The Journey to Casa Madera – Watching the Olympics!


August 5, 2012 – The skies are greying and the distant sound of thunder reminds us it is still rainy season here at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  Last night we had a doozy of a storm.  3 or 4 inches of rain and spectacular lightning.  It takes your breath away watching it and now it looks like we are going get to enjoy it again.

Today we decided to do something different with the blog and Heather has taken the time to put her thoughts into cyberspace.  We hope you enjoy it!

Watching the Olympics – Heather Wood

To say that we have felt removed from “real life” since we moved to Mexico would be an understatement.  We do listen to the daily news on CKUA radio, which gives us the highlights, and honestly that is about all I have ever really been interested in.  I have made it a habit since I began living on my own to not watch the evening news.   Call me silly, but I always felt it emphasized the negative, rather than the positive aspects of the world in which we live.  However, even without my daily dose of  the evening news, I was still able to have an idea of what was going on in the world, thanks to everyday conversations I would have with friends, co-workers and family.

Now, by our choice, we live in a different country whose first language is Spanish, not English.  We can watch the evening news, if we choose, and we can choose to buy several newspapers, in Spanish, at any street corner with a traffic light.  That does not mean that we will be able to understand everything spoken or printed.  Even though our language skills have improved 200% since moving here, we still have a long way to go.  Fully understanding a newspaper article or Television broadcast is still far into our future, I am afraid.

Which is why I was so surprised when my friend who lives in the UK started commenting about the Olympics in her Facebook posts.  I used to take major news events like this for granted.  Things like this were something everyone was talking about on every corner, in every newscast, and it was written somewhere in every newspaper for months leading up to the big event.

Perhaps it is the same way here.  I really don’t know, for reasons already stated.  🙂

I can tell you that we are watching the Olympics daily and that I am having a difficult time picking a country to cheer for.  I am torn.  Of course, I will always cheer for Canada, my homeland and where my heart lies.  But, I have a soft spot for Mexico as well.     I am and always will be, a proud Canadian. I  also remember that  Mexico accepted me and my husband when we decided to experience life away from the 9 – 5.  With that acceptance, comes  a certain pride in my adopted country and its achievements.

I am loving watching the  Olympics and consider myself very lucky that Mexico and Canada will not battle it out for the medal in  all events.

GO TEAM CANADA!!!

Advertisements
Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Journey to Casa Madera – Guadalajara, It took a year but we finally got there!


On June 7th, 2012 a remarkable thing happened to Heather and I.  We drove to Guadalajara!  I attribute this to not parking the Jeep near any trees or other things that could fall down on it.  We made sure to visit the mechanic to have the oil changed, the brakes checked and the bolts tightened so it was running well.

It all worked.  At 11:30 am on Thursday June 7th, we backed out the driveway of Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast and hit the road.  It was exciting.  Our first road trip in quite a while.  We were giddy with anticipation.

Or was it hunger.  It had been 4 hours since breakfast.  So we made it as far as Bucerias (12 minutes) before we stopped for lunch.  But hey, we were on the road!

A quick lunch and we were off.  It was a nice day for a drive, sunny but not too hot. The traffic was relatively light which was really nice.  It was a pleasant 4 hour drive to the big city.

We had booked ourselves a room in the Suites Bernini as it appeared it was close to the fabric store area.  We had never been to the hotel before and really had no idea where it was but thankfully the gps was able to pinpoint it and made it relatively easy to get to which at 4:30 in the afternoon is a good thing.

After checking in and putting the Jeep in the smallest parking lot known to civilization we took the elevator up to our room on the 16th floor.  Only the penthouse was above us.  The view should be spectacular!

The view from the 16th floor

We were right, the view was spectacular.  The interesting thing about this view was that the entire wall was glass, floor to ceiling.  The top half, opened.  Totally opened.  We could open the window up 4 feet.  It was just a little disconcerting.  We got used to it but neither one of us ever really got close to the glass.

The area had many watering holes and restaurants.  It was tough to make a choice of where to eat but we did and the food was great.  So many places within 4 blocks and so little time we will definitely return.

One of about 15 stores where you could buy a wedding dress

Friday morning we were out and on foot looking for the fabric stores that Heather wanted to visit.  We hit the area right, there was a street of fabric stores, bridal shops and general formal party wear just a couple of blocks from the hotel.  It was a beautiful street with a pedestrian walkway down the middle of the road with benches, fountains, shade, plug-ins and wi-fi.

Could walk this all day long

It was a great way to spend the morning before it really got hot.  Once it did we headed out to the Galeria’s mall.  I know what you are saying, a mall is a mall.  And you would be right but this mall had a Krispy Kreme kiosk, sigh…oh and a Best Buy.  All it really needed was a Golf Town.

On Saturday we were going to move hotels over to Tonala as we wanted to do the market on Sunday.  So we checked out of the hotel after breakfast and headed out.  Our plan was to spend a few hours in Tlaquepaque to check it out but do all of our buying in Tonala.

Refreshment time in Tlaquepaque

Tlaquepaque is another must visit in Guadalajara.  Beautiful galleries, totally different handicrafts than we have seen here before and a nice traffic free pedestrian only mall.  It was fun.  It was there that we found the Tapatio Tourist bus.

For 110 pesos you could ride the double-decker bus to downtown Guadalajara where you could take the Guadalajara tour, or change to the Zapopan bus and take that tour.  From Tlaquepaque you could catch a tour bus to Tonala.  We decided to take the Guadalajara tour.  It was cool.

Great way to spend the day!

The roof of the bus is open air so you can take it in all the sights and sounds.  It also has stops along the way where you could get off, see this attraction and catch another bus an hour or two later.  Great idea.

Beautiful cathedral just outside of downtown

We really enjoyed the Guadalajara tour.   When you are not driving you can take it all in.  It allowed us to see where things are so in future visits we will have more of an idea where we are going.  When the tour is over they park downtown by the government buildings and main cathedral.

When getting off of the bus they told us that the bus back to Tlaquepaque leaves at 4:30 and it is bus number 4.  This gave us about an hour to kill so we wandered around, toured a corn exhibit in the main City square, bought a cold lime and salt drink and then just headed for shade to wait for bus number 4.  At 4:15 a bus pulled in, number 2.  At 4:22 I wandered over to just double-check where it was going and just before I got to it the bus pulled away.

There are 6 traffic lanes in this traffic circle, there are at least 6 of these in town. Fun to drive in! Really!

So we waited for bus number 4.  At 4:40 we finally asked the tour people where the Tlaquepaque bus was and they told us it left 20 minutes ago.  Well this was a problem.  First off, it left early and was not the right number.  Our car and our luggage was sitting on a side street in Tlaquepaque.  There were no more buses.

They did eventually see the problem and started to make phone calls.  Finally they said a bus would be by at about 6:30.  This was just under 2 hours away.  We had yet to get a hotel, this was too long to wait.  So we eventually took a taxi back to Tlaquepaque.

Will we take a Tapatio tour bus again?  You bet.  It was great.  Yes there was that little glitch but it was our fault as much as theirs.  And where else can you spend a day travelling around a city getting on and off a special tourist bus for less than 10 bucks.

The taxi driver knew where we needed to go and dropped us close to our car, into it we got and started searching for the hotel.  We knew where we wanted to stay it was just finding our way there.  That is always the main challenge.

Surprisingly it did not take that long to find our Hotel, the Hacienda del Sol.  Once registered and luggage put away we headed out in search of food and drink.  Found a great restaurant 4 blocks away with super cold beer and great beef.  It was a lovely meal.

Sunday brought the market.  Always a lot of fun.  People everywhere, stalls everywhere.  You can buy everything under the sun there.   And we did.  More artwork, soap, lamps, mugs and so many other things it just too hard to list them all.

Just a tiny, tiny bit of the Tonala market.

On Sunday night we went for a walk.  It was a beautiful evening and while walking during the day we stumbled upon the town square so we wandered down to check that out and see if there was anything good to eat.

Sunday night is the night to go to the town square.  It is teeming with life.  Food stalls, music stalls, bands playing music, places to get drinks.  It is something else.  On this day we found something really special, a corn dog.  Hot out of the oil.  Heather thought she had died and gone to heaven.  There are just some things you don’t regularly see on the street here for food and corn dogs are one of them.  Alas he only had one left so I was forced to have a deep-fried taco instead.  Oh, poor me.

Monday morning it was time to head for home.  So after a quick stop at Krispy Kreme to pick up a dozen glazed for the road (they really are the best donuts in the world) we were on our way.

Monday morning rush hour in Guadalajara. All this for Krispy Kremes…..

Passing by the town of Jala we could see the new 4 lane toll road being built from Jala to Puerto Vallarta that should turn a 4 hour drive into 2.5 to 3.  I can hardly wait…

 

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Journey to Casa Madera – The Leak


June 4, 2012 – Summer has hit at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  The weather is warm, the sun is out and the humidity is building.  Our first potential tropical storm of the year came and went without so much as a cool breeze let alone 50 mile per winds as the weather people kept saying we would see.  In other words, things are progressing as per normal or as normal as things get around our house.

Heather and I were taking Alexa for morning walk one day last week when we noticed that there was water on the ground around our water meter. Our water meter is located outside of the property on the main sidewalk.  The water line comes up from below, the water meter is installed, and the line goes back down underground.  On the left hand side of the meter at ground level there was water.

This is a problem.  The water is not coming from the part of the line above the ground but below.  Part of the line belongs to us, part of the line belongs to Fibba.  Whose problem is this?

And a problem it would be.  It was under the concrete.  Who wants to break concrete to find a water leak?  I know I certainly don’t, especially when it is 35 degrees outside.

So with that in mind on Saturday morning we showed the problem to a FIBBA employee who said the problem was on our side of the line.  It was then when my eagle-eyed wife spotted some used teflon plumbing tape on the ground just a little bit away from where they were standing.  Heather told him that we had done nothing to the line so why would there be plumbing tape here?  FIBBA must have done something so it is your problem!  It was worth a shot though we really did not believe it would work.

All we wanted to know was whose responsibility was it to repair.  He still said ours, which we kind of figured.  Ok, so we have to fix the line.  We can get a plumber, no problem.  What is a problem was we don’t know exactly what was going on underneath the concrete so Heather decided that we should speak to the people in charge.  We wanted the line inspected and if we needed to fix it ourselves we wanted a FIBBA employee on site when the ground was opened so they could not blame anything else on us.

So on a beautiful Saturday morning at 9:05 Heather made the call to the office and spoke to the person that we were told to speak to.  She explained what the problem was and we would like someone to inspect it.  The woman on the phone said that she would send someone right out.

After 90 minutes of nobody coming to the house we decided we should call one more time.

Heather attempted to stay calm, cool and collected on the phone.  That lasted about 45 seconds.  A runaround, is a runaround and she called them on it.  She was very forceful going back and forth between spanish and english which I believe caused them some concern.  Finally she asked in english, “Is anybody coming out to look as this today?”

No, came the response and she hung up.  Heather was absolutely seething.  Unfortunately there is not much you can do about this.  Putting people off is a national sport here and it is not just us that get it, they do it to the Mexicans too but they are better equipped to deal with it as their spanish is flawless and they give as good as they get.

So we went shopping and resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to phone Jose on Monday to get him to come out and find out what is shaking with this leak.  If it is after the meter it is costing us money so it needs to be repaired.

Sunday morning we were coming back from our morning walk and I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  A curled up piece of plumber’s sandpaper was lying on the sidewalk.  I looked over it and saw that the concrete around our water line had been chipped out and new solder had been installed.  No more leak….WTF!

And therein lies the great mystery of this country.  Just when you are ready to go over to the office and throttle six or seven people your problem gets dealt with and they don’t tell you.

Sigh

 

Posted in Starting new life | Leave a comment

The Journey to Casa Madera – I said I wanted A cat!


March 7, 2012 – We had to go to Costco the other day to pick up new glasses and supplies for Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast.  It’s funny, a year ago our supplies at Costco generally involved items we could not buy anywhere else and were limited to foods and wine with the purchase every 6 weeks of dog food for Alexa.

We never bought cat food at Costco.  Zorro was fussy and Costco did not carry Whiskas, the only brand he would eat.  The other problem was the large bag would probably go rancid before Zorro would eat it all.

Zorro, the coolest cat I know.

Now for the first 6 months we had him we did buy the cat litter at Costco but we soon found that he stopped using the litter box and used the jungle.  Typical male, the whole world was his bathroom.

We did not complain about that aspect of Zorro’s existence as it was one less item to clean up and 20 bucks we did not need to spend every 8 weeks or so.  Oh how things have changed…..

July 8, 2011 – My annual trip home to Alberta to see my kids, Allison and Brendan and my granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Always a joyous event to see the kids and to spend time with them.  As always when I go home in the summer my brother Alan, his son Jonathan, Brendan and I journey out into the foothills of Alberta to go fishing.

Well that’s what we call it anyway.  Many would wonder if we actually do any fishing as we rarely come home with any fish but do come home with a fair amount of empties.

This year we made a change to the trip due to high water levels where we normally go and headed out to Jarvis Lake outside of Hinton and spent the weekend camping with Heather’s brother, Neil and her brother-in-law, Denis.  The fishing was no different from normal and we were still having a good time.

It was on Friday afternoon while we were sitting around shooting the bull and enjoying the sun when Neil while checking his Facebook said “hey you have 4 more cats”.  Oops I was not supposed to tell you that.

Lluvia the one and only female

Cats??  What do mean I have 4 more cats???  I can’t wait to hear how Heather could get 4 cats.  I had only been gone for 4 days!

Esperanzo - The Union Leader

It seems that the night before it was absolutely pouring rain as it is apt to do in Nuevo Vallarta in rainy season when Heather heard Alexa making strange noises and pawing at the garage door.  When she went down to investigate she saw a little paw coming under the door.

Blanco - trouble with a capital T!

Now a lot of people at that point would have ignored it and went back upstairs.  However, Heather is not like a lot of people.  She opened the door and into the garage ran 3 kittens.  Well this was a bit of a shock, especially for someone who never wanted a cat.  They were all over her and Alexa.  It was then she made that fatal mistake…..she took them upstairs.

Dulce - he is "special"

Kittens are cute.  Even when they are ugly, they are still cute so I understand the pull to protect them.

It was raining, hard.  This brought Zorro home.  He was not impressed to see the little things in his house so this was a problem.  Heather put them into the library where the door could be closed, added some litter to Zorro’s litter box and gave them food and water while the big mean adult male sat outside the door and tried to figure out how he would get in to deal with them once and for all.

The next morning a girl who would walk a couple of dogs for her neighbour yelled up that she saw something strange over on the other side of our neighbours house.  Heather went down so she could show her what it was.  And there laying in the sodden dirt was one very wet and looking dead black kitten.  Apparently there were 4 kittens not 3.

The kitten was covered in muck, flies and eggs.  Apparently it was dead.  Heather went back to the house and called the Vet.  He said to try a little food around its nose and see if it responds.  He was already coming out to have a look at them and deflea them but it would be an hour or so before he got there.

Heather did as suggested and went down with some wet cat food on her finger and waved it in front of the kitten’s nose.  CHOMP.  The kitten was very much alive but weak.  However it still managed to break the skin and cause a little bleeding.  So Heather picked it up and brought it to the house.

Kitty armour

The Vet examined the kittens and made sure they were good to go.  Heather made a trip to Mezcales to see the Doctor about her finger.  He told Heather that if the kitten dies it has to be brought in to be tested for rabies being as it bit her…..great, just what she needs.

Needless to say I was interested to see these little additions to the household when I arrived home a week later but I still did not want them.  I love cats but one cat was enough, we did not need any more.  Heather had been trying to give them away or find a shelter for them but the only one that might be able to take them wanted a $100.00 US a kitten.  400 bucks!  I don’t think so!  However, looking back…that would have been cheap!

It was two days before I arrived home that Heather made the largest mistake.  She named them.  Blanco, Esperanzo, Dulce and Lluvia.  They should have been known as 1, 2, 3 & 4, not real names.  Nope they had names.  I knew at that point that we now have 5 cats.  One whose main goal in life was to kill the other 4.

We still tried to find someone to take the cats.  No luck.  2 weeks after I got home Heather headed to Alberta for 2 weeks.  I put up posters, I posted on Craigslist.  I put them on various Yahoo group boards.  One phone call.  They wanted a fluffy cat.  Something these weren’t.  Why they would want a long-haired cat in Mexico I will never understand but its their furniture.

When I was not trying to give the kittens away, I was running interference, as was Alexa.  It became her duty to protect the kittens from that dastardly Zorro.  It was entertaining watch though I must admit I was getting tired of constantly keeping the kittens in the library when Zorro was in the house which became more frequent as he stalked the kits.

There were no takers on the kittens even after we had them sterilized and they got their shots.  All that happened was they wormed their way into our hearts.  That and they were great fun to watch.

It was early October and the break through was coming.  Zorro was becoming more tolerant.  He still had to be watched but more time was going by when they were all together before he attacked one.   It was apparent that in about a week the worse would be over and they should all be able to live in peace.  He was starting to play with them and it was not all aggressive, we could hardly wait.

If you are going to be around me you must be clean!

It was a couple of days after that when Zorro did not come home.  We called for him constantly but nothing.  He always answered when he was within earshot.  There was no trace of him anywhere.  Last time I saw  him he was walking across the downstairs hallway by the pool with a lizard hanging out of his mouth, his favourite non Whiskas snack.  We don’t know and never will know what happened to him.  It still makes me sad.  He was a really cool cat and we miss him a lot.

We miss you more than you can imagine!

Now we have 4 cats.  They are growing like weeds and are no end of entertainment though I have to say I never thought a king size bed would be too small!

Are you sure we can't go up there?

The standard Costco shopping trip now consists of: a big bag of cat litter(every 2 weeks), a big bag of cat food(every 3 weeks), a big bag of dog food (every 6 weeks) and maybe some cheese….to go with our whine…..

You know, you kids are really starting to piss me off....

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Journey to Casa Madera – Just where the heck did 2011 go?


December 31, 2011 – It is another beautiful morning in Nuevo Vallarta at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast.  The sun is coming up over the mountains, no clouds and a lovely 18 degrees.  It is sooooooo boring.  Everyday the same thing.  No clouds, sunshine, beautiful temperatures and an afternoon breeze off the bay.  Do I miss that old Alberta standard, “Don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes”, not a chance!

It has been quite some time since I posted a new entry to this blog and for my regular readers I apologize but I just could not decide what to write about.  A bit of writers block maybe, who knows.  Either way, it is time so I thought I would review the year and see where that takes us.

2011 was our first year of operation and like most new entities it was anything but spectacular.  Heather and I made a commitment to ourselves that we would grow this project organically without a big splash so we knew it will not happen overnight. It would all rely on us, success or failure.  Nothing like pressure.  Especially for me, an introvert, relying on my sparkling personality was not going to be easy!

It was with great trepidation that I went to the airport on January 6, 2011 to pick up Doug and Linda from Leamington, Ontario.  Our first guests staying longer than one night.  To say Heather and I were a bit nervous was an understatement.

We were terrified!  What if they don’t like my cooking, or the way the pressure pump comes on for no reason.  There were a multitude of things that were running through our heads and to top it off my old boss from Peace Hills Insurance and his wife, Bob and Susan were due to arrive 90 minutes after Doug and Linda.  Yikes!

My fears quickly dissipated as I saw Doug and Linda come through the arrivals gate.  It was not hard to pick them out as Doug had broken his leg 10 days before he came down, so I pretty sure the guy in the wheelchair with the full leg cast was my guest.  When they arrived at the house they could not say enough good things about it.  Their comments helped relieve a lot of the pressure we were feeling.

When Bob and Susan travel they always stay in bed and breakfasts’ so the nice comments from Doug and Linda aside, the litmus test was going to be the b and b pros!

We could not have asked for nicer guests to cut our teeth with.  Our fears were alleviated and everybody had a great time.  It was a sad day for Heather and I when they all went home.

Susan, Heather and I with that Vallarta specialty Pescado Zarandeado, quite simply the best fish you will ever eat!

Both couples are returning to stay with us again this year so we cannot ask for any more validation than that.

Heather and I have been in Mexico now for 3 full years and we learn or see something new almost every week.  Some of that knowledge comes from locals and some comes from tourists who have been coming here for years.  Either way, we are like sponges and take what we learn to try to give people the best time they can have with things they may never have done before.

In February we were visited by Don and Charlotte from Niagara Falls, Ontario.  Friends we met when we were still living in the Condo.  We had a great visit with them and look forward to seeing them again this year when they arrive in Puerto Vallarta.

March brought my son, Brendan, down for his 21st birthday with his buddy Ray.  They were quickly followed by Heather’s Aunt, Danny.  It was with the 3 of them that we ventured out into the wilderness to find a set of hot springs armed with directions that said, “take a left at the big road and keep left at the fork”.  Talk about a wing and a prayer.

However we got there and it was well worth the effort.  While rustic, the hot pools were spectacular and now on our list of regular places to visit.

Now this is life!

April was a busy month as Heather’s brother, Kevin and family arrived for 10 days.  A great time was had by all, though I think they really enjoyed the two days that Heather and I were away in Ajijic.

They really enjoyed having our dog Alexa to watch over them and keep the safe.  Alexa rarely sleeps outside at night but she did while we were away.  In front of the door to the kids room, nothing was getting by her there.  Of course they did have to figure out how she was getting out of the yard and following them when the went to the beach.  Only dog I know that weighs 60 pounds and can balance on a 5 and a half-foot high fence that is 4 inches wide while nosing her way through the barbed wire….

May was a very quiet month until the beautiful pine tree outside our yard came down on the roof of the car just as we were about to leave for Guadalajara.  I covered that in the post , “Julio we told you the tree had to come down“, so I will not go over that again.

June was spent trying to get a few things done outside before the rains began.  Mainly redoing the roof.  We had done it the year before but one of the workers working on our kitchen renovation in the winter had been trying to straighten a concrete cage by banging against the roof.  Needless to say the rubber seal did not stand up to the sharp wire edges.

I also took this time to try to paint the mirador.  Now that was work.  The mirador is basically a 2 storey structure on our roof.  While a great idea just for the view, it is virtually impossible to paint.    I think the only way to actually paint it properly would be with scaffolding or hanging off the structure by a rope.  Something that I am just not prepared to do nor let anybody else do though I suspect I could find a lot of volunteers if the price was right!

July I went back to Edmonton for a couple of weeks to remind myself how cold it is even in July.  As usual the weather sucked but seeing my family and friends was great.  How life was to change though as I was sitting around a camp fire with my brother, Al, my son, Brendan, and my brothers in law, Neil and Denis.  Neil had his iPhone out and was on Facebook when he said, “I just saw this post from Heather about finding 4 kittens at your doorstep.  Oops, I was not supposed to tell you!”

4 kittens.  It was a few days before I could actually ask Heather about these kittens.  She advised that yes, we do in fact have 4 kittens but they are cute we should have no problem giving them away.

4 of them, always looking for trouble!

As you can tell they are still here!

On September 2nd Lorne and Heather came down to celebrate their anniversary.  We had a great time while they were here but the highlight was taco night at Cessa’s.  A friend of our introduced us to his stand a few months previous and it has become a regular stopping point for us on the weekends.   I have eaten a lot of tacos in the last few years but there is no doubt, his are the best!  Their short visit was an absolute hoot and as before we were sorry to see them go home.

In October I was washing tile on the main floor prior to putting a new seal coat on it when Zorro went by with a lizard in his mouth.  It turned out to be the last time I saw him as he never came home again.  We don’t know what happened to him and never will I suspect but we miss him terribly and hope that maybe he just ran off on a great adventure.

Zorro taking command of Alexa as usual

In November we were joined by Keith, Sherry and Jordan who spent a few days with us before moving to the Rui Palace for a wedding.  Again we got to do the tourist thing, hanging out on beaches, going for tacos and then trying to find churros.  We love it!

December brought the Christmas season and we always have to go downtown to watch the processions to the main cathedral.  The dancing, the music, the bells and street food make it such an enjoyable night.  We loved being able to share it with my brother Larry this year. If you are ever thinking of coming down here or will be here between December 1st and 12th, you must take these in.

Yesterday I was faced with that trepidation again.  Two new guests we had never met were about to be picked up at the airport.  Dave and Shelly from Yakima.  As usual my fears were for no good reason and we had a lovely visit with them last night.

Tonight they are cooking us dinner and we will ring in the New Year on the beach watching the fireworks from around the bay. It will be a great time.

I love being a tourist in my town especially one with so much to offer.

To those that helped make this year special we thank you and for everybody….

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!

Happy New Year from both of us

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Journey to Casa Madera – What do you mean there is a Hurricane out there!


October 10, 2011 – Heather and I are sitting on our kitchen balcony this morning at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta enjoying our coffee wondering what the next 3 days will hold.  5 days ago a small disturbance formed out in the Pacific Ocean that over the days developed into a Category 3 Hurricane, Jova.

Puerto Vallarta has been threatened before this year but nothing has come close.   Jova has been listed as a potential direct hit for our beautiful part of the world now for 3 days.  Late yesterday that changed and it will probably hit land 150 miles down the coast near Manzanillo which is great for us but not so much for the poor people in Manzanillo and surrounding area.

When Heather and I moved here 3 years ago we knew that the area always had the potential for Hurricanes but it is rare for a Hurricane to hit land on the Pacific East Coast.  It does happen but not like the East Coast of Mexico or the United State and Canada.   However we are from Northern Alberta where you never knew when a Tornado might make an appearance so really what was the difference.  That and you just cannot let something limit you like weather or other natural events.  So we moved anyway.

This has been the closest we have been to having to deal with tropical weather.  Since we have been here we have dealt with a glancing blow from a tropical storm which hit Mazatlan and another that came in for 30 minutes (which we both slept through), downed trees and took off some roofs in Bucerias but otherwise nothing. Yes there is odd good storm during rainy season but nothing worse than Alberta would see.

We know the power that these storms punch but somehow I am disappointed that it is not going to hit us.  I don’t know why.  Is it the power of nature that I really wanted to see first hand?  Or did I want to see how the house stood up to it?  Either way, it is idiotic!

The storm was upgraded last night to a Category 3 Hurricane which would be devastating.  Major storm surge, houses damaged, trees blown down and a large amount of flooding.  You just cannot wish that on the other residents in the area, many who have no insurance on their belongings that they worked hard to obtain.  Not to mention that our deductible is 20% of any hurricane loss so do I really want to spend $8,000.00 if we suffer $40,000.00 in damage?

But that is only money and really money does not mean anything in the grand scheme of things.  Life is what it is all about.  A hurricane at this point in time would be bad for Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit.  The Pan American Games are about to start in Guadalajara this week with a couple of events taking place in our fair city.   The City of Puerto Vallarta just spent a ton of money rebuilding the jewel of the city, the Malecon, which is due to open this week with the games.  I would hate to see all of those pesos go to waste, especially considering that high season is only 4 weeks away.

This is a tourist area.  It thrives on tourist dollars.  All of our Canadian and American friends who live here year round make their living off of tourists as we do too.  None of us can afford to have a hurricane take that season away.  But that is just us.  The infringers, the expats, the ones who really don’t belong.

The real damage would be to our Mexican hosts who let us live here.  People whose entire year rests on the next 6 months.  A major hurricane would wipe out families.  Some kids would not be able to afford to go to school.  Families would be struggling to put food on the table.   Lives would change and not for the better.

The country is already struggling thanks to the American and Canadian media and their reporting on what happens here.  I will not deny that there are areas in Mexico that are not particularly safe however, most tourist areas and cities are very secure and a pleasure to be in and see.  Heather and I feel safer here than we did travelling through the United States to get here.

While I will admit to trepidation when we crossed the border in a car 3 years ago that was mainly due to language and not knowing the customs.  In most places we stopped on the way down we were treated with respect and joy for being there.  That does not stop.  Whether we are driving in the middle of nowhere or in major centres, people are happy to see us and share their food and culture with us.  I would hate to see that change.

Though is it is currently pouring with rain, I am looking forward to spending a great day with some Canadian friends at Blakes Sports Bar to watch the Edmonton Eskimos beat the crap out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  In reality who wins does not matter.  The fact is we got to spend the day with friends and all of us will be hopeful that nothing develops out of this hurricane.  If not for us but for the people who grew up in this great country.

I have only one message to say, don’t believe everything you read in the papers or hear on the 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00 newscast.  Mexico is truly a great place, the people will love you, feed you well and make sure your cerveza is cold.  But most of all you will be making sure that our Mexican hosts can eat.  They are good people and they deserve it.

So on Canadian Thanksgiving Day I am thankful that I have two healthy children, a healthy granddaughter, a grandson on the way and many, many Mexican friends who have allowed me to partake in their customs, their way of life and helped me to discover the joy of being myself.

This is truly a great place and Hurricane Jova, where ever you hit, YOU CANNOT CHANGE IT!

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Journey to Casa Madera – Replacing The Palapa


September 24, 2011 – It’s hot, very hot today at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  32 degrees with humidity so it feels like 39.  You move, you sweat.  It’s that simple. You cannot escape it unless you lock yourself in the house with your air conditioner on.  We don’t use the air conditioning so we pay the price.

Yes, the price.  The average September day is a 3 shirt day.  You wear one until it gets too heavy and you put on another.  I had never had to stop typing to dry my keyboard in Alberta.  Who knew that fingertips sweated!

That’s just the way it is in late summer in Vallarta.  While our friends in Northern Alberta are trying to protect their tomato’s from frost, we are just trying to stay dry.

Heather and I spend a lot of time on our kitchen patio because of the breeze coming off the ocean or mountains but later in the day as the sun comes around it just is not the place to be.   It is then we head downstairs to relax under the palapa.

The Palapa.  Who knew that a whole bunch of grass that was not cut into fairways or greens would be so inviting.  But it is.  It is shady and cool when the sun is beating down.  It keeps the rain out when it is in torrential downpour mode.  It is a natural roofing material whose price does not go up because maybe half the town needs a new one due to a hail storm like an asphalt shingle.

We have since found out that a Palapa is made from the dried palms that are used in churchs throughout the world on Palm Sunday.

It’s beautiful and we think it is one of the most becoming features of our Bed and Breakfast.  It is our favourite place to serve our guests breakfast.  It was not always like that….

December 20, 2009 – Heather and I are sitting under the palapa enjoying a Corona while surveying the lower floor and deciding what we should do with what.  It has been a long day what with doing insurance work in the morning and doing demolition in the back room in the afternoon.  There was a small breeze coming off the ocean which was rattling the grass in the palapa and causing a great deal of it to fall on our heads!

I don't think this will keep the rain out anymore!

There was no denying the fact that the palapa had to be replaced.  Now!  It was falling down around us so we vowed the next day we would look into getting it replaced.

Three company’s came out to quote on the job with 2 of them being the same price and one being way too high.  The last man who came out to quote, Angel, walked into the area where the palapa was and you could tell that as far as he was concerned, he was going to rebuild this palapa.  He looked at it and asked if we wanted dimension lumberor rustic.  Same price either way.  We said rustic.  He said, give me $20,000.00 pesos and we will start tomorrow. We replied we will pay you the deposit when you arrive.

Glad it's him and not me!

Angel (pronounced Anhel) was the a typical Mexican cowboy.  Long and lanky he weighed maybe 120 pounds if he was lucky.  Looked to be about 60 but who knows.

At 9:00 am the next day the truck pulled up and out jumped about 5 young guys who immediately started tearing down the old palapa.  The grass was crumbling in their hands as they moved up the 2 x 4’s that were the trusses for the main support system.  These guys had no fear, it was something to see.  A good many of the 2 x 4’s were rotten after being exposed to the elements for a good many years.

Bare feet!

That day they removed everything and cleaned up the site.  Angel came by to pick up the deposit and said he would be back in a day or two with the grass.

Looks just a little different

2 days later, a Sunday morning, Heather and I were up on the roof enjoying our coffee when a truck full of palapa grass pulled up in the driveway.  For the next 45 minutes they dumped the grass on the patio along with some tree trunks which were obviously the rustic supports.

The first truck load of grass with the support poles.

We chatted a few minutes when they were done in Spanish and our take was they would be back in the morning to start.

Angel is sitting on the lower beam

And back they were.   They were preparing the trees for use.  The tree bark had been removed but they needed to be ground and cleaned for use.  So for two days we listened to the sound of the hand grinder going up and down these logs.

The next day the whole crew arrived and started to build the support system.  It was fascinating to watch these skinny guys and the old man toss these logs around.  Heather and I would be lucky if we could lift an end of one. They were tossing them around like they were toothpicks.

Once the south side supports were up they started weaving the grass.  It was amazing watching them do this.  Taking a piece of grass and weaving it over the cross member.  The worker would do a whole row and then go along with pruning shears clipping the edges to make sure they were even.

One side done!

It is like watching performance art, except it makes sense and you get a reliable product at the end.  However, the work takes time.  Something neither Heather or I ever realized.  It took a lot longer to do than we ever imagined it would.

Almost finished!

It was about 10 days into construction when Angel told us he had got a job to do a very large palapa for a hotel in Yelapa.  A small village only accessible by boat from Puerto Vallarta.  The size of the palapa escapes me now but we worked it out based on the amount of grass that he needed that it was worth $30,000.00 us dollars.

And everything had to be transported by boat.  We referred to it as the Yelapa Palapa…

Now that's a nice palapa!

It took just over 3 weeks start to finish for our palapa to be completed.  It is beautiful.  It provides shade when you want it.  It keeps out the rain so you can sit in comfort while it is pouring outside.  And most importantly, it has fans installed that help keep you cool when its 35 degrees outside in the shade….

We have the fans now we just need the Corona!

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Journey to Casa Madera – The tale of Oswaldo


September 2011 – It’s a hot one today at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  35 degrees with a humidex of about 42.  We have not had a good cooling rain for two weeks.  Very unusual for that to happen in rainy season.  Due to the heat there was not much going on today but trying not to sweat!

Labour day weekend was a treat.  Casa Madera was visited by friends from Lacombe, Alberta to celebrate their 24th anniversary.  It was a great weekend and too short a visit.  We are happy they enjoyed their tour of “our Mexico“.

It’s during these visits that our memories go back to what this house looked like when we bought it and how far we have come in less than 2 years.  The house was a mess.  Plants were overgrown everywhere.  The woodwork was termite infested, the fixtures were old and everything was in general disrepair.  All this with two people who were office workers and one who spent virtually every waking summer moment on the golf course…..

December 2009 – We have been in the house for about 10 days.  Still feeling our way around and trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.  We were working on tearing out the kitchen and rotten woodwork in the back room.  It was a long process as screws had to come out to get things apart.  Most had been in place for 20 years in a humid environment which made them just a tad rusty.

It was frustrating.  We thought that we finally had the last screw or nail and then when the unit still would not move we would find 6 more.  It seemed to take us forever just get the counter and the kitchen cabinets out let alone the rotten pine wall unit. If we were having  this much difficulty in the first room how hard were the next two going to be?

Kitchen and Wall unit in Room number 1

We were up to our necks in rotten wood when our friend Bill came by to see how we were doing.  He had a man working at his house building a pizza oven and patio area and he was just about done so he thought maybe we would be interested in having him come to work for us.  He could do tile, concrete and other general construction work.  He would come for 2500 pesos a week and lunch everyday.

Heather and I thought this over for at least a nanosecond and said sure.  Oswaldo would start on Thursday as he had one more day at Bill’s.

Thursday came and Oswaldo showed up at the appointed hour.  We went through the house and showed him what was going on and what we wanted to do.  The first order of business for him was to repair our outside wall where there was giant hole as neither Heather or I had ever mixed concrete in our lives.

Hole in the wall

Oswaldo looked at the hole, did some calculations and said we needed to get materials so off to the store we went.  He ordered what he needed and said they would deliver it in a couple of hours.

Back at the house Oswaldo asked whether we would like him to work on the tear out.  Sure I said.  He asked a very important question, “are you keeping anything”?  No.  In the space of the next 30 minutes he had the wall unit that Heather and I worked so patiently on for two days in a pile outside of the house.  Who cares about screws, just rip the thing out I can deal with the screws later.

Room number 2 after the removal of it's wall unit

From there he was into the bathroom ripping out the sink, the vanity, the toilet, and the shower doors.  He was done it all by the time the materials for the wall showed up.

After the demolition of the shower in room number 1

It was at that point when Heather and I realized how far in over our heads we were and boy did we feel like idiots.

With the materials there Oswaldo started on the wall.  He could only do a little at a time as the mortar had to set before more weight could be added on top of it so he started on the second bedroom.  He completed the tear out in that room while working on the wall and moved into the third bedroom.

By the time the wall was complete and stuccoed he had completed the tear out in all three rooms.   Two and a half days.  Heather and I spent 2 days in room number 1 and were not done when he joined us!

2 Days of Oswaldo, hole fixed and just needs paint

Monday morning came and Oswaldo was wondering what we wanted him to do today.  We decided to start on the kitchen in the first bedroom.  Heather and I had made up our minds that the kitchens would be Mexican without a stick of wood in sight so concrete had to be mixed, forms had to made and we needed to show him where everything would go.

It was a demanding task keeping up with him.  While a great worker, he was not a great planner so there were many times when he came upstairs and said I need this or that before I can go on.  This meant I spent a lot time going to the store to get more supplies.

It got to the point where I was always greeted by name at El Guero (our local hardware store).  If Heather was with me, I am not sure they really noticed.  They were only interested in the guy who kept buying tile, glue, grout, toilets, faucets, shower heads, and anything else they had on what seemed like a daily basis for a while.  Every person who worked there would break away from what they were doing to say hi, how are you Kevin?  I have to admit, I liked it!

The New Shower in room number 1

Oswaldo did great work.  He built all of our kitchens in our guest rooms, rebuilt all of the bathrooms and did a spectacular job.  I thought they looked great then and I still do.

The finished kitchen in room number 1 and the bathroom sink, all Oswaldo's handiwork

He was a god send to us.  He had his quirks and at times he drove us absolutely nuts but  his work ethic and the quality of his work was great.

We look back it now and realize that without him we would have been screwed.  We had no idea of what we were getting into or how to fix it and were ripe for the picking.  Thanks to him we were not picked.  He handled our problems, sometimes well, sometimes not so much but we learned from it.

After 5 months Heather and I realized that it was time for us to start doing things for ourselves and taking ownership of our house.  We owe Oswaldo a ton and I hate to think of where we would be if he had not come into our lives.  Thank you.

Oswaldo standing beside his first finished kitchen in room number 1

 

 

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Journey to Casa Madera – We have the house….what the heck do we do now?


August 25, 2011 – I am enjoying coffee this morning on our balcony at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta surveying our front yard and trying to remember what it looked like 20 ago when we moved in.  It is difficult as we have made so many changes over that time.  New iron fence, a few more plants, grass; they all contribute to fogging the memory.  It has been an amazing 20 months since we signed the papers and took over the stewardship of this house.  It was a few more months until we really took ownership of our home….months

December 9, 2009 – We are sitting in the office of Notario #4 with our realtor, the listing realtor, the mortgage company representative and the Notario’s assistant.  Our search is at an end.  After months of looking, making an offer and then waiting for all of the paperwork to be completed we are about to sign the final papers.  We were excited but also a little terrified!

Signing the papers. Are those smiles of joy or trepidation?

We were about to take on a project that neither one of us had ever thought about 4 years previous.  We wanted a house that could be used as a Bed and Breakfast and we found it.  It was perfect.  All the guest rooms would be separate from the main dwelling so no one actually had to walk through our living space to get to their room.  The pool was right by the guest rooms.  The rooms had front and back doors.  It looks like the house was designed specifically for this purpose.

After many explanations of the various documents, many photos & many signatures, the deed was done.  The keys were handed over and we went to look at our new abode.

The house that would become Casa Madera

Everybody feels something different when they walk through the front door of their new home for the first time.  For some it is the elation of having a house for the first time.  A house to raise a family in and build their lives together.  For us it was different.

It was the feeling of incredible terror!  We had just walked into a 3,000 square foot mass of concrete that needed some serious upgrading before we could even hope to get our dream up and running.  However, it was now ours.  Two people who had spent the last 20 odd years working in Insurance.  Heather, a gamer who would try anything in a home handyperson kind of way and me, who is anything but a handy kind of guy.  We spent that first 30 minutes looking at our castle and realizing we were about to be taken on the ride of our lives.

Over the next 3 days we moved all of our stuff into the house.  Now all of our stuff is kind of a liberal term.  We moved down with the Toyota Rav 4 filled to the brim but that was all we brought with us.  I still cannot believe it took 3 days to move everything in but apparently we had bought a lot in a year.

Before we could set anything up or put anything away the house had to be cleaned.  It was filthy.  So after buying new brooms, mops and cleaning supplies we went to work.

A rare sight, me with a mop!

The second day our new bed was delivered so we spent our first night in the house.  That was more than a little different.  We had been living in the interior courtyard of a condo complex where you might hear a cat meowing after dark but that was it.  We spent the first night and a few more after that going “what the hell was that?”  Some noises were easy to identify, crickets, frogs, the odd cow but there were others that just defied description.  We don’t notice those anymore.

After getting everything moved in and put away it was time to try to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.  We would sit under the palapa and just stare at everything.  We had no clue of what to do or where to start.

Tearing out the kitchen in room number 1

Do we deal with the green pool first?  Do we deal with a bedroom?  We just had no idea.

The pool, what a lovely colour

It was few days before we started to work out a plan.  The bedrooms had to be demolished.  The woodwork was termite ridden and rotten.  The rooms were dark and dirty.  The bathrooms were disgusting.  They needed a complete overhaul but nothing could be done until we had ripped everything out.

So we started with our back room.  It had a full kitchen which was at least 20 years old and looked 40.  So I started taking out the kitchen while Heather started on the wall unit.  It was difficult figuring out how they had everything installed and removing screws that had been in place for many, many years but it started to come together.

Bathroom sink and vanity

For 3 days we worked on this room.  It was hot and dirty work but we did feel a sense of accomplishment when we were finished.  The problem then was what do we do with it?

The first bedroom after the kitchen tear out

It was that day a friend of ours came by and said he had a fellow working at his house building his wood fired pizza oven.  He was almost finished with and he wondered if we would consider taking him on.  He did concrete and tile work.  He could do other things too but we would need to make sure he knew what we wanted. We needed somebody to help us with this so we said yes.

And thus began the tale the Oswaldo…..

Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good things come from dirty laundry, part 4 – did someone say TEQUILA!


August 9, 2011 – It has been some time since I sat down at my computer at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast and continued on with this story.  My apologies to those who were waiting for the next part but it was time for my annual sojourn home to Edmonton so I could get my yearly dose of cold.

Now it wasn’t that I could not have written it there but my editor was here.  Yes, someone actually edits this diatribe.  Heather, stand up and take a bow because without you these rantings would never be fit to be read by anybody, let alone friends.  However, now she is in Canada so you are going to just have to take it as it is!

But I digress, aside from being cold and swatting entire squadrons of mosquito’s, I had a great time at home.  I enjoyed my visit with family and friends but I especially loved spending time with Elizabeth, my granddaughter and my children (OK grown adults), Allison and Brendan.

You always have to bring things back that people like.  Brendan always gets hot sauce, the hotter the better but this year we found pickled habaneros so if he is making you a sandwich, watch out.

The major item that was brought back this year was 8 bottles of Tajin (pronounced -taheen) which is a spicy salt that you sprinkle on fruits and vegetables.  Heather’s sister’s family and friends have come to want it by the case so I stuffed as many as I could in my suitcase.  I firmly believe that is the reason I got searched by US Customs going into Denver!

But as usual the star in the suitcase was the bottle of Tequila for my brother.  You cannot buy good Tequila in Canada without dropping a lot of dough and for the most part you just cannot buy GOOD tequila in Canada at all.  So I bring him a bottle back every year as there are times when you want to sit back, relax and sip a good tequila.

I like this one!

Tequila.  The name is enough to make a lot of people shiver.   Mainly because they had bad experiences with it when they were younger.  Something which I can attest to myself. Whoever introduced the idea of a tequila punch party should be shot….but I digress.

I truly began to appreciate Tequila when I came down to Puerto Vallarta to buy the condo into which we moved.  I stopped in a bar one night on that trip and sat at the bar to watch a ball game.  The bartender and I got talking and he walked me through the various tequila’s he had and explained the differences in quality and taste.  He was the one who showed  me that Tequila should be sipped, not shot.

He was right.  After moving through about 4 different variety’s you could taste the difference between grades.  It was a good night and it allowed me to appreciate the subtlties located within that glass.

Thinking about good tequila always sends me back to our Guadalajara trip with Mary and Lore as it was them that suggested that one afternoon we should head out to the town Tequila, Jalisco.

September 2009 – Saturday

It had already been a full trip.  Lots of sightseeing and shopping we were having a great time.  Mary and Lore though thought we should take a small trip outside of town to Tequila.  It sounded pretty good to us but Mary had to convince her brothers that they should take us.

They had to finish dealing with the Papaya that they had but they were game so at 3:00 they loaded us all into the box of their Nissan King cab and we were off.  Yes, the box.  There was not enough room for us all in the cab so 4 of us got to ride in the box.  Considering it was about 32 degrees the box was a nice change.

The view from the back of the truck

The view from the back of the truck

However, the road to Tequila is not straight and it is very busy.  Traffic moves at the speed of light so you have to hold on.  It was fun but I am not sure I would want to do it again.

We arrived in Tequila in about 30 minutes.  It is a quaint little town with stores everywhere dedicated to selling…tequila!  The stores are everywhere.  Selling anywhere from 1 to 5 liter bottles.  Now the interesting thing in Tequila is that tequila is not taxed.  Not one of the bottles had a tax sticker in any of the stores we were in, including the brand name stores.  This allows you to get some good Tequila for a reasonable price.

One of the many stores we visited

We were moving from store to store tasting this one, that one and that one over there.  It was great but there were more things to see in Tequila besides the stores.  If one had the time you could tour the Jose Cuervo Distillery or one of the many others in town.

We did not have time to take a tour so we did our own small walking tour of the town.  Checking out the square, one of the town cathedrals and seeing what else there is to do.  We will return to Tequila when we actually have time to stay there for a day or two to see all the sights.  If you ever have the time to see this town I would highly recommend it.  It is a great place.

One of the tour barrels that goes around town


The time had come however to buy a bottle so I called in the brothers to tell me which one I should buy.  After trying a few they pointed at one and said it was the purest.  So I said the person behind the counter how much was the 5 liter bottle?

150 pesos!  14 bucks!  You’re kidding, right?  Nope, he wasn’t.  I quickly paid the man and took my leave in case he changed his mind.

Tequila bought we hopped back into the truck and made our way back to Guadalajara.  It was great visit in a neat town.

The Main Cathedral in Tequila


Posted in Starting new life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment