Long time acomin’

Long time acomin’

Friends, friends, friends. I am so sorry that I have not kept you up to date. Not only have I never finished telling you about my winter vacation — now some four months ago — but I haven’t told you the harrowing tales that have followed.

First, the months of March and April were absolutely slammed. As we prepared to move, we found ourselves having to spend far more money than we thought. What we believed to be a “done deal” in terms of our new home, was still under negotiation. We ended up paying more (albeit, not a lot more) in rent and ended up moving in to a house that had many unforeseen problems.

Gas.

The first issue involved the gas. Being in the city center, the house had originally had natural gas, which we were able to contract for and paid for the set up and installation. When they came to install the meter, however, they discovered that no natural gas was running through the pipes. And here I was thinking I had done such a great job getting everything arranged!

The upshot was that we had to buy a Liquid Propane tank and totally redo the existing gas lines to accommodate this hiccup. Of course, all of our new appliance scheduled to be delivered were ordered with natural gas hook-ups.

Changing that wasn’t so bad. Just an annoyance, really.

The next glitch came when we removed our air conditioner from our old house. The hole it left behind was enormous! Of course, this was on the Friday we were expecting to move out. The following day the landlords were coming to get the keys and do an inspection. Shit!

Thankfully, our realtor, Mauricio, was a great help. I texted him and he not only found someone to fix the hole, he came with the person and oversaw that it was done well and completely.

The move.

So, Saturday morning, we packed up the last of our stuff and headed over to the new house, which, at that time, still had no gas, among other things. Our landlord had promised the house would be “clean” when we moved in. Well, it was clean, if you are talking about the floors and freshly painted walls. But the old, nasty fixtures in the bathroom and the kitchen were anything but. They were old and nasty, to say the least.

Really nasty.

Lyn and I had prepared ourselves for this possibility, as our prior landlords were very hands-off as well. If something broke, we fixed it. Their entire role was to collect the rent. Yet, despite our foresight, we had hoped our new landlords would at least replace the kitchen and bathroom sinks. After all, we had requested it earlier in our negotiations and were told “don’t worry.”

Once we had the gas hooked up, we found out that the water heater did not work. So, off we went to Home Depot to buy a new one, one of those fancy instant ones, which we arranged with the plumber to install later that week. (More about that later.)

 

The original sinks in the nasty bathroom.

The dogs.

The first couple of days were very much like camping — you didn’t really want to use the facilities, but it was all there was. Even before the move, the dogs were getting agitated. They can always sense when things are about to change. For them, the change was much more dramatic — from a suburban setting with lots of green spaces to an urban brick jungle. Considering all that we were struggling to accomplish, we didn’t pay enough attention to getting them acclimated. A big mistake, which became very evident on our first day back to work.

Monday, both of us when to our prospective jobs. When I got back at 7:30 that evening, the plumber was at the house. He had come to complete some repairs (we didn’t know he was coming or that he had a key). That part was fine with me, until he told me that he accidentally let Izzy out. Even then I didn’t grasp the whole picture. Not only had he let Izzy out, but he was unable to get her back and she had been gone by that time for about 2 hours.

You can imagine my horror. I was dumbstruck. I immediately grabbed Sophie and started walking the streets calling for her and asking everyone I saw. Of course, the plumber felt terrible and accompanied me to look for her, which was helpful given my Spanish language skills.

The plumber and I searched for hours to no avail. When Lyn got home, he and I searched some more, but we couldn’t find her. It was horrible.

The next week was filled with tears and anxiety. We did everything possible to find Izzy. All of my students looked for her, posted her picture on their websites, encouraged their friends to do the same, and sent me pictures of every possible found dog they came across. I put up posters around town, as well as following up on every possible siting. Every day that I didn’t see her little body dead in the road gave me hope, although it was dwindling.

After a week, I really didn’t think we’d ever see her again.

Miracles do happen.

But then… a Miracle! Apparently, Izzy was so desperate — sick, hungry, injured — that she approached a woman in a parking lot who spotted her collar and tag and took her in, knowing that someone, somewhere must be looking for her.

It didn’t take long for the message and photo to reach  me. It was late at night, though, and we weren’t able to pick her up until the following day.

Izzy on the way back home.
Izzy when I picked her up from her rescuer.

Poor Izzy! When I picked her up, she was clearly very ill, listless and depressed. Lyn and I took her immediately to the vet, where they kept her for 5 or 6 hours to rehydrate her, take x-rays and blood, and start her on antibiotics. By the time we got her home that night, the poor thing was exhausted. Those who know her, know that she doesn’t like riding in the car. She hates it so much that she literally screams at the top of her lungs with her small-dog high-pitched whiny voice. On this day, however, there was not a peep out of her. She just curled up in the seat and went to sleep.

The following week was difficult, but she eventually began to rebound. That’s when other problems showed up. For example she had worn her toe pads down till they were bloody. She also had an enormous deep hole on her neck. And, when the lab work came back, her liver enzymes were through the roof! The vet suspected her liver might never improve. Thankfully, though, Izzy is one tough little girl and she has totally recovered. Until, that is, we realized she was limping still. Turns out, after yet another vet visit, that she has a broken toe. The poor child has been house bound for weeks except for visits to the vet. She has no interest in going anywhere near the front door, thank goodness, but it would be nice to get her outside so she can have a good sniff around.

More later…

 

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

The saga continues…

Our next stop was Tamasopo, which is known for its “cascadas” or waterfalls. As with those falls at the beginning of our trip, I expected these to be somewhat remote. I was wrong! In Tamasopo, the waterfalls are right on the road, easily accessible by car, and surrounded by conveniences such as restaurants, shops and bathrooms.

At first, I was hesitant to go in the water. It wasn’t that warm, being January and all, but I decided it was worth it. I actually changed into my bathing suit in the car so I could partake of the water. Since I hadn’t planned to swim, I didn’t bring a towel. Fortunately, they sold those in the shop, along with inexpensive water shoes — necessary for walking on the rocky river bottom.

The water was perfect! We had a great time, even using the rope swing and jumping off the rocks nearby. There were other people there, of course, but not too many. One of the benefits of off-season travel.

The hotel we stayed in in Tamasopo was very nice. While the room wasn’t anything special, the grounds were lovely, and all the rooms looked out over a sprawling green space with large pools. There was a river close by, so you could actually hear the sound of the water cascading over the rocks.

I did have a problem in the hotel due to mold. My allergies had a lot more fun than I did! I reported it to the hotel so they could fix it. I imagine it is typical for a room with stone walls situated in a damp area.

We didn’t stay long here, just a day. By 4 p.m. we were back on the road heading for San Luis Potosí.

The Mountain Pass

A lot of this trip involved driving on windy mountain roads in the dark. This section of the journey was no different. What surprised me was the amount of traffic. I suspect that it was due to there being only one road connecting these areas. Sort of like going into one of the U.S. national parks. You just have to be patient (not my strong suit).

When we got into SLP it was dark, once again making finding things a bit of a struggle. Fortunately for us, I had booked a hotel right in the historic downtown of the city. Score! Of all the places we stayed, this was the most modern and comfortable. Naturally, it was also the most expensive. But who cares! Having a big comfy bed with a great comforter walking distance from everything was worth every penny!

SLP isn’t a very big city, so we were able to hit the highlights in one day. The only issue was that some places were closed because of King’s Day — January 6. This day is when families exchange Christmas gifts. There is another tradition, too, involving putting a small figure of the Christ child in a cake. The person who is served the piece with the figure is responsible for bringing or making tamales on 2 February. I like this tradition, even if, in retrospect, it seem a little canibalistic.

The night we arrived, we walked around the block to the main plaza where they were having a holiday light show. All I can say is, WOW. Amazing. I am attaching a short video for you. Basically they developed this show so that it blanketed the main cathedral. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Hundreds of people were just standing in the square watching.

Among the highlights of SLP was visiting a prison that has been converted to an art school and museum. It was technically closed to the public, but since the school was still open, the security guard allowed us to go in and look around. If anyone stopped us, we were to tell them that we were looking at applying to the school. Ha! The security guard was very knowledgeable about the history of the place. It was clear he appreciated our interest in it as well.

Centro de los Artes, San Luis Potosí.

Floor plan Centro de los Artes.
The inside of the buildings are used for classrooms and galleries.
One of the sculpture gardens between the buildings.

We pretty much walked the length of the city and back along the main boulevard, stopping to investigate the street vendors and churches along the way.

Next stop — Dolores Hidalgo & Guanajuato.

Chunk 2: Xilitla & Hotel Tapasoli

Chunk 2: Xilitla & Hotel Tapasoli

Ok, since I have a little time, I’m going to fill in the blanks about my winter vacation. As you know, one of the teachers (Jodi) from the TEFL program in Puerto Vallarta come to visit us in Querétaro. She and I took a driving vacation to some of the most amazing places. Here’s where we started:

The Road to Xilitla & Hotel Taposoli

A little map to help you see where we went!

Jodi ran into some travel problems right off the bat. There was some kind of weather problem in Mexico city and she was unable to leave on the day she planned. She wasn’t alone. Quite a few tourists were also stranded. Of course, she at least could go home and try again the following day.

Once again, however, there were problems with the flights–delays, cancelations, etc. — so I took it on myself to see what I could do. Ultimately, I was able to find her a flight that eliminated having to go through Mexico City, but it meant she would have to spend the night in Guadalajara and leave first thing in the morning.

Since she was now delayed by two days, our new plans involved leaving for Xilitla immediately from the airport.

Jodi Donna Road to Xilitla
Photo op!

The road to Xilitla was long — about 4 hours plus some time for photos and food. It was a little nerve-wracking for me to drive into the Mexican countryside. This country has a bad reputation when it comes to traveling in certain areas. Fortunately for us, we were heading into a very popular vacation area in the mountains.

Delicious Margarita

If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought we were driving around some areas of the west, particularly in Idaho, where the elevation reduces the amount of tall trees. It was a perfect day to drive, and we made very good time, stopping only a few times to take photos.

A beautiful lookout. Unfortunately, it was not well maintained. What you can’t see in the photo is that, behind the cross & building, people have used this spot to dump garbage.

We did stop in one small town for a bite to eat. Wow. I can honestly say it was the best meal we had on the trip.

Restaurant Carretas

Amazing seafood, especially considering it is about as far away from the ocean as possible! The margaritas were also spectacular. I hope I get to visit this place again sometime.

 

View of the valley from the cross overlook.

 

Strategic Choices

When we planned the trip, we decided to stay in “interesting” hotels wherever possible. We were not disappointed. In Xilitla, we chose Hotel Tapasoli. The photos made it look like a visit to Hobbiton. We weren’t disappointed! While we didn’t stay in one of the hobbit houses, we still had an amazing stay.

Hotel Tapasoli
One of the “hobbit house” rooms at Hotel Tapasoli

We met a couple of nice people in the parking lot that invited us to see there hobbit room, which was right on the edge of a cliff with a spectacular view of the valley. There was another couple there too, enjoying the view over a glass of wine or two. We were invited to join the gang. Of course, we had brought some wine on the trip with us, so we added it to the festivities.

Hotel Tapasoli Breakfast
Breakfast with Alfredo and Evie

The couple we met were very from San Luis Potosí, a small city that was on our “to do” list for the trip. Of course, we talked about places to go, people to see, and politics. Alfredo’s English was excellent, so the conversation was quite animated. He and Jodi got into it over Trump. I tried to stay neutral and calmer, but watching the exchange was very entertaining.

The following day, we met them again at the hotel restaurant — a lovely deck with a great view. The food was amazing! I had chilaquiles, the local breakfast choice. It is a combination of tortilla chips, eggs, beans, rice and whatever else you want, with red or green salsa. It is hard to describe, but absolutely delicious!

Chilaquiles

After breakfast, we headed to Jardín Escultorio de Eduard James, a famous sculpture garden in the jungle. Of course, google and apple maps both failed me in the GPS area. We managed to get a little lost, but not too badly. After all, as in most mountain towns, there is only one main road. Once you find that, you’re golden.

The Jardín is amazing! Acres and acres of amazing buildings and sculptures designed just for this place. Lots of steps, though, so if you have bad knees, you may want to just buy a photo book.

I did buy a few things here: a T-shirt for Lyn and a small, hanging parrot for our new house.

 

Jardín Escultorio de Edward James
Jodi in the Jardín Escultoria de Edward James

We ended the day by heading to our next venue — Tamasopo — where we were looking forward to experiencing the amazing blue waterfalls. Stay tuned. We’ll cover that in Chunk 3.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year from Querétaro, MX

NOTE: I totally forgot about this post! It has been sitting in my “drafts” folder for over a month!

Well, a year has come and gone. In it, we have done so many things! The biggest one, of course, is having moved to Mexico to become English teachers.

As I reflect back on the year, it amazes me how far we’ve come, how many changes we have made in our lives, and how much further we still have to go.

Moving to Mexico

Our grand adventure began last January, when we decided to take the TEFL training course in Puerto Vallarta. Simultaneously, we sold our home of 16 years and took a huge risk deciding to move to Querétaro sight unseen, no jobs waiting for us, no knowledge whatsoever of the city. Truly blindly, following the advice of people we hardly knew.

I pride myself on my adventurous spirit, but this, even for me, was very bold and a bit scary. Fortunately, as always, everything worked out.

We’ve been here in Querétaro now for almost one year and we just adore the city and the people. More interesting for me is how much I love my work. I have always poo-poo-ed the idea of being a teacher as I have no patience for children. Fortunately, as a language teacher, I teach mostly adults with an occasional teen thrown in. Teaching English is very rewarding, too. The students recognize that being able to speak, read and write in English is their ticket to a better education, job and future.

 

Vacation Is Over

Vacation Is Over

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had almost a month’s vacation, over which time I’ve been on quite an adventure. So much to report, but I don’t want to make this post too long. Thus, I will break it up into chunks.

Chunk 1:  The New House

As you know, we have been renting a condominium/house in the suburbs of Querétaro in a development known as “El Refugio.” The house and everything in it was brand new when we moved in, which is always a plus. The condominium complex is also relatively new, so everything here was clean and lovely. We met some wonderful people here, as well. All in all it has been a great experience.

Because it is in the burbs, there is a lot of green space that is great for the dogs. Unfortunately, the downside has been that it takes from 20 minutes to 2 1/2 hours to get to work. I know that’s a pretty wide timeframe, but the traffic here can be horrific. Recently, too, we’ve had a gasoline distribution problem, leading to long lines at the gas stations and creating panic among those of us who have to drive to work every day.

Even before that, however — way back in December — we started looking to move somewhere closer to my school. Our lease here is up on March 10th, and finding a place in “el Centro” isn’t easy. There is a lot of demand and not much inventory. Some of the homes, too, are colonials that are in need of a lot of repair. Those that have been remodeled are, as you would expect, rather spendy.

I managed to find a website (or 3 or 4) that aggregated various listings and found several potential places for us. I was a bit concerned that I was starting the search too soon, but it worked out perfectly. Of course, I was also a bit nervous about my language skills, as well. Not everyone here speaks English (duh!).

What will be the living room. Great window, right? It is the only window that looks out onto the street.

A few of the listing realtors did contact me, and Lyn and I went to see three places, none of which worked for us for a variety of reasons. One realtor that contacted me did so to tell me that the place I was interested in was no longer available, but he had one that wouldn’t be available until February or March that he thought I might like.

A quick note about the photos: You have to visualize it empty. 

He was right! The house, which is located in the heart of the historic district, was being used as a government office that was moving out to get more space. They had been there for six years and, in that time, very little had been done by way of improvements. Nevertheless, the house was amazing! HUGE! With an interior courtyard, five large rooms (living room + four rooms) on one side of the courtyard, and a dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms on the other side of the courtyard. Much of the outdoor space was covered with beautiful stone archways with a large area open to the sky and the area between the bathrooms and the main house covered with glass roof enclosure.

Looking in from the front door.

Despite the fact that there was an office there, it was easy to see what an amazing house it was and could be again. The ceilings are easily 20 feet high, and the stonework and configuration meant that it would be very cool all summer long. Of course, it also will get a bit cold in the winter, but that we can handle!

The kitchen. Very rustic right now, but the potential is enormous!

Other issues around this house, though, are that, unlike here in Refugio, it is unfurnished. We have a plan for that.

More later!

The dining room. The woman will be our new landlord — Doña Rosita!

Felices Fiestas!

Felices Fiestas!

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat.

I’ve been putting pennies in the old men’s hats! This time of year, a lot more of the beggars are children. It makes me very sad. They wait at the corners and approach the cars while they are waiting for the light. I try to keep spare change in my car for them. Of course, you can’t give money to everyone, but I do my best to give to at least one person every day.

Lots of news from Querétaro!

Lyn

Lyn accepted a part-time position with UCO — the Universidad Contemporanea. Don’t be fooled; it isn’t a university. Rather, it is an IB preparatory school. Lyn will start teaching English two hours a week to prepare students for taking the IELTS exam. Passing this test is important for students going off to college. It is also one of the tests that many adults take in order to certify their English skills for various jobs.

I’m really thrilled he took it, even though it isn’t a lot of hours at first. There are several reasons:

1) He can get acclimated to the school at a slower pace. My understanding is that the school has rigorous requirements for the teachers as well as the students. Starting slowly will give Lyn plenty of time to get used to their process.

2) The school is located very close to The Anglo. In fact, it was my academic director who forwarded Lyn’s CV there. He and his wife, Paloma, have been lobbying for Lyn to get the job. UCO is about three blocks away.

3) In the fall there will be an opportunity for him to teach Math in English. I actually met the Math department head at The Anglo Christmas party. She is so excited that Lyn is going to be joining them!

4) The hours are during the regular school day, so Lyn will be spared the hassle of a rotating and unpredictable schedule that is part and parcel of teaching at a language school. I honestly don’t mind the schedule, as long as I don’t have to get up at o-dark-30 after working late at night. I don’t like to do the same thing all the time, so it is perfect for me. And, since we are moving closer to school, the schedule won’t be as difficult.

The other great thing is that he will be working. He needs that. We need that. $$$$$

The Holidays

Posada in Querétaro
You go girl! The piñata doesn’t stand a chance!

We went to our first Posada last night. Our community hosted it, with all the traditional fixings — from food to the star-shaped piñata for the kids. Of course, we walked to the front gate and sang the traditional posada song (I need to work on learning that for next year). One half of the group stood outside the gate and sang the parts of Joseph & Mary asking for lodging, while the other group stood inside the gate and sang the responses. Of course, we ultimately let them in!

The children really enjoyed the piñata. I took a lot of pictures. They were sooooo cute!

The food ranged from mole sandwiches and tunafish to traditional ponche — a delicious spiced cider served hot. Yummy! Several of the homeowners brought tequila and other traditional beverages, as well.

Flor de Alfalfa / Rancho Hondonado

Breakfast in the Cave at Rancho Hondonada
Breakfast in the Cave at Rancho Hondonada

We have also been doing some touring around Querétaro. A week or so ago, we toured an organic dairy farm where they make artisanal cheeses and yogurt. It was lovely! And, we got to pet the calves. We went with another teacher from the Anglo and his wife — Rodrigo and Eunice (pronounced Ay-oo-neece-ay).

The ranch is about an hour from our house. They have over 1000 cows that are very well treated! They play them music and give them treats when they are milked to keep them happy. Happy cows make sweeter milk. As part of the tour, we saw where they make and store the cheese. We were treated to a lovely breakfast/cheese tasting before heading out to see where they plan to put the vineyard. Yes, vineyard. It will be lovely, but it will take some time before they are actually producing enough grapes to make wine. Of course, there are vineyards all over the area where they can get good wines.

I had been hoping the tasting came with wine, but no. It was early — around 11:00 in the morning — so, alas, no wine. But… they had the most delicious hot chocolate.

All in all a very wonderful day.

The Anglo Christmas Party

Me, Mercedes & Joe: Teachers at The Anglo.

I am very fortunate to work at such a great school with such great people! Really. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work. The conditions, the people, the pay and benefits are all amazing. I’m so happy.

Naturally we had to have a Christmas party and gift exchange. I am always a bit reluctant to participate in these things, but this was really fun. Gifts had to be less than $12 US, and everyone submitted three things they would like, which made it easier to pick something.

Me and Caro, another teacher from The Anglo.

The party was very well organized, and EVERYONE came! That, in and of itself, is amazing. From the security and parking attendants to the cleaning and sales staff to the teachers and administrators. It was amazing.

Stay tuned… I have more news. Just need to process! TTFN (ta-ta for now)!

 

 

The entire Anglo crew! Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traffic!

Traffic!

I couldn’t think of an appropriate name for this post, but Traffic! will do. You see, traffic in Querétaro is totally insane. Along with it, there is also the insanity of trying to park downtown.

As seems likely the longer we live here, I finally got a parking ticket. Lyn and I had ventured to El Centro Historico for an afternoon stroll. Having found the “perfect” spot, we set off to enjoy the city sites, stop for a quick bite to eat, and do some shopping, mostly of the window variety.

My parking ticket.

On one walk about, we actually passed our car in its gloriously convenient, and, I believed, free location. But, when we finally decided to head home, there was a long narrow strip of paper under the windshield.

Honestly, I thought it was someone’s grocery store receipt, because that was what it looked like. However, on closer inspection, I realized it was really a parking ticket. A parking ticket!

There was so much information on it to decipher, but it clearly was for my car, parked in a “no parking” zone. I didn’t see the signs, although the ticket says they were clearly marked. Oh well.

Unlike other parking tickets I’ve received over the years, this one did say how much the “infraccion” would cost me.

A day or two later, the young man who cuts our grass translated it for me. He then asked, “did they take your license plate?”

Wha?

Apparently, this is the custom. They leave you a ticket and take one of your license plates. I hadn’t noticed, but they sure as heck took my plate! I suppose it is good motivation to get you to pay the ticket, although I drove around for several months without any plates on my car and never was stopped. Jonathan (the gardener) thought the ticket would be about $180 pesos, which would be discounted if I paid it within 90 days.

So, the following day I drove to the location indicated on the ticket, totally terrified of what the process might be. It was actually a breeze and very well organized. We went about noon, which is a good time to go places here, as lunch is typically around 2:00 p.m. and traffic is light.

The place was totally devoted to parking tickets. First, you go to a window where they validate your ticket. The second window is where they tell you how much you have to pay. This was the disappointing part, as it turned out that, even with a 50% discount, the fine was $500 pesos — that’s about $25! Well, seeing as there was nothing to do about it, I paid the fine and went to the third and final window, where they gave me back my license plate and a receipt for paying the fine. They also asked for all my information (name, address, cell phone number, email, etc.). For what purpose I hope I never learn.

I suppose it was a good thing it happened when it did and that it was as easy to remedy as it was. I am quite averse to “firsts” as they raise my anxiety level to new heights. Fortunately, Lyn was with me, which made things a bit less stressful.

Lesson Learned

The last couple of times we came downtown (like today), I did myself a favor and parked in a lot. For 25 pesos (about $1.25 US) you can park for quite some time. Sure beats a 500 peso fine!

Back to Traffic

So, last week there was some event going on in El Centro Historico. Living as we do in the burbs, I had no idea. I try to leave at least an hour to get to work, since traffic is unpredictable. On this night, it was beyond insane — it was a freaking parking lot!

I left my house at 6:10 to be on time for a 7:30 class. It usually takes about 25 minutes. The longest prior to this particular night had been an hour and 15 minutes. On this night, that record was squashed — after two and a half hours, I still hadn’t made it to school.  Since class is over at 9:00, I made an executive decision at 8:45 to head back home.

It seems that the traffic was due to something called the Christmas Train. One of the big department stores sponsors it, and people from all over head into downtown to see it. Interestingly, on this night, the event was cancelled, but word hadn’t gotten around. Everyone still showed up.

The only bright spot for me was that the traffic was literally moving at a snail’s pace and I was able to text my students from the car. They were very cute. They were actually doing classwork and sending me photos of what they had done. I sent them additional things to do, and all-in-all, the class seemed to get along without me. Phew.

Of course it only took me 15-minutes to get back home. The stress took its toll on me. I actually had TWO glasses of wine instead of my usual one.