Sand sculptures and sore feet – 29 December

Today we went to and from Puerto Vallarta by bus.  The bus system here works remarkably well, and the rides are cheap.  It cost only 12 pesos to get to from Bucerias to the Marina in Puerto Vallarta (about a 35 minute ride, includes about 10 km of highway), 6-1/2 pesos to get downtown (about 15 minute ride, mostly urban).  The exchange rate is about 11 or 12 pesos per Canadian dollar.

I can’t say that I feel altogether confident in the mechanical condition of the buses – yesterday on the way back from the Mega, I was sure I could smell gasoline and was hopeful that it was the vehicle in front of us.  Today, a different bus, again a very strong smell of gasoline, most certainly from the bus itself.  Being my usual paranoid self, I was watching carefully for any signs of fire, and noting my exit path.  I tend to be silly that way.  Thankfully, nothing bad happened, and we arrived at the Puerto Vallarta marina in good shape.

The signage and notices on the buses here of course is all in Spanish, so I don’t understand it.  But on this bus, there were religious paintings of Jesus, his mother Mary, and the Sacred Heart.  How interesting!

See sacred paintings along sides above windows

Note “Jesusito” at front above door

Another interesting thing about the buses that says a lot about the Mexican culture.  The drivers use an open rack to sort and store the coins they receive.  We’ve been advised that you can just tell the driver where you are going, hold out a handful of coins and they will take the correct coins and give you the correct change – they will not try to cheat you.  Wow, having all those coins right in front, you couldn’t do that back home!

Check out the change tray beside the driver!

It is quite an impressive marina.  Lots of hotels & condominiums, high end shops, at least three Starbucks that I saw, and of course lots of high end boats and yachts.  We wandered into the Embarcadero Pacifico (Eric looked it up – it’s a hotel with option to be all inclusive), it was very nice, wow.  And Eric found out that when not at peak time (like now over the Christmas holidays), it’s about US$800 per week all inclusive.

We hopped on the bus labelled “Centro” and headed downtown, where we walked the malecon from end to end.  Well, the rest of the group walked the malecon (stone walkway along the shore).  I hobbled away for fifteen minutes to track down a farmacia (pharmacy) and get some bandages to put on my blisters!  Eric smirked as we left the condo, saying that the new sandals were going to leave me smarting, but I didn’t pay any heed.  Now I was paying for it!  Ouch ouch ouch.

Well, I managed to find some bandages, and they helped a bit, anyway.  Dayna was waiting a block along the malecon to ensure that I survived.  We hobbled back to the group along the malecon – well, I hobbled and she sighed and walked slowly with me.

Between the malecon and the shoreline, there is a beach, but it’s kind of weird because there is nobody on the beach.  But then there is about a kilometre of beach with beautiful sculptures.  Some of them are religious in nature, related to Christmas and the life of Jesus.  Others were secular in nature, related to the New Year, still others of Santa Claus, legends and ancient deities.

One of the figures was too complex to be just sand – and it wasn’t!  It was a person dressed up in sand, doing the statue routine.  He started to move!

We wandered across the river into old Puerto Vallarta, and went to a wonderful restaurant called, not very uniquely, “The Pancake House”.  The pancakes and waffles were great, having unique Mexican and fruit flavours.

After lunch, we sauntered down the street to the flea market, where we split up into three groups.  Dayna and I went back into the old city and hung around for a half hour or so, then climbed on the bus to head back.  The other two groups met up and travelled back together.

The transfer point, and the place that everyone in Puerto Vallarta seems to know, is Wal-Mart.  A huge, SuperCenter [sic] Wal-Mart.  When we arrived there, Dayna and I hobbled (she walked, I hobbled) into Wal-Mart and got some short socks to wear in my (ugh so painful) new sandals.  Actually, I tried on some new, new sandals, thinking that I might be able to get ones that don’t hurt as much, but, well, after you have blisters, pretty well anything is painful.  We purchased just the socks, and I put them on as soon as we left the store.  It helped a lot!

There is an American-style mall next to the Wal-Mart called Galleria Vallarta, so we went and checked it out.  There was a Christmas display, no obvious Santa Claus area, but with a place to put your child in a stocking!  There was a kid’s train that ran the whole upper level.  There was a large RC race track that kids were running cars around on.

One thing was humourous though, check out the name of this store.  It’s almost saved by “the” at the beginning.  But it still made me smile!

After wandering the mall, we got onto a Bucerias bus and went back to the condo.  The others actually had beat us there, and were down at the beach.

Supper was simpler tonight, but just as good – hamburgers!  Simple but effective, especially with the younger members of the family.

We put Back to the Future II on after supper, and the younger members were entranced!  Dayna, Jennifer, David, and I went for a walk down the beach in the dark.  It was very quiet on the beach, there was nobody there.  The sound of the waves crashing on the shore was quite soothing.

At the town square, Dayna and I went up to the square, and then wandered back to the condo.  Jennifer & Dave arrived shortly after.

We got home just as the movie ended.  Now there is talk of a playoff round of cards – 31 to the finish!  Or something like that.  I’ve been talking trash about my brother and I playing 31 at the cabin back in the day, always seeming to end in fisticuffs – so I may be dragged in too…

Day of the living gecko! – 28 December

Today was another grocery shopping day.  We really slept in, all of us – and the maid was well about her business by the time we were headed out.  Rather than walk to the Mega, eight of us took the bus.  It was an uneventful trip, but, as always, entertaining.  We always find humour in the situations we find ourselves in, but I’m sure that the locals who ride the bus with us are amused by our antics as well! 

We had lunch almost immediately upon our return, BLT sandwiches (well, back bacon, eh?), yum.  Then ran out of the bacon, had an LT sandwich.  Then ran out of lettuce, had a tomato sandwich (heh heh, just need margarine & pepper 🙂 ).  It’s all good.

Someone mentioned the gecko in shower of the main bathroom – I didn’t know there was a gecko in the bathroom!  Our little room has its own bathroom and shower, so we don’t use the shower in the main bathroom.  Well, what do you know, there is indeed a gecko in there, right up in the corner!  Helen says that they will just appear sometimes, and apparently not move for days.  They are supposedly rather harmless, just an amusing fixture in this warm land.

Our pet gecko, in the shower!  He wasn’t a pet for long though.

Eric headed out on his own shopping mission out to the shops down by the village square, and came back with a bottle of tequila to take back home.  He spoke to the proprietor of the tequila shop (which sells only tequila, by the way 🙂 ).  The best tequila that he could afford did not have a worm at the bottom, and he asked why.  Well, according to the local tequila expert, real tequila doesn’t have the worm in it – it’s mezcal that has the worm!  See and .  Well, we are learning all the time, aren’t we?

I went on my own little quest to the shops down by the village square.  My sandals are fine for going from the locker room to the pool back home, but they aren’t great for walking the beach.  I did my round of the shops, then went into a shop that had nothing but sandals, and purchased a new pair.  Yes, I bartered.  No, it wasn’t easy nor was it fun.  Eric says I paid way too much.  I’m not telling you how much.  But now I have better sandals.  They are leather, so they don’t quite fit my feet yet, but they are working their way in…

Dayna went on her own little quest, but in the opposite direction.  She likes the artsy crafty stores, so she sought them out.  She purchased two drinking glasses made with pieces of recycled glass.  Apparently they are quite pretty, but hey they’re already packed in bubble pack for shipping, so I won’t know until we are home.

I got back, called my mom, did some E-mail and stuff, then wandered down to the pool.  Eric had been there for an hour, and the sun was sinking low, so of course he had to ridicule my late appearance at the pool – just in time to ensure that I don’t tan at all today.  Hey, he forgets who gave him the “don’t need SPF 150” genes, so he can sit in the sun and not burn to a crisp!  The rat.  I’m already at the point where I could sit in the sun and not burn.  Well, I would be if I wasn’t using SPF 30, which Dayna purchases because she is so fair.  Tomorrow maybe I’ll seek out some SPF 15 and get this tan thing under control.  Or, maybe not – a tan is not a priority for me.  I don’t need to show off the fact that I’ve been down here.  I just like the feeling of being warm… and the sound of the ocean… and the smells… oops, some of those smells aren’t so nice, nix on the smells.

While I lingered by the pool, much excitement was being had not 50 feet away in the condo, and I didn’t even know about it.  Matt decided that he wanted to catch the gecko.  Well of course, the gecko didn’t want to be caught.  When Matt tried to catch it, its tail came off and the gecko escaped!  The tail was stuck to the wall, wriggling away by itself, yuck!  Finally it fell down and was tossed over the balcony into the vacant, weed filled lot next door.  The gecko was also captured, and was also, um, emitted, into the lot next door.

According to Wikipedia, the ejection of tail in self-defence is called autotomy, very interesting – .

Most of this exciting episode was captured by Dave on his Creative Vado, a little HD video recorder.  So here it is:

Dinner was chicken & rice, chicken prepared by Dayna, cooked on a barbeque by Barrie.  Very nice, and with the two young boys here, very gone.  Now we’re relaxing, swapping fables, and drinking wine.  And I guess, blogging…

Now Eric has put on Back to the Future.  Gotta love those three movies, at least I do!

Ahoy, there be whales at ten o’clock! – 27 December

Yes, we got up at a rather un-holiday-ish hour this morning, and were ready to depart just after 07h00.  Sure enough, shortly after that, a big van pulled up just outside the condo gate and all ten of us piled in.  I was impressed – it was fairly comfortable for such a large van.  We were delivered to the Nuevo Vallarta pier by about 07h40.  The sun was not yet up, it was still rather dark out.  And rather chilly too!  Mexico does get chilly at night, and I didn’t bring a jacket nor pants.  And, just as I was warming up, it was time to load up onto the boat and get out onto the water.  Yikes, out on the water, it was even colder.  It wasn’t until 10h00 that the sun got intense enough to quell the goose pimples on my arms and legs.

A beautiful pre-sunset morning in Bucerias.  On holidays, you should never be up this early, unless maybe you haven’t been to sleep yet!

There we are, shivering on the boat – Barrie, Dean, Dayna, Jennifer (pointing) and Eric (facing away).  Seems as though Barrie was the best prepared out of all of us.

We pulled out from the dock at Nuevo Vallarta, and went into the marina at Puerto Vallarta to take on more passengers.  My guess is that we had about 100 persons total on the boat, a twin hull catamaran.

Whale watching must be a popular pastime, as there were three boats of our type at the Puerto Vallarta docks.  As we exited the harbour, we saw several more boats headed in the same direction, all headed for whale watching.

It turns out that the best place for whale watching is pretty much right off the shore of Bucerias, straight out from where we are staying.  We had seen the boats out there from the beach, but weren’t sure what they were up to – and now we know.

I didn’t get many good photos, but David did with his fancy Canon EOS camera, wow.  Most of the photos of whale watching are all his – thanks, Dave.

While going out to the whale watching area, we saw lots and lots of little jellyfish floating by the boat in the water.  What strange little creatures!

Dozens of these little jellyfish floated by the boat – the size of your thumb!

Shortly after leaving the harbour, we started spotting dolphins swimming alongside the other boats.  Then a dolphin surfaced right up in front of our boat.  It had no trouble keeping ahead of us – our boat was actually quite slow.  We saw several manta rays – Dave got an amazing picture later.

Dolphin just in front of boat #1

Dolphin just in front of boat #2

Dolphin just in front of boat #3

Manta rays alongside the boat

Up ahead, we saw a gathering of whale watching boats, and – well glory be – humpback whales!  Far off at first, later up closer.  We saw single whales cresting the water, and later a momma whale and her pup.  Wow, are they massive, hard to imagine their size!

A single whale #1

A single whale #2

Momma whale and a pup #1

Momma whale and a pup #2

It was here that we were glad that our boat was a twin hull catamaran.  There was a narrow older-style boat (I think maybe it was a “pirate tour”, arrrr!) that was rocking from side to side something fierce.  It would be easy to imagine getting sea sick on that boat.  Ours, on the other hand, rocked gently to and fro, side to side, in the wake of the other boats, and in the wind and waves – just a nice, gentle, soothing motion.

Ahoy mateys, prepare to list to one side and to the other!

Generally each whale would crest once or twice, then disappear, and we were off with the pack to seek the next one.  We did this for about an hour, hopscotching back and forth in front of Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta, and Puerto Vallarta, then started the slow trip back to the harbour.

On the way back, we saw one more whale, seeming to bid us adieu as we made our way to the marina.

The last whale #1

The last whale #2

The last whale #3

Then we saw two little fleets of manta rays swimming in formation – quite an amazing sight!  They floated right past the side of the boat.

Fleet of manta rays #1

Fleet of manta rays #2

Look closely, amazing array fleet of manta rays #3

We passed two sea turtles.  The first one turned up and dove in, as soon as it saw our boat.  The second one just floated blithely past, prompting Eric to wonder whether it was still alive…

First sea turtle #1, just before he gets nervous

First sea turtle #2, conducting his surface dive!
Second sea turtle #1, is he alive?  Eric isn’t so sure!

Second sea turtle #2

All too soon we arrived back at the dock at Nuevo Vallarta, our adventure over.  It was lunchtime, so we needed to seek out some food.  Our plan was to catch the local bus out to the highway, then take another bus back to Bucerias, where Barrie and Helen know the good food spots.  Barrie got on and paid for he and Helen, paying 20 pesos for the ride, 10 pesos per person.  Dayna got on and paid for she and Eric and I, paying 18 pesos, a much better deal at 6 pesos per person.  Then, Jennifer got on, paying 45 pesos for the five of them, 9 pesos per person.  Wow, such consistency!

It turns out that the bus didn’t go to the highway in Nuevo Vallarta, as we had expected.  It went all the way almost to the edge of Bucerias, then up to the highway near the Mega store (see Thursday the 23rd).  Hey, we can walk from there, so we did!  Along the way, there is a fenced off yard with a bunch of iguanas wandering about, so we snapped a few shots of them.

We had a great lunch with inexpensive cerveza (beer, which Eric tells me is the most important word to know in Spanish).  The day was hot, and the cerveza was cold, so, ahem.  After lunch, back at the condo, I crashed right out and didn’t even hear the rest of the crew head down to the beach.  I awoke about two hours later, took a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out, realized I was alone, and headed down myself.  Well, most of the adults were dozing out on the beach as well!  Must have been the heat, the walk and the beer.

I was only on the beach about 20 minutes, to Helen’s amusement, and it was time to come back.  Oh well, it was 17h00 and the sun was fading, and with the breeze off of the water, it was a bit chilly anyway.

We headed back to the condo.  As supper was prepared, I called my mom to see how she was doing.  She’s doing well – her new medication regime is working better than any she’s had for a long, long time – and that is good news.  She also tells me that back in the ‘Peg, it’s a little colder (hmm, a little), a bit blustery, and drifting snow – making me feel good about being down here for the holidays (sorry, mom).  Actually, this is so nice, but the one thing that would make it nicer is to bring all our loved ones down with us – maybe another year…

Supper was of course very nice, barbecqued ham steaks.  I could get used to the sun, the beer, the food, ahhh.

Dave and Jennifer and their family have headed back to the market to seek out a few items.  Eric is off to seek out a bar where he can watch Monday Night Football.  And, I am writing my happy little blog and drinking Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Concha y Toro, mmm.  I think I’m the winner!

Tomorrow is a slack day.  It will be back to the Mega and stock up on groceries once more – we all seem to be overachievers in the appetite department – and Eric needs new earphones for his iPod.

Audio books, argh! Or should that be patch over one eye, skull and crossbones, and arrrrrrrrrr!

The mention of Eric’s iPod brings me to my pet peeve of the day.  About six weeks ago, I purchased an audio book version of Jim Collins’ Good to Great, and very much enjoyed it.  I ripped it to MP3 and put it on my little Samsung U5 MP3 player, and played it in the car on the way to and from work.  Then I bought The One Minute Manager and did the same.

For a couple of days now, I’ve been looking around the web for deals on audio books that I could just download – I will pay for them, but I prefer just getting the MP3 over the Internet and putting them directly onto my MP3 player.  The best deal I found was a subscription based service that I’ve heard about, and looked at before,  It is advertised on some of the podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis, so it must be OK, right?

Well, I signed up for a monthly subscription, paid the first month, got my first audio book, downloaded it with anticipation, and…  what the heck is an “AA” file???  It won’t play on my LINUX computer!  And now I Google the AA file format of, and it’s proprietary – only plays through iTunes and on iPods! uses Digital Rights Management (DRM), which restricts the distribution and use of an audio file to those devices that have paid to buy into their restrictions.  So I can’t use this new audio book, curses!

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  Part of me wants to complain, get my money back (or at least cancel the subscription), and run away to another web site that’s more expensive but gives me files I can use.  The other part of me says, “oh carp (a typo but I like it), Jason has an iPod and loves it, maybe I should just buy an iPod and be done with it.” 

This would mean that I would have to re-rip my whole CD collection to MP3 instead of Ogg Vorbis , a free encoder that I have been using until now (long story, but MP3 is not free, a licence fee is paid to the owners with every device that can play it, check out the web site for details).  The whole OGG thing runs with my slightly anti-establishment bias.  But, the iPod does not play OGG, and from what I read, never will.  Well, you can wipe your iPod and install new software that will play OGG, but then you can’t play the proprietary DRM formats, kind of wiping out the benefit of switching to iPod. 

Curse these entrenched, self-serving, self interested companies that want to lock their customers in!  Even if the jail cell is very nicely furnished, it is a jail cell just the same.

Boxing Day in a Bucerias market – 26 December

Yes, today was the day to go to the market, held each Sunday morning, on the other side of the highway.  We got up, well, not early, but at least we got up (you know by now that I’m the sloth of the group), then made our way to the market.  It was basically about six blocks of streets with vendors on both sides.  The crowds apparently were small for a market Sunday, but that’s just as well for out-of-towner gringos like us!

A few blocks down our street, it turns right and goes under the highway, to the market!

Of course, there were fresh vegetables and fruit there, lots of it.  Also some stands with canned goods, bagged spices, and (shudder) fresh chickens (no refrigeration, and yes we gave that a pass), clothes, shoes, TV remote controls, X-box game consoles, Spanish movies & CDs, pots & pans, and every part imaginable for gas ovens and barbeques.  In one stand, there were fresh fresh coconuts and a fellow was slicing them open with a machete.  In another across the way, there were all kinds of small tools, mostly used – wrenches, pliers, hammers, screwdrivers.  Another had all kinds of electrical wiring parts – outlets, cord ends, light fittings, switches.  The sights, sounds, and smells were amazing!  And mostly good smells, too.

We took our backpacks and purchased potatoes, tomatoes, grapefruits, oranges, bananas, watermelons, pears and apples, all very nice.  Reasonably priced too!

Also noticed – they must have pretty relaxed vehicle safety standards down here – check out this truck!

We dumped our food back at the condo, and then off to brunch at The Red Apple, a nice little restaurant on top of a building halfway toward the town square.  The logo for the restaurant is an upside down red apple, and there’s a story behind it.  I’ll let the story board speak for itself, below.  Brunch was quite good, by the way.  Eric especially liked his “Eggs on a Cow”, ha ha – probably should have translated as “Steak and Eggs”.  He says that he’s going to order “Eggs on a Cow” for breakfast from now on, and see what kind of a response he gets.

Just as we were about to leave, Dave noticed the overhead wiring – yikes, you should see it – all tangled, quite a mess!  I hope these are mostly telephone and cable wires, not power wires!

Rat’s nest of wires above a main street in Bucerias

We stopped by Scott’s Tours and signed up for a half day boat tour tomorrow to do some whale watching.  I originally wanted to try snorkeling (have never tried before) but it just doesn’t fit in.  Unfortunately, we have to be at the Neuvo Vallarta dock at 08h00, so that means leaving the condo at something like 07h15, not very holiday-ish.  Eric is not amused – we are looking forward to a grumpy Eric all day – he is too much like me for his own good.  As for me, well, I won’t have too much trouble with a 06h30 start, this is more like my regular schedule.

I enquired about the “canopy tour”, which is tour-speak for zip-lining, and apparently there are about eight of them going all the time.  Hmm, they all start from a long ways away, would wipe out a whole ‘nother day for us.  Eric and I will settle for para-sailing just off the beach, some time later in the week, that should be enough excitement for my poor heart!

We then went down to the square, where there are a bunch more market stalls, mostly selling trinkets, hats and T-Shirts.  There was a store that sold only tequila, yum – wait a second, never had tequila that I can remember – hmm, might have had a shot at the bar in the early eighties, but then again, I can fall back on the “I can’t remember” thing.

Eric wanted to wander without a ten person entourage, so we headed back to the condo.

Most of the crew (sans Eric) headed down to the beach Dayna and I flopped by the pool to soak up some sun in a non-sand-filled environment.  Plus this gave me a chance to try to tan my ankles, which are white after my first day out with socks on, curses!  I did some reading (surprise surprise), this time The Speedster, the magazine of the Antique Auto Club of America, very interesting reading.

Hmm, there were pictures of the fall Hershey meet in the first full week of October in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  I’ve wanted to get there for years!  It’s huge, takes a whole week just to see all the vendors, hmm.  Anybody for going???  I had promised myself that I would go to it when I started work at Norscan and bought the de Ville, that was almost five years ago.  Might need to try a bit harder to get there this year.

I took the notebook computer down by the pool, where the signal was way, way better than in the condo, yay!  Now I’m tooling around the web looking at audio books to purchase, download and listen to.  Seems I’ve been caught up in a self-help/business education thing, not sure why.  It was all started with the “Good to Great” audio book I bought a few months back.  I have a bit of a commute back home, can listen to a fair amount going to & from, would be worthwhile to hear them.

Dayna and I then wandered the three blocks to the bank and got enough cash to hopefully carry us through the next few days, including paying for our tour tomorrow.  Ha ha, as Dayna’s brother Dave said, Mastercard is going to wondering what happened, we haven’t used our credit cards for almost a week!  Very few places accept credit cards down here, and those that do – well let’s just say you probably wouldn’t use your credit cards if you had the chance.

Dean under coconut tree on the way to bank

Dayna on other side of street on way back from bank

On the way to the bank, I had to walk under a coconut tree that was obviously full of coconuts, made me nervous – when we were all sitting in the palapas yesterday having lunch, Dayna saw a huge coconut fall out of a tree not 20 feet away, and we all heard it hit the ground – I have this image of emulating Sir Isaac Newton, but with a much larger bruise on the head!

I cower at the thought of one of these falling on my head!

We zipped onward to Marie Paz (“Mary paws”??) convenience store 2-1/2 blocks away to pick up toilet paper and diet cola (gotta have the necessities of life!), also decided to get some wine, ah…

I got the notebook, got up to the palapa, hooked up to the wireless, and called my mom.  Apparently, it’s -13C and 50 km/hr south wind back in the ‘Peg, a bit of snow and wind chill -26C.  Mom says that this morning, the snow was blowing so much that she couldn’t see across the perimeter highway, and that’s only a few hundred feet.  Too bad, so sad, I tried to be empathetic, but it’s tough when it’s +25C and sunny.  Oops, clouded over.  +25C and cloudy, sigh.

While I was up there, I could hear the boys downstairs watching the rest of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, loved that movie, still missing out.  Oh well, priorities…

And then a three man band goes by on the street.  I thought I heard a saxophone!  I guess I’m not going crazy.

Supper was great, the wine I bought was a good choice, and I drifted through the post-supper conversation.  What, I have to do the dishes!?!  Quel horreur!  Oh well, I guess I have to do the dishes some time, sigh.

Now there’s a spirited game of spoons going on here at the kitchen table, but hey I have this blog to keep me busy.  Oh, Dayna has just been ejected from the game, will now settle in to do her Sudoku until the next round begins.  And so it goes…

It will be an early morning.

Life Lessons from Mexico

Honestly, I’ve been goaded into this by my extended family.  You kind of have to be here to know what I’m talking about:

  • Do not buy candy out of a wheelbarrow (they do this on the beach – not a good deal!)
  • Do not crash waves with your glasses on (Drew found out that sunglasses tend to disappear beneath the waves when you do this)
  • Don’t collect 2s in a game of 31 when you are playing seven other people (hard to get a card before it’s covered – although this rule was just successfully broken – twice!)
  • Big guys make a good pizza recommendation (last night’s topping recommendation was from an big fellow, an ex-pat Canadian who made his recommendation as Barrie was headed into buy the pizza)
  • Don’t plan on a good night’s sleep on Christmas eve (and it has nothing to do with Santa) (it has everything to do with the all-night parties and the fireworks, well um, firecrackers they set off all night long)
  • Avoid eggs or chicken from the convenience store (they sit out unrefrigerated, yikes)
  • A Speedo swimsuit is not appropriate attire for horseback riding, even on the beach (some guy rode by wearing nothing but a Speedo and a BlackBerry, apparently Dave thought it was pretty cringe-worthy but neglected to get a picture, curses!)

Christmas day without snow? I want a big hat! – 25 December

Christmas in Bucerias is rather surreal.  No snow, warm temperatures, and a hot, hot sun.  I can’t say that I miss the cold and the snow in Winnipeg, but I would probably prefer 24 hours of snow and cold (like in Winnipeg) from say 14h00 on the 24th until the same time on the 25th.

Well, enough whining from me.  It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day here, as seems to be the norm.  We slept in, had a lazy morning, did some reading, and went down to the beach, ahhhh.  Well, the others went down first, and I just wanted to check my E-mail…  Yes, E-mail, eBay, the Canadian news, argh – yes the conveniences of modern communications, more of a burden really.  Before the days of the Internet, we would just lose track of happenings back home and catch up when we return.  But now, I can be more on top of Winnipeg news than someone in the ‘Peg – because I have more time to sit and hit “refresh” on and .  Kind of sad when you think of it.  In fact, last night at 23h00, I felt like listening to the news in the ‘Peg, so zoomed over to and listened to the local news.  Technology!!!

Then again, I can call my mom daily using Skype or some of the other telephone programs; I can use E-mail to keep tabs on my friends and monitor their goings on; I can pay the bills that I forgot to pay last week before leaving on holidays (oops); and harass those I call my friends : “check out my blog, I’ll be calling with a verbal quiz when I get back!”

Anyway, with the my electronic media craving duly satiated, I went down and sat on the beach.  Shortly thereafter it was lunchtime, and once again we had a great meal here at the condo.

Eric had a siesta, the rest of the men went down to Scott’s Travel Co. to enquire about day trips.  There are several, perhaps dozens, of tourist information and travel arrangement shops, but most of the others are actually offices of timeshares, so we’d rather avoid those – we had a celebrated encounter with a timeshare when on a trip to Fort Lauderdale many years ago, and don’t want a repeat!

So, what are we considering?  A full day whale watching and snorkeling sight seeing boat trip for all ten of us – for us, special deal, 500 pesos each, includes lunch.  Eric and I are considering jungle canopy zip line, 1042 pesos each.  And I see something about a full day tequila tour up into the old country, sounds interesting.  We’ll see what happens – this is all new, all new to me!  Me, the risk averse, afraid-of-heights engineer, hmm.

Eric purchased a big straw hat for himself yesterday at what we call the “car of hats”.  It just happens to be two doors down from Scott’s.  The proprietor told Eric that he has 3 wives and 14 children, so couldn’t give Eric the price he wanted, he needed to eat.  Well, Eric being the hard hearted guy that he is, didn’t think the fellow looked like a Mormon, so insisted on (and got) the price he wanted.

Car of Hats and its proprietor

Today, when we went to Scott’s, I figured I needed a big straw hat too – Eric has been giving me a lot of grief over my funny little “Gilligan” hat – so I stopped by the Car of Hats myself.

I didn’t get to talk to the proprietor, I got his young, young, daughter.  Those big dark eyes pleaded with me when I tried to get a lower price!

“Please, my commission,” she pleaded.

“It will still be a fine commission,” I advised her.

Well, finally we came to an agreement, then she turned me over to the big guy, who tried to raise the price back up again.  I’m not very good at bargaining, but I got my hat at my price.  Did I overpay?  I have no doubt.  Oh well, again leaving money in the hands of those who likely need it…

We trekked back to the condo, where Eric and his cousins were watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I had forgotten how much humour was in that movie!  We only made about a third the way through it, when we decided to head down to the beach while Christmas dinner cooked.   Once again, the sun was wonderful.  I think we’re going to run out of sunscreen, what a crisis!

Back on the beach with my new, big hat!

Christmas dinner was a wonderful cooked ham, wow.  Dessert was amazing, thanks to Sweet Thing bakery.  Is there such a thing as too much chocolate?  I don’t think so, but tonight we came close!  Plus some great ice cream.

Hooray for chocolate!  And, hooray for the Sweet Thing bakery!

Now we are chillin’ and playing a board game.  Well, me, I’m writing this blog and everyone else is playing the board game, seems to be my thing.

Christmas eve Mass in Spanish! – 24 December

We went to a Spanish Roman Catholic Mass at a local church just off the town square tonight.  I didn’t understand a word they said, but it was very nice just the same.  Well, I attended many Roman Catholic Masses in English in my youth, so I know the sections and responses, but it’s tough when it’s in a completely different language and spoken through a muffled sound system.

You can barely see the children’s choir up front right, with Santa Claus hats and scarves

The front of the church

The window glass opens, and when closed only covers about two thirds of the window, the rest is wrought iron covered – doesn’t really keep the rain out!

The service was at 20h00, and we arrived 20 minutes early.  The place was practically empty, but there was a youth choir practicing, and with the priest and elders of the church making ready at the front, we knew that the service was imminent.  By the time the service started, the pews were full.  20 minutes into the service, the entire church was packed and there were people standing outside the doors!

The couple that sat down beside us were asking if this was considered a Christmas service.  I didn’t know, but an older Spanish lady came and sat down beside them, and they enquired of her.  When it came to passing the peace, he jubilantly advised me that it was the second Christmas service of the day, and that he was “covered”.  I chuckled and told them that we didn’t worry about such things, being Protestant, they advised that they had figured so.  They were from Vancouver.  Well, they took communion and bolted right afterward and didn’t even wait for the end of the service.  Wow.

As I write this, a spirited game of dominoes is being played out on the patio.  It sounds like Eric is not doing well, the cousins are beating the pants off of him!

Getting into the salt water – 24 December

Today I spent the beginning of the day, while the others were still asleep (and for a while after they were up), working on the computer up on the palapa.  The wireless network mostly works up there.  I was able to do yesterday’s blog this way, and upload the images that wouldn’t upload last night.  It seems that the wireless is more flaky in the evening – perhaps because more people in this little complex are using it???

After breakfast, the kids went off to run up and down the sand and blow off some steam.  The maids arrived to clean up the unit, so the rest of us got kicked out.  Well, if sitting in the sun by the pool counts as being kicked out, that is.  After a time, Barrie and Helen and Dayna decided to go pick up the pastry for dessert tomorrow (what?  Christmas day already?  yikes!) and I, being lazy, stayed behind at the pool to relax and plow through some of the magazines I brought.  Nice.

The rest of the crew arrived home for lunch, chicken fajita wraps, excellent!  But left everyone wanting more, so sad.  Oh well, good chance to fill up on fruits, not a bad thing.  Well, and Eric gets a chance to down a few more beers, ha ha.

We had decided that we would have take-out pizza, something special for Christmas eve.  Yikes, hard to believe that Santa could travel to such a warm climate.  Hard to believe that it’s Christmas eve!  Everyone but Eric and I headed out to order the pizza.  Eric stayed to drink more beer and listen to his iPod (he has “both kinds of music – country and western”).  He played a couple for me, ha ha – “A Pickup Man” and “The Drinking Bone”.  My son with the cowboy boots, cowboy hat, and a case of Coronas, hard to believe!

I did a bit of E-mail, bought a Long John Baldry LP on eBay (Rock with the Best, 1981, contains When You’re Ugly Like Me (You Just Naturally Got to be Cool) ), it should arrive in Pembina in the next ten days or so.  I called my mom, she is doing well thankfully.  She and a friend will be going to the candlelight service at Charleswood United this evening.

Dayna arrived back with the crew, and while the everyone else went to the beach, she and I wandered off to the bank to use the ATM to get some more pesos.  Yikes, it is difficult to get used to the fact that they use the same “$” symbol for prices in pesos as we use for dollars, yet the peso is worth around 1/10 of a dollar.  Oh well, I like the ring of having a thousand pesos in my pocket!

After I got back, I also wandered down to the beach, while Barrie, Helen & Dayna stayed behind.

Well, let me just confirm for you that the ocean is salty, wow.  I played football pitch and catch in the water with Eric and Matt.  Apparently those two were doing it for hours, wow.  I just got a half hour in before it was time to go.  I made a few strokes in the salt water, up and down the beach a bit, then headed for shore.  I flopped on my beach towel for a bit, then wandered back for supper.

Dean and Eric

Eric and Dean with football

Dean, Eric and Matt throwing football around

Dean’s siesta in the sun

Eric chillin’

Dave and Jennifer relaxing

So supper was pizza, yes!  Very good pizza too!  We sure cleaned that up in a hurry.  We ate up on the palapas, ah yes.

Dave and Dean

Jennifer and Emily

Eric, Matt and Drew

Helen and Barrie

Dean and Dayna

Getting the necessities – food and beer! – 23 December

A good sleep was had by all.  Well, maybe not all – Drew had some technical issue with the bed, and I’m not sure Matt slept well out on the couch – but I slept almost a full 12 hours with only a few interruptions (middle aged bladder?  hmm).  It was probably a bit excessive, but hey, I’m on holidays!!!

Over breakfast, Eric and his younger cousins surfed the channels on the TV, but found that their ability to enjoy the squawk box (as my mother used to call it) was hampered by their inability to understand Spanish!  Oh well, there were the major U.S. networks there too, but they were showing (shudder) daytime TV.  Thankfully, they won’t be glued to the TV much during this holiday.  They can’t say that about me and the computer, I guess, so sad.

Today is grocery shopping day.  We walked the 3/4 hour from the condo in Bucerias (Condo Jacardanas, 57 Fancisco Madero) to the huge supermarket.  Along the walk, we saw a beautiful condominium complex for sale (hmm, probably out of our range), some huge time shares (apparently they shy away from that name now, it’s “partial ownership” now), and a new new private high end condominium development.  Very nice.

In the centre is a small square with a manger scene and a Christmas tree shaped poinsettia tree.  It all looked a bit weird to us – but having been in Bethlehem not two months ago, remember that Jesus was born not in the snow, but in a dry middle eastern climate, so really the dry manger scene is probably more realistic!

The supermarket is called “Mega”.  Yes, it is “mega” for sure.  It starts in the parking lot.  You can order a car wash for your vehicle while you shop.  There are several fellows wandering the parking lot with portable high pressure washers.

Washing a car in the parking lot

In this photo you can see about half of Mega

Inside, it’s pretty much like any large supermarket in Canada.  Of course, everything is in Spanish.  Well, what do you want, this is Mexico!!  They also have time shares set up just outside the checkout stands (ugh), a very small McDonald’s that only serves ice cream products (M&M flurry, yum, but they don’t mix it at all), and a mall that is mostly empty (but has a Scotiabank in it – hey, you are richer than you think).

They seem to have no taste for diet drinks around here, as they are difficult to find.  Well, sometimes you can find small (591/600 ml?) bottles and cans in the convenience stores, but all the restaurants, bars and fast food places only seem to have sugar colas, ugh.  Even in the supermarket, they seem to keep DP (Dean’s short form for Diet Pepsi) hidden, although our shoppers did find some.  Certainly DPCF (DP caffeine free) is non existent down here.  Apparently I am going to have to live on beer and water, not such a bad thing!

So in the mall attached to the Mega, there is a small courtyard with one fast food outlet (like I said, mostly empty mall) – a Chinese food place, the only place in the mall where I found a diet cola drink!  Well it was DC (Diet Coke) but hey, any port in a storm, right?

Eric bought a football to toss around.  It was pretty soft, and we have no inflation needle, but more about that later.  He also purchased the fixins for Strawberry Daquaris – he didn’t know what was in them, but Uncle James (well little brother James to me) up in Red Deer did, so I texted James and got the lowdown.  Now we have everything but triple sec, which Eric says he will live without – he’ll see how good it tastes without it, and get the triple sec if it feels like it’s missing something.

On the way back, we rode the bus.  That was an experience – I haven’t had a ride in a bus with standard transmission for a long time!  And that shift lever must be four feet long – no cable shift here, it’s connected right to the transmission in the middle of the vehicle.  The driver was pedal to the metal on the accelerator or on the brake the whole time – man do they drive down here!  We must have been doing 90 km/hr or more down those little right-side frontage roads that double as left turn lanes, yikes.  And the driver hammers the accelerator before the poor folks are even fully on the bus – how entertaining!

We made it back to the condo all right.  We had a nice lunch of tortilla wraps and various fillings. 

After lunch, the rest of the crew went the two blocks down to the beach, but Eric and I ventured off in search of a place to fill up that football.  Plus, I wanted to make a duplicate set of keys for Eric and for Dayna, so finding a locksmith would be good too.  We wandered down to the main street, well actually the main highway, and strolled along.  The locksmith was easy, but it took a long while to find someone who could fill the football.  But the fellow was nice enough to let us use his compressor, even had an inflation needle, nice.

As we strolled back to the condo (hey that’s the pace around here), we decided that our beer supply was dangerously low, so off to the local grocery for another 24 bottles of Coronas, and a few limes to put in them.  Folks smiled at us as we walked back, Eric with a case on his shoulder.  Kind of a Canadian thing, I think.  Down here, folks seem to only buy a few at a time.  

Eric in a pose that I’m sure we will see plenty of this next week or so

It was a hot day, so we consumed a few of those Coronas.  The lime is a nice touch!  Eric headed down to the beach, and I stayed to call mom on the computer (hi, mom!) and catch up on the news back home.  Well, and start this blog.

Down at the beach, they had a great time.  They all went swimming in the ocean, Eric and Matt threw the football around for an hour, and just generally they soaked up the sun and the waves.  Yes, yes, I wasn’t there, but I’ll get there, no worries.  By the time they got back it was almost dark.

We have an elaborate meal plan (Helen is an elaborately organized person, and Dayna being a dietitian, with Jennifer and her concern for the kids rounding it out), so they carefully and deliberately constructed the meal while the guys circled like sharks.  This way, at least some of the fruit gets eaten – although there are snacks, they are up high where only Eric & Dayna’s dad can reach them.

Supper was great, salmon, yum.  Well, none of the kids ate the salmon, but there was spaghetti from last night, so they enjoyed that.  So far none of us are starving, and that is a good thing!

After supper, Dave & Jennifer, Dean & Dayna wandered back down to the town square and beyond.  We stopped at places that we’d never stop at with the kids – a couple of jewelry and craft stores, and an arts store that had (ahem) some rather provocative oil paintings leaving not much to the imagination (quite a juxtaposition next to the Virgin Mary and the crucifixes, hmm).  Well let’s just say that the ladies did the browsing and the men did the standing around to ensure that the street was still passable…  Anyway, there’s a ravine that seems to run to the ocean, splitting Bucerias in two – and a cute bridge that runs over it.  As you wander up to the town square, you must run the gauntlet of small shops that line the narrow street.  Now though, at night, most are shuttered and only a few are open.

The town square is still a busy place though – mostly food vendors, who turn the sidewalk into a hopscotch maze.  And the children – my, my, even at 21h30 at night – dashing to and fro, without a care.  Oh well, it is the night before the night before Christmas, isn’t it?

As you pass the town square, there is another block of shops, then you enter the nightclub district.  I was entranced by Joe Crow’s Bar – which of course is completely open to the street, so you can hear the band very clearly from over a block away.  Now I’m not a Jimi Hendrix fan at all, but that band was putting so much blues & soul into the Hendrix tunes, it made me want to check it out.  Oh well, we weren’t on a bar hopping mission, we were on a shopping mission, so back we went.  Plus too, I don’t really handle really loud music all that well any more (well, truth be told, never did), and it was loud outside the bar, so I can only imagine how it was inside.  In any case, we wandered back.

The purpose of our wanderings was to gather a few trinkets & gifts for the younger kids, and a few “staples” (read: junk food) for the upcoming Christmas eve.

Upon our return, we found the rest of the crew in the midst of a spirited game of Dominos.  I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what they were doing, but it appears that Helen walked away with it – meaning that she had the lowest score??

Jennifer couldn’t help but sample the tacos, but she wasn’t very discreet about it, so in short order, our snack supply was gone and there were crumbs everywhere.  It seems as though another trip to the grocer’s will be needed today to ensure that adequate supplies are available for this evening.

Another early night, this time 22h30.  This is becoming a habit!  Oh well, it’s better this way, as we can get up and going relatively early for holidays, before the heat of the day.