did very little good when she didn't have them in. Unless you were texting. They could be sitting on her bedside table and she could still hear you texting. Of course she didn't have them in her ears at the end stage of her life. Shortly after I showed up, I was texting out my report to the family members about what she was or wasn't doing and I didn't have my phone on silent. While sitting about 4-5 feet away from her I was texting away when she asked me what that noise was. Ummm, I had been caught in the act. I acted stupid just like I did when I was about 12, and asked her what kind of noise did she hear. And she said it was a click, click click like a little animal. I just slid my hand to the little button and turned off the sound completely. But, I guess mothers really do have a sixth sense. I'm quite sure she knew what I was doing even thought at that point she was no longer opening her eyes. 

Also, during that same visit she made a reference to the book "Fifty Shades of Gray". The nurse was in taking her vitals and casually asked my mom if she had read the book. Unlike most 86 year olds I know, she answered with a sense of pride and giddiness that she had read every word of it. The nurse raised her eyebrows and looked at me as if she wanted me to confirm that she had read it because she didn't believe it. Yep, she read it. But, in fact, she was an avid reader her whole life and read many novels. Some with a lot more substance than the content of that book. For years now, I have talked about my dream of writing a novel. Not just any novel, but a steamy book with lots of inner conflict amongst the characters. The story line has stuck with me for many years. Many of my friends know about this. I always laugh and ask myself why I don't write it. Well, truthfully it's my own fears keeping me from writing it. I could never use the excuse that I can't dare write "that kind of book" while my mom is alive. Shoot, she would have helped me write it!

I only know of one secret ever my mom told me that I don't think she ever told my sister or my brothers. At least, she told it to me about 3-4 years ago and said she had never told anybody. I won't tell you what it is, and she might have told each of us with the same message about nobody else in the family knowing. But, I will never tell. I'll just go on thinking my mom and I did say things to each other that were just between the two of us. And, in case you didn't know, I am actually very good at keeping secrets even though you may be reading this blog and doubting it.

This blog doesn't even touch the surface of my mom. She was much more complex and multi-dimensional. She was a much deeper person than this, but at this very moment this is what I/me/only I am thinking in regards to my mom. 

It's almost time for me to go get dressed and we will head to her funeral. Us kids picked out an intricately carved wooden casket for her because she loved any type of wooden box. I don't know that she really had "this kind of wooden box" in mind all those years of expressing her love for wooden boxes, but somehow it seems fitting to send her off in a beautifully carved wooden casket. And, it isn't a plain pine box I assure you. She'll be nicely dressed with her jewelry on. Even to the very end, she kept her vanity. I think it had something to do with her being ready to die. She kept saying she wanted her health to return to the level it was before she had her last surgery. I think when she realized it wasn't going to happen, and at best, she could hope for being in assisted living or a nursing home rather than independent living, and having to have a wheelchair she decided it was time to go. That wasn't really her idea of living.

The other thing the casket is that it has a little tray for the family members to put treasures in there for her. Kate, my daughter, said she wishes she had a piece of "shocking fruit" from the Schwan truck she could put in there. That's Kate's story and I would have to let her tell it. As for me, I'm putting in a peso so she can have one last margarita. From this day on, any time I drink a margarita I will think of you, Mama. You had your last pachanga and each of us will remember you in a different way, and have a different set of fond memories. But I already know, I'll remember the fun times.

Vaya con Dios, Mom

Just a note: Right after we took this picture my mom went and sat down on the beach where she proceeded to buy a handful of jewelry from a vendor. So she could put it on. We were at Kim's wedding venue and stayed for a week. She didn't go to the wedding because in her words she didn't feel up to it. But she came to life a few days later. I think I'm finally over that one!
All through the travels she let her sweet Mexican friend push her in a wheelchair and she got VIP treatment because of this. We arrived back in the states at the airport and we all got whisked through security ahead of everybody else that was just as tired, but because she was in the wheelchair. A minute later, she then jumped out of that wheelchair and did a little happy dance movement as she walked out to get in the waiting car. Did I tell you there were times she really knew how to frustrate me and embarrass me? 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tizimín, Yucatan Cowboy Meets Victoria, Texas Cowboy

Our week of company has come and gone and I will just say for now it was awesome. In retrospect, the week has become even more special to Terry and me as we have experienced the death of Terry's dad and the hospitalization of my mom. Having time with special friends is precious. I will post a chronological list of events with photos at a later date but there is a snapshot in my mind that I keep going over and over in my mind and that's what I'm writing about today. It was inconsequential in many respects but says so much when it comes to people and places. It epitomizes why we love our friends and why we love to travel. Here's the story -

Seis Slugs in Rio Lagartos
We all visited Rio Lagartos and actually ended up staying there for two nights. Last Friday morning (was it really only 4 days ago?) we got up and meandered to the bus station, passing the tortilleria where James bought a big stack of fresh tortillas for the bus trip. David ended up buying a mango at a fruit stand for the trip back to Merida. When we got to the bus station, it was closed. But, we knew the bus would come around about 9am. Having a few extra minutes, we headed towards the malecon and all sat down with our backpacks in tow to wait the 10 minutes or so to go back to the bus station.
James, Terry, Cindi, David, Me and Robin at the malecon prior to boarding the bus...and up walks Charli...
That's when "Charli" showed up. She spotted David's TAMU cap and knew we were from "home". She just didn't know how close to her home we were. It seems she was a Texas girl that had married and moved to Ct. to live out a life and have a career. Four years ago she and her husband threw in the proverbial towels and moved to Rio Lagartos where they had the distinction of being the only full-time Gringos. When she found out most of the gang were from Victoria, TX she mentioned we may know her relatives the Leitas. Anybody that has spent any time in Victoria knows the Leitas. Right, my friends from Victoria? Names were thrown around and some of her cousins were friends and acquaintances of the gang. It is a small world indeed. Any Gringo that can live in Rio Lagartos full-time for four years is a friend of mine. So, here's to you Charli. My new friend I will probably never see again that has made a life she loves in Rio Lagartos!

We headed to the bus just in  time to board it and just pay the bus driver directly. By the time we got to the main road back to Tizimín the bus was almost full. All the visitors' guides skip right over Tizimín and describe it as not having much for tourists to see or do...nothing more than a place to transfer to another bus and move on. I beg to differ with the guides. Tizimín is smack dab in the middle of cowboy ranching country. The terrain is rocky and the cattle are mostly rangy Brahmas. Kinda' like Charli, any cowboy that has what it takes to ranch this country is a friend of mine. Cowboys wear Wrangler's (btw, they are manufactured right here in the Yucatan these days!), western shirts with fancy yokes and snaps, western boots, and cowboy hats. Tizimín, to me, is like finding a little piece of Texas. When we were on our way to Rio Lagartos, I had struck up a conversation with a young, attractive  Mexican woman in the bus station. I commented on the pretty color of her lipstick. When her husband joined her, he was just as handsome as she was attractive. He was a Tizimín cowboy. By the time they left for their bus to Merida, we were comfortable enough to embrace each other followed by a "Vaya bien". I like that and I like cowboys.

Headed into Tizimín, we picked up a cowboy alongside the road. His profile struck me in a way that I was compelled to snap his picture. Not the end of the story.
Tizimin cowboy boarding the bus

James, one of the Seis Slugs , traveled with his handsome Resistol western hat on his head the entire trip. There was the Texas cowboy and the Tizimín cowboy on this bus, baby. We arrived in Tizimín and had time to go grab a bite to eat. Having no idea where we were going, we struck out to be stopped by a city policeman asking if he could help us. When Terry explained we were looking for a place to grab a comida, he lead us a couple blocks to the Mercado. We walked by the spices in bulk, shoe booths, flower stalls, slabs of beef and pork hanging by hooks and begging to be bought, chickens and turkeys still alive, vegetable stands, and Mexican embroidered shirts directly into the middle of the bustling market where there were tables in the lined with food stands all around the edge. We headed in several different directions to get tortas and queso empanadas. While sitting there looking around, up walks the cowboy from the bus. I have to admit I was scouting the whole market scene out by this time, and am re-telling second-hand from Terry. He became the interpreter in this exchange between two cowboys. The Tizimín cowboy said in English "Me like your hat. How much?" James, thinking he meant how much he paid for it told him how much he paid for it, but not saying dollars. It seems the Tizimín cowboy was asking how much James would take to part with the hat. He was pretty excited to think he could get the nice cowboy hat from the Texan at such a low price. This was a misinterpretation of pesos and USD. He thought James was giving him the price in pesos. James thought he was just wanting to know how much he had paid for his hat. Terry intervened to let James know he needed to tell him the hat wasn't for sale. It seems the Tizimín cowboy was looking for a nice western hat for his brother. The exchange ended on a positive note with laughs and hand-shaking. It was all very respectful and he told us we were welcome in Tizimín any time. Cowboys are pretty much the same whether from Tizimín or Texas! There was a table of four elderly gentlemen sitting at the table next to us. I saw them watching us and could tell they were curious about us. I had mentioned to David that disregarding the color of their skin, these four gentlemen sitting enjoying each other's company was a scene that could be observed anywhere. I couldn't stand it and I went over to the table and explained where we were from, where we were going, and that we like Tizimín. One of them proudly pointed up to his cap which had "King Ranch" embroidered across it. Yep, he was quite familiar with cowboys in Texas, South Texas and Corpus Christi. It was cool stuff. James ended up buying a nice leather belt from one of the vendors that us girls visited. When we pointed James out to him, he strolled over to James anxious to show him his leather western belts and anxious to make a sell. It paid off for him and James walked away with an awesome belt. One of the four gentlemen whispered to me and asked how much James had paid for the belt. When I told him, he approved. James, the cowboy, had made a fair deal. Again, mutual respect and admiration.
James making the deal on his leather belt

Leaving, we said Hasta Luego to several of the distinguished gentlemen that surrounded us here in cattle country. And just prior to leaving, who should walk in? Ramon, our boat captain from the day before boat outing we took in Rio Lagartos. Again, there were hugs and air kisses exchanged with Ramon. 
Pic of Terry and Capitan Ramon from the day before boat ride

We were starting to look like celebrities. But, unlike celebrities we walked back to the bus station and boarded a not-so-shiny Noreste bus bound for Merida - the cowboy and the other five Texans.   

More out-of-order antics to follow on our week of the Seis Slugs!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Adventures in Shopping

I'm not a drapery person at all. I don't like dark rooms. But I do prefer night time sleeping in a room where I don't feel like somebody is shining a flashlight in my eyes so that's what lead to our shopping adventure. We decided to put up a black out drape in the spare bedroom. You know, we are having guests and we want them to get a good night's sleep. Lights from the jardine across the street shine in the room at night.

Just like always, I knew Chapur had a location downtown. Could we walk directly to it? Of course not, but we could hope to get close enough to be able to spot it. We've walked by it numerous times. It's in the walking gauntlet. We found it without too much extra walking and had to go to the top floor for home goods. And I spotted drapes over in the corner. The cool thing about shopping here is that there are plenty of people to help you. And they genuinely try to help you. Whereas it seems like in the US, customer service is going away but here it seems to be plentiful. I really like personal service. We looked and found what we wanted. The perfect size and all. It was a pair that measured 80 inches (not centimeters) across. So the salesperson takes the item you want to buy and walks over to a desk, writes up a ticket and then takes you and the merchandise to another desk where the cashier rings up the purchase, you pay, then you get to actually take possession of the merchandise. Just the way it goes.

We needed a curtain rod now, but Chapur doesn't sell those. The sales lady told us to go to the esquina and we would find Parisina. They would have them. We had shopped and bought from Chapur, but neither of us had ever gone to Parisina. It is mostly a fabric store, but we found curtain rods up on the second floor. We found what we needed and took the rod downstairs to a cashier. But as soon as we got in line, it was taken away from us by an authoritative looking gentleman and he took the rod over to a girl where she scanned it, printed out a piece of paper and handed it all back to the guy. We're following everybody around like two puppies. He takes the rod and the paper to another desk and hands the paper to the girl and places the rod to the side. She uses the paper to ring up the sale, we pay her and she turns around and gives the receipt to the authoritative looking guy. He takes the receipt and walks over to the rod and looks at the stuff piled around it like he doesn't have a clue which item we are trying to purchase. I knew what was going through Terry's mind and vice versa. It is rather humorous but we know there is an end in sight. Be patient. Eventually, we are handed the rather long rod and are free to walk out the door with it. You would have thought Terry was carrying a loaded gun as we walked through town. Every person we met on the street would stop and look at him. We aren't sure if they were just curious or just genuinely concerned about what the heck that long thing was.

We got home and opened the package. Remember me saying the pair of drapes measured 80" across. They didn't. They measured 37" each. Made in China! They looked like crap. Just to move ahead here, I ended up going back yesterday and getting another pair. Of course they are the same with the exception of being a different color. But, they blend and will have to do. They do serve their purpose.

To end our day of shopping, we walked to Chedraui and bought groceries and a new microwave to replace the one the ants got in and destroyed the electronic stuff. Terry tried to work on it but it was beyond repair. Since we bought a microwave I got to ride home in a bici-taxi with the groceries and microwave while Terry walked home. I felt so special being  transported - living in high cotton!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Just One More Night

Can't upload pictures so will try and get them in here later...ugh! I can't even upload to Google's because I am trying to do this blog from free parquet internet services and it limits your ability to upload. Oh hell/oh well!

Still in Hopkins, Stann Creek District, Belize
We rented a golf cart one day for a couple of hours, and after walking the beach north and walking the beach south, we could now scope out going these directions from the road. You may think that two hours in a golf cart isn't near enough but Hopkins isn't a very big place. Plus, we got off of the beaten path while south and it seemed that there was water in this $10/gallon gas. (that is what Belizeans pay for a gallon of gas; we didn't have to pay for gas at all) So when we came sputtering into Coconut Row they told us to grab another golf cart and go for another couple of hours. We did! As we drove through town several of the shop owners came out and wanted us to stop and buy. Our answer: We promise. We will be back. By the end of the day we had stopped and bought from all those we promised we would. Nothing big but embroidered potholders, conch shell soap dish and spoons, a napkin holder made of cane, carved slate wall hangings, and the infamous Belikin magnet! Our last stop was at the coconut sellers stand where the two dudes used their machete to open the coconut with a big douse of rum poured in.

It was time to make a decision. Do we make plans to check out tomorrow or do we stay another night? We decided quickly to stay another night. The tradition of staying another night started way back when the kids were little. When on vacation, kids never want to leave. So when they started saying they wanted to stay another night, Terry secretly would go to reservations and request another night. The kids would be delighted when he told them we didn't have to go home yet. We still do this today.

Bocawina Park
So for our extra day we got up and had breakfast at Tina's. Terry ordered the Belizean special - he thinks it was the first time he had fish for breakfast except for maybe grabbing a cold piece of leftover fish from the frig. His breakfast was kind of a creole sauce prepared fish, black beans and fry jacks.  I had an omelet. We were getting a ride to Bocawina Park today to do some hiking in the rainforest and check out the waterfalls. Bocawina is less than an hour from Hopkins. I guess our Americanism kicked in when we got to Bocawina. We thought we would be required to have a guide, be in a group, and have a lesson in rainforest safety. There was none of that. We paid our $5 entry fee and they told us to turn left and stay on the trails. You didn't have to tell us to stay on the trail as it would take a complete idiot to try and walk through the thick foliage where who knows what all may live. This was real. We never heard or saw another soul as we climbed up, up and up until we came to the first set of falls. It was about an hour and a half climb. We hung around and took pictures then started to ascend further up. It didn't take us long to realize we didn't want to go another 2 1/2 hours up to the second set of falls. I know...we should have...but...we headed on downward. On our descent we did run into a group that was heading up to rappel down. They also have the longest zipline in Belize here. I would have ziplined but Terry wasn't up for it, and it wasn't worth it for me to go alone. So we went down to the base and grabbed a beer and a rum punch instead! There is a primitive but beautiful resort made up of individual palapas and a restaurant - The Wild Fig. We sat outside where they had a misting system to keep us cool. Met another couple and talked with them. They had found the Bocawina Resort through Groupon.

When we got back to Hopkins, we went to Tina's again for a late lunch. I wanted to eat Garifuna food and she was serving darasa. It is made by grinding up green plantains, mixing with other ingredients then steaming it. Many of the Garifuna dishes are made with this mixture and served as mashed potatoes, dumplings, or as mine was...creole whole fish with the darasa underneath it and oozing out the sides. It was good, rich and very filling. Terry had conch sautéed and served in a creole sauce with rice and a huge helping of coleslaw. Both were excellent. We spent the afternoon vegging on the beach.

Travel Day
We got up and packed and walked the 3-4 blocks to catch the 7am bus out of Hopkins. On travel day we never eat breakfast, live off of fried plantains, and limit our water intake. We were traveling from Hopkins all the way into Belize City on the chicken bus and there are no bathrooms. In Dangriga, we had a 10 minute wait for the next bus to Belize City. I asked the bus driver if I had time to go to the bathroom and he said 'yes', but there was a long line and I gave up as I feared I would get left. You just have to learn to hold it! We took Ritchie's Bus Service from Dangriga to Belize City and after two years we once again got to see and marvel at the Hummingbird Highway. We arrived in Belize City about 10:45...still not sure if we were going to go to San Pedro for the day and night and catch the water taxi back to Mexico, or how in the heck we were going to get north. I looked up and saw an ADO bus pull in. We found the ADO ticket area and found out the bus was going to Cancun via Bacalar, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. We booked to get off at Tulum, just knowing we could get back to Merida from Tulum. When you ride the ADO bus from Merida to Belize City you book and pay for your entire trip. But, when you leave from Belize City you pay for the portion of the trip to get you across the border and then you pay the Mexican ADO ticketing office for the remainder of your ticket. Interesting! Leaving Belize and entering Mexico takes two bus to leave and one to enter. Every trip we have taken across the border we end up paying a different amount. It is as if they never know exactly what to charge you when. This time, we didn't get charged the normal entry fee and we aren't sure why. Last trip we had to pay it.
Our first stop was in Bacalar which is only about an hour north of the border. It was about 4:30pm. This is where we would pay for the remainder of our trip. When we talked to the ADO ticketer we realized we could go directly to Merida from Bacalar. The next bus, which originates in Chetumal, would arrive at 5:45. We talked to the bus driver to explain our change in plans so he could keep his records straight. He completely understood why we were making the change so after a little discussion with the bus driver and the ADO ticketer we were set to go from Bacalar to Merida. We watched it rain as we waited for our bus, and ate fried plantain chips. We could have eaten, but the last thing we ever want to do is risk eating something and then get sick on the bus. A girl did exactly that on the way to Merida. We arrived in Merida a little before 11pm. Upon arrival at the house, we admired the newly-installed balaustradas and the tile that had been laid by Beto. We were happy to be back! We celebrated the long but safe journey and the work Beto had done with a rum drink then headed to the clouds.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

We Missed Slugfest but Made Mangofest

It's Tuesday in Hopkins, so I have been told. Actually, now it's one day later.
We left San Pedro on Sunday morning and had beautiful weather to fly.
Flying over the citrus groves near Dangriga
However, I have to say anybody that comes to Hopkins, you really need to take the Hummingbird Highway at least once to come this direction. It is too pretty to miss. We will most likely take it via bus when we start heading back north.

We were able to check into our beautiful new digs extremely early - one of the beauties of traveling during the low season.
It's a winner - the Guesthouse

After being here for a few days I can tell you without a doubt Hopkins is the most laid back, non-touristy place I have ever visited as a tourist. Next down the line is Placencia, Belize. When we had visited Placencia two years ago, we walked away saying it was the most laid back. Not any more.
We came to Hopkins on a whim and at the suggestion of a local woman we had met two years ago while leaving Placencia on a bus. She and her husband were both Belizeans that lived in NYC now. The way she described it made us both put it in our memory banks for a trip in the future. And here we are.
Our view from the 4th Floor Mirador
The Mirador

Mirador View looking east...mountains in the background

We pick our mangoes for breakfast from here

I can now describe it the same way she described it to us. What is the allure? Hopkins is located on the mainland of Belize, directly on the Caribbean but protected by the reef system off the Belizean Coast. It is south of Belize City. The village is made up of Garifunas. They are Black, pretty/handsome, speak their own language and are the nicest, friendliest, most genuine group of people we have ever met. They live as one with nature and are very proud of their heritage and village. One of them explained to us how they operate. They take care of each other and if there is ever a 'bad apple' that pops up either from within or from the outside they won't last. They take care of it. And I don't mean in a violent way; I mean like how every parent used to be parents to kids when you grow up in a small town. You can't get away with doing anything bad. They do not tolerate misbehavior. You can read more about their history here. Yesterday Terry and I were sitting by the beach in the lounge chairs when two little girls about 7 or 8 yrs. old came walking through on their way home from school. One of them could not keep her hands off of Terry. She first touched the skin on his arm, then she started rubbing on his head. Then, she reached down and started touching his belly. We also let the boys riding their bicycles home from school hang on to the side of the golf cart going down the street to get a free ride.
Hopkins is beautiful. The beaches are beautiful and clean, there are nice guesthouses, restaurants are all little wooden buildings mostly with outside seating for a few. There are places to eat and drink, and a few true hole-in-the-wall but really cool bars. 

It is a place to come to and get re-acquainted with yourself, nature and to re-think the definitions of "happiness" and "success" and "the meaning of life". We haven't left yet and I am ready to come back. It is a place for reading and doing nothing. It is a place where we thank the Garifunas for sharing their beautiful village with us. Although there are many natural wonders such as waterfalls, caves, and ruins nearby. So there really are things to do, don't get me wrong. We are staying smack dab in the middle of town in a beautiful guesthouse. Locals in their wooden homes surround us. Clothes drying are on one side of us. We pick our own mangoes in the morning, and Mathew (one of the workers here) climbed a tree and got us a couple of coconuts yesterday. He used his machete to open them, we drank enough of the water to make room for some rum then he poured in the rum. Makes for a great refreshing drink...but watch out as it sneaks up on you. But, we're competing with the woodpeckers for the coconuts. Not so much competition for the rum. We're surrounded by food - mangoes, sea grapes, guava, and cashews.
We got up yesterday morning and took a long beach walk north. This morning we took a long beach walk south. There are "fancy resorts" and expat housing to the south. It is all pretty and shiny. Lots of building going on and I imagine some growing pains are being felt. The resorts are outside of the village and self-contained. We scoped out the marina on the Sittee River down south. It was very pretty and the river is beautiful. 
Upon our arrival, we were told about the Mangofest. It was going on the day we arrived. How cool is that? We were missing Slugfest 2017 but able to make Mangofest in its place. Sunday evening we walked the short walk to Mangofest and had mango rum drinks, ate conch fritters, ate cheese fries, ate Italian sausage burgers and met James. He and his wife left Canada a couple of years ago and opened Gecko's in Hopkins. He is from St. Lucia originally, dark-skinned and just as nice as the native Garifunas. We ate at Gecko's last night - fried fish, plantain chips and coleslaw while we talked to him about his move and the restaurant business. He said it is always a challenge getting fresh produce into the village. Thus, he was serving plantain chips instead of the planned potato fries. We were totally ok with the plantain chips. Drumming is a big thing here. The music is Carribean/reggae kind of music. At the Mangofest they had a dance contest and we saw some big black booty being shaken in a way I didn't even know was possible. Slugs, did you shake your booties at Slugfest? You see absolutely nobody on a cell phone.

We had casually mentioned at the office that we would like some more of the conch fritters we had at the Mangofest. This morning we were told "Shannon" at Luba Laruga (Garifuna for the sun coming up) was making conch fritters and conch cerviche for us. Just go down to the Luba Laruga for our noon meal. Sure enough...he had it all ready for us.
We really hated missing Slugfest, but thank goodness we had Hopkins and Mangofest in its place.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

It May be a Fruitstand or It May be a Pub Crawl

There were a lot of "It May be a Fruitstand" moments over the course of the next two days. We stayed on Ambergris Caye with Joanne and Larry for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Friday morning we all got up and Joanne made a late breakfast before we headed out to go exploring. The exploring quickly turned into a pub crawl.

We rode out to the gravel pit where we saw "Arkansas" driving a huge backhoe. We had met him the night before at the eatery where we had dinner. He never saw us watching him but now we know he really is the Gravel Guy of Ambergris Caye.
We loaded up in the golf cart and they "re-explored" and we experienced for the first time all the things on the north side of the island. After lots of golf cart riding and looking we headed as far north as you can go in a golf cart which ultimately puts you taking a narrow path along the edge of the water. We started out at the bar at Tranquility Bay way north. Joanne and I swam while the guys got caught up over Belikens and whiskeys. We all grabbed a drink to go and the next stop was another bar called El Norte. I remember that because I bought a t-shirt there. We chatted with the bartender who was from Canada and recently bought the tiny (I mean really tiny) bar. Joanne and Larry had visited this bar on one of the previous days but the bartender/owner was not there. Only his compadre who we are yet to figure out his story. But, he is building houses here and had wanted to show Joanne and Larry the house he had for sale. Evidently when they had left the bar Larry and dug way deep into his pockets and pulled out a Belizean $1 coin (US 50 cents) and left it as a tip. Not meaning to be a cheapskate but just getting confused about the value of the coin. Well, after staying here for quite a while, we decided to load up and head to the next place. I was with  mysterious compadre guy getting my t-shirt at this time so I missed it but evidently compadre guy was so taken aback by the cheap American the day before that he had filled in the bartender. The bartender, not knowing he was talking directly to the culprit, started ragging on "some guy that left a $1 coin as a tip yesterday". Joanne blew beer out her nose and Larry never said a word about it being him. OK...time to move on.

It started to get a little foggy after this, but I know we made it Rojo's Lounge and it was open. We discussed how in just a few short years this was pretty much the end of the line for going north. Rojo's used to be out in the middle of nowhere, but now they have the greatest bar ever and it is nice. Great drinks, great bartenders, and nice-looking guys that go to this bar. We met and talked with people here for quite awhile. We got invited to a Pub Crawl the next day. Sounds like fun! But wait, we are on a pub crawl now. The parrot is pretty cute too. I would say we all let our hair down for sure. There was another bar where we had drinks and eventually ordered food. Terry said it was either Paco's or The Tiki Bar. I think we all knew it was time to go home now.

So, getting back to the Fruitstand. During the day, we saw so many interesting things that you have no idea what it is or what the significance of it is - half-completed buildings, where did all those unmatched shoes come from that washed up on the beach, the beautiful birds you have no idea what they are, the list goes on. Larry and Joanne told this story about one time Dad and Larry were traveling together and they passed a half-completed building on the side of the road and my dad casually said he wondered what that was gonna be. Larry's response was that "it may be a fruit stand". Of course Larry had no idea what it was, and my dad didn't either so who could dispute the other. But of course Dad did dispute it. It became the catch-all for anything you don't know the answer to. "It may be a fruit stand." There were a lot of "It may be a fruit stand" moments on this day of golf cart cruising the outback areas of the north part of the island.

We slowly got moving on Saturday, headed into town for breakfast and some shopping. It remained a fairly slow-moving day...thank goodness! You need those ever now and then. This day seemed to go by very quickly. We spent the afternoon lounging by the condo pool and ended up eating dinner around the pool. Joanne and I finished off the rum punch she had been given while we lounged in the pool. Terry and my plan was to get up early Sunday morning and catch a taxi into town. We were going to sneak out quietly letting Joanne and Larry sleep in peacefully. We had made reservations on a Tropic Air flight for 7am. When we found out the cab tare was $50 we decided to make Larry wake up and take us into town instead...yes, we are cheapskates. It was hard to leave good company but we had places to go and we knew Joanne and Larry wanted to have their time alone for enjoying doing whatever they wanted to do without us being underfoot the whole time. We made a pact to do a little more scheduling and coordination next vacation meet-up so we could do a little more joint traveling.

Good-by to Joanne & Larry and Hello to Hopkins, Stann Creek District, Belize

Monday, June 5, 2017

Belize or Bust...was Almost a Bust

We headed out of Merida bound for Chetumal on a 7:30 am bus. That was on Thursday. It is a very relaxing but long 6 hour bus trip. The Mexican first- class buses are luxurious with plenty of seat room and leg room. The bathrooms are so never have to touch anything to get water for hand-washing or to flush the toilet. You just wave your hand over the little button with the cute pictures. Pretty fancy, huh? We had decided to make this trip on the fly when we realized that our presence at the casa would not make the work go faster or smoother. Beto has the keys to let himself in and we think he has at least a general idea how we wanted the tile floors to be laid out. Furthermore, Beto has full artistic license to do what he wants. I mean we aren't there so who knows what Beto will do. I think he's going to miss us being there making tortas for him every day though.

The smooth and uneventful ride to Chetumal was a little different than our water taxi ride to San Pedro from Chetumal. We boarded on time and left on time, but after about 15 minutes the engine sputtered and stopped running abruptly. Terry immediately said it sounded like a prop shear pin. We were dead in the water rolling from side to side and a few people were looking a little green. Jamie, the gay guy we have come to know over the years as the cabin overseer jumped up and immediately told everybody to stay seated. It would just take a few minutes to fix. That was when the arguing started. It was a strange couple we haven't quite figured out. He was a big guy, a Mexican guy. She was a tiny little live wire, a Mexican woman I had named "Busybody" before we even left. She couldn't sit still and was constantly asking questions of everybody in the terminal beforehand. It seems they had been estranged, he had contacted her and said he wanted her to come home. She did. But he was texting F'ing somebody at 5 in the morning. Who the F was it??? She demanded to know. My statement was ---Well, we'll be seeing this altercation on YouTube.

After a few minutes they stopped arguing or maybe the engine, one of them, drowned them out. We were back on our way but slowly. The normal hour and 45 minute trip took 2 and 1/2 hours but we did make it to San Pedro. Got through customs and our plan was to look for Larry and Joanne and hope they were waiting for us, but if not, we would walk over to Ruby's Hotel and get a room for the night and find them in the morning.

After getting through Customs, we exited and looked around but didn't see them and we were just about to head out walking when we spotted them in their cute little yellow golf cart being very still and trying to be stealthy. They were going to come up behind us once we started walking and listen to how we trashed them for not caring enough to even meet us at the dock.

They had put in a full day and we had traveled all day so we were all hungry. Headed the 8 miles out to their gorgeous condo and stopped off at a little roadside eatery for drinks and something to eat. Their specialty - lionfish. None of us had ever eaten lionfish even though we had heard about it. Oh, my! It was so delicious. And the drinks were cold. We were all so excited we were all talking but I don't know who was listening.

Headed out to the condo and I have to say it was an early night. We were ready for a good night's sleep and a couple of days of catching up. Pretty nice of them to let us crash at their pad for a few days!