Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Oaxacan Princess in Disney

I run half marathons. The latest was a few weeks ago, February 25th, at Disney World. I train in Oaxaca, the land of shitty sidewalks and diesel buses and more hills than I care to think about when putting on my sneakers. Running in Oaxaca, where stepping in donkey or goat poop is a real hazard. Where one runs with a rock in her pocket to toss at angry barking dogs. I have often thought the rocks would work on drunken men, too, but I run early enough in the morning that the drunken men are usually still passed out on the sidewalk.

But back to Disney. This picture sums up a lot about the race.

A few things to note:
 - I am running with my eyes closed. As the race was supposed to start at 5:30 a.m., I decided that sun glasses would likely not be critical. Wrong.
 - My tiara stayed in place for the entire 13.1 miles. A true testimonial to my princess-ness.
 - There is a woman running in costume behind me. More on this later.
 - There is the ultimate selfie being taken - can you spot the tell-tale arm?
 - There appears to be a character behind me, with a line up of people wearing race numbers near this character.
 - I still appear to be smiling.

I had a wonderful time. Let me start with that. I felt prepared, excited, ready for the challenge. My sister came from Montreal, my amiga Sarah from Whitby, Ontario and my amiga Marian from the UK. Yes, all the way from the UK. We stayed at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Marian and I sat on our balcony the first morning and watched giraffes saunter by. High on the very cool list. It was so effing expensive it was ridiculous. But being together and knowing we would run together and then celebrate together was this extra amazing feeling of not only running and being these four amazing women, but the simple easy joy of having someone else who trained, suffered and traveled to do this thing with you is very special. A shout out to my girls. We are better than rock stars.

Now, on to some logistics organizers will never share and this blog post will likely get pulled for:
 - Stay at Disney property. As we boarded the bus at 4 in the morning from our resort and rounded the corner to a line-up of traffic, cars and buses, trying to get to the race start, all four of us thanked all the gods that we were not driving that morning. In addition to usual pre-race jitters, driving ourselves would likely have just been awful.
 - The "race start" was 5:30, and we were supposed to be in our corrals around 5. I am a slow runner, so I was in the second to last corral. I actually started to run at 6:39. I also seemed to walk for at least 2 kilometers from where you get off the bus to where you corral, and waited in line at the port-a-potties twice. For added training support, I would recommend, therefore, getting up at 3:15 and eating something, put on your running clothes and shoes, remembering not to tie your shoes too tight yet. Then sit around in your kitchen for 45 minutes. Go outside and walk around aimlessly for 2 kilometers, stopping to pee a few times and ensuring to re-adjust everything about your run outfit so there will be no chafing. Then stand, basically in one spot, for an hour and 15 minutes. THEN, and only THEN, start your training run. When you are about ten minutes from starting, re-tie your running shoes and wonder about if you need to pee again.
 - The best advice I used this race was to purchase a second-hand throw away sweater, at Good Will, not one you actually like, and then you can toss it off just before you start to run. Pick one with a hood if you find one.
 - There were 20,000 people who ran this race. That is about 10,000 too many. Many of the roadways you run are narrow and cannot accommodate the volume of people.
 - You run three miles inside the parks. The other 10.1 is on the highway/service roads. Yes, seriously. There is very little crowd support, lots of water stops, and the only bathrooms without line ups start at mile 7.
 - The race is pretty casual. Lots of walkers. People stopping to take pictures with their favorite characters who are at various spots throughout the run.
 - Turning the corner in Magic Kingdom to a view of the castle was spectacular and almost worth the race price.
 - Disney recommends no earphones. Bring music and earphones. There are a few bands along the way. The brass band at mile 2 was great, the DJ on the bridge was super fun, and the gospel choir at mile 12/13 was so amazing they made me weep, but the rest of the time, I was thankful for my own tunes.

A few tips for the non-serious runners who plan on running Disney:
 - I get you want to run/walk. But putting your little hand up as you stop and walk RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME is really not cool.
 - I know, I know, you want to keep all your friends posted on your latest status during the run. Step off to the side to update your status, don't stop in the middle of the road. The very same applies for selfies.
 - Slow traffic usually moves over to the right. This includes you when you are running or walking and slower than others.
 - Try to discard costumes OFF the raceway. This includes stopping to remove the tutu. Although watching you struggle to run, not trip keep your shirt and race number on and toss the pink fluffy skirt was amusing. Thanks for that.
 - Figure out your play list BEFORE. You signed up for this darn thing MONTHS ago. You really need to meander down the road looking for that special song NOW? Oh, wait, maybe you were just checking that text from your mom... Of course, please, do that.

The next group run is the Rock 'N' Roll is Lisbon, Portugal, in October 2018. Who's coming?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cisterns: Lights & Ladders

Today, Sunday, we are having our cistern resurfaced. I am not sure resurfaced is the official, technical term for the work we are having done, but we have two men down the hole in my service patio, and they are going to put down a new layer of cement at the bottom of this pit. Evidently the cement that it down there was deteriorated and we estimate we were loosing about 20% of our water to Mother Earth.

The water issues in this house are spectacular, and ongoing. There is a shared cistern between us and the neighbour. The neighbour consists of four women, and our house fluctuates between anywhere from 2 of us to 6 people. Of course there is no meter.

The water in Oaxaca is something that will break you if you let it. We live in a drought climate, so we are generally careful with our water. You can get obsessed (ask Ralph). The city pushes the water they have, on an intermitent basis, into our cistern. Sometimes every 5 days. Sometimes every 14. You never know. Ralph has a little calendar. He marks it down: CPW - City Pumped Water. Coming from Canada where we had drinking water a volonté - inlcuding drinking water in the toilet, the change is hard, and harder for some.

But back to the cistern being resurfaced. We wanted to have the cistern cleaned. We figured it had never been done. The city water is dirty. We were probably right. We got a card under the door one day for Sr. Rodriguez. Timing is everything. You obviously don't want to waste the water in your cistern, so timing the cleaning for when your cistern is nearly empty is key. It was that time - I called. Sr. Rodriguez could come the next day. (Wow.)

He shows up at 7:30 with a helper, rubber boots, a rope, and extension cord and a reciprocating saw.

I was warned by amigos who had similar work done - we would be expected to supply things - buckets, a ladder (seriously), lights and flashlights, some place to put the mud, watering cans and more buckets. I was still shocked. You show up to clean my cistern with half the equipment you need. For 800 pesos. C$56. You are about to spend 4 hours in dank conditions in a pit for $56. Shit, let me buy you a ladder.

The work is done while we are out, and our helper Dolores is here to supervise. I check in with her and she tells me the amount of mud at the bottom of our cistern was incredible, and that the bottom has erroded and the recommendation made by Sr. Rodriguez is for us to put a new cemet floor down.

I call and although my Spanish is getting better, all I can make out is that the work can be done on Monday and he needs to get a quote. I get a text from him the next day and he tells me he will be here at 5 - for something. He shows up with another guy, and they estimate the job.

The estimate is split between materials and labour, and the labour portion includes getting the materials to my house and through the house to the back patio. Bags of sand (6), bags of gravel (5), bags of cement (4), all carried on the backs of one worker, a skinny little guy with a kind face.
Materials: 1200 pesos (C$84) Labour: 2500 pesos (C$157). There are three guys here. The Boss, The Skinny Guy, and The Old Helper.

My receipt - on the back of an envelope I had lying around.

All my buckets are in use. One of my clamp style bedside lights is the light used to illuminate thier work. The neighbour's ladder is down the hole, and I think I am expected to make these guys lunch.

The boss is, at the same time, putting a new filter on the water intake from the city. I did not even ask how much this was going to cost. He went to get materials this morning and he "forgot" to bring his saw. Thankfulkly we had one.

Ralph and I wonder what he would do if he showed up at a house that had no tools. We will never, ever know.

Now the question will be, do I tip them? Thinking yes...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Virgins Virgins Everywhere...

We are coming up to two years of having immigrated to Oaxaca. In exactly 7 days actually. The last two eyars have been nothing but spectacular in so many ways. Not all good. Some days you wished things were "easy" - Canadian processes, in English, and accomplished in a day. Weeks would go by where you could just roll with whatever was happening in the Oaxaca world that day, and then other days, something that you had been observing or "saving" for weeks would make you crazy.

My blog today is about one of those observations. As many of you know, we run a tour company here in Oaxaca. Tiny. Fun. We bring people to various places around the valley within a +/- two hour drive and help them explore a bit off the beaten track.

I was commenting, in jest, to my step-daughter that if one more hike included a special stop to see the "Virgin" in a rock face, I might completely loose it. The caves at San Sebastian, a regular tour stop for us, are just simply chock full of images of the Virgin. And in Oaxaca, we have three extra special ones. Juquila is our Virgin on the coast. Beloved, adored, a regular stop for the faithful on the way to the coast. Guadalupe, of course. The 12th of December is her fiesta all over latin america, Oaxaca is no exception. Finally, the patron saint of Oaxaca and my personal fave, Soledad. You see, we have a choice, in these rocks, of which image of the Holy Mother one can see.

This past Monday, I went off to explore a new place called Llano de las Flores. It is a fascinating little place. Wild horses stroll through a huge meadow located in the elbow of a mountain pass. I rented a cabin for a night and arranged for a hike the next day. And guess what? The Virgin of Guadalupe on the rock face at the Wishing Well. Seriously.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mezcal in NYC

It's after dinner. We have just devoured two pizzas, meatballs, rice balls. and two bottles of white wine. What's next? Well, mezcal would seem like the obvious choice.

Len whips out the phone, a quick google search determines Casa Mezcal is only an 8 minute walk away. Let's go!

Finally, a place where everyone speaks Spanish! Ralph and I had been commenting all day that it was strange to hear so much English spoken everywhere. We snag a booth and devour the cocktail menu. They have a flight of Oaxaca Valley mezcals. Exciting. And then I realize the price is in USD and not pesos. Less exciting.

After we each have a mezcal based cocktail (cucumber margaritas for Len and I, a cocktail called Llano de Llamas for Ralph which had serrano chili in it!), Ralph decides he cannot pass on the flight of Oaxaca Valley Mezcals. The waitress attempts to tell us what we are drinking. Her accent is odd and she slurs the pronunciation. Ralph tried to engage her in a discussion about the smokiness of one over the other. She could have cared less.

35 USD. 600 pesos.

They come with salted orange slices, in snifter glasses.

A perfect end to a fun evening!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Immigration and Putting on Mascara

Ralph and I are traveling North for a month. Along the way to Montreal, where we will settle our cottage renovation and get the place ready for rental and visiting family and friends, we are stopping off in New York to do some of that "visit friends" thing for a weekend.

Before I tell you about putting on mascara for what feels like the first time in 6 months, let me share my little migracion story. I am usually pretty good at shutting my mouth, smiling, nodding, and following the process when it comes to immigration. My tag line about immigration port of entry officials, when I was working in a related field, was "too much power in too small a brain". I generally found we had issues not with consulates or embassies or in-country immigration officials, but the guy in a "uniform" at the airport always struck fear.

As permanent and temporary residents, we have a process to follow when we leave our Mexico. We have to find the migracion desk at the airport where we will exit. This is usually Oaxaca or Mexico City. We have to fill out a generic, not fit-for-purpose form, which gets stamped along with our passports, and half the form gets turned in as we board our flight, and the other half gets turned in when we return home.

So, it went a bit like this:

Him: How long have you been immigrated to Mexico?
Me: About a year and a half.
Him: You should not have Permanent Residency.
Me: Excuse me?
Him: You should only have temporary residency, like your husband. You got permanent residency in error.
Me: Nope. You are wrong. I had the qualifications for permanent residency.
Him: No, I work here, there are no qualifications to go direct to permanent residency. You get temporary first, then permanent.
Me: In 2012 they changed the law which provides for people with financial security to immigrate under non-lucrative conditions, and I met those conditions.
Him: I WORK HERE. I know the law. You have this in error.
Me: At the time of the three step process which is undertaken initially at the consulate in Montreal...
Him: I don't care, the consulate was wrong, you should not have it.
Me: Well, I have it. Are we done?
Him: Silence.
Me: Have a good day.

I resisted the urge to go to a WiFi spot, pull up the immigration law and prance over and show this jerk in a white shirt. The only thing that reassures me that I will get back into Mexico in a month is that HE keeps no record of my name, passport or migracion form. Otherwise, I am pretty sure he would try to flag my passport for re-entry. Oh, and the above, all in Spanish. Another milestone. I thought that Tanya would be lost forever, the one who quotes immigration law and tells officials they are wrong. Nope, she lives on, now tri-lingual.

Now about mascara. We arrived via a red-eye flight to our friends' flat in New York City. After a chat with Len and he made us breakfast, we crashed for more than a few hours and then decided it was time to get our butts in gear. Traveling back is always interesting. Hot water comes out of the tap AS SOON AS YOU TURN IT ON. I had a longer than 3 minute shower, and conditioned my hair in the shower. Actually rinsed out the conditioner in the same shower without turning off the water. I brushed my teeth with water from the tap. I remembered to put the toilet paper in the bowl and not in the bin beside it. I actually dried my hair with a device, and not just went out and let the sun and the dry mountain air do the work. And finally, because I knew it would not melt off my face, I curled my eyelashes and put on mascara. What has become of me? Coming north is always such a change, and I love how it brings life's little (or big) difference rushing back at us full speed and instant.

Now off to a museum. Some things don't change no matter where one is!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

And then we passed a guy on a donkey...

I had been off blogging. Not because there were not things to share. There is always a lot to share. But I had been going through a bit of a culture adjustment. I wondered if you wanted to hear about how frustrating I find it that the customer is responsible for having the right change. Like if you want to buy a 10 peso bag of limes, and all you have is a 100 peso note, and the vendor has no change, he is perfectly fine not to sell you the limes. Someone else will come along with the right change. Really. I am not kidding. Of course the bank machines only spit out notes in 500, 200 and 100. And really, mostly 500. So very little costs 500 pesos that trying to break a 500 note becomes a discussion on its own. (Wanna go for coffee? Sure, but I only have a 500 pesos note. So we need to go to the Italian Coffee Company at Santo Domingo.) I am not kidding. But I digress.

Yesterday I went on a hike in the Sierra. Gosh I adore it up there. And the weather has been nothing short of perfect. This morning, friends had asked if I wanted to join them on an organized bike ride out to Thule, which is a village about 10 kiloemetrs outside of town. In 1987, the railroad in Oaxaca was defunct, so they converted a large piece of track into a treed, paved bicycle path. Wait, it gets better.

In addition to this, they organize, ever Sunday morning, a free guided trip along the path. They also rent bicycles, for the entire time, for 70 pesos ($5 Canadian, $4 USD). And it is a wonderful ride through the valley with the mountain views just waiting for you as you leave the city. The ride out takes about an hour, and you have time to sit in the shade and rest before heading back. Today the sky was blue and the weather perfect.

But the very best part, was passing a mature gentleman, on a donkey, also using the bike path. And I did not have my camera!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Explorations

My tag line for Oaxaca is that you would have to work hard to be bored in this city. Between the "usual" 287 festivals in the state, all of which usually at least include a parade, a mass, and a carnival with rides, food and shopping, and the different music, art, photography, dance or theatre events in the city, being bored in Oaxaca is an exercise in futility. Walk out your door, at the most a few blocks, and there will be a little restaurant with some good food to try, or a guitar player setting up for an evening set where you can have a coffee or a cocktail and people watch and listen for hours. No one pressures you to move along if you have finished your beer, no one brings you the bill without being asked. Ever. Anywhere.

I should caveat that I live right in the city, El Centro. Buses and Gas de Oaxaca trucks and water guys shouting, "AGUA! SUPER AGUA!" pretty much from 7 a.m. onwards. My house backs onto a lounge where folks go and sing the night away and have a great time, and there is what I think might be a puppy mill at the corner. But...

Adventure abounds. Yesterday we went out to test out a new hike, to a town I had been wanting to check out for a while - Lachatao. It was a solid 2 hour drive, and then we had to take pictures of the pretty church while we waited for our guide.

Our guide arrived, a young 13 year old boy named David. Not sure where the "regular" guides were, but this kid was pretty funny. I think he said a total of 10 things while we walked for three hours, but he could walk, and knew the trail. I think he checked his phone 20 times, though. Ralph asked him if he was chatting to his novia (girlfriend) but he said no, just a buddy.

It was unfortunately an out and back hike, versus a circuit, but it was pretty. The moss on the trees was really quite pretty, and made the shady part of the walks very special.

Ralph asks what the moss was doing in the trees.
Hanging out.. I think...

The hike was about 8 kilometers, and the trail led down to the river. It was a nice trail, certainly lots of up and down, great views, lots of shady places to catch your breath and lots of flat spots to be able to just enjoy a walk in the woods. We stopped by the river for a break, Ralph fell in the river, and we declined the offer to go see "the figure of the virgin in the rock". 

(Side note: Remember years ago, there was this article about the face of Jesus appearing on the slice of toast? It must have happened to a Mexican. I think I am going to start counting how many times in my life as an immigrant here I am encouraged to see the face or figure of the Virgin in a rock/tree/bush/etc.)

At the end of the hike, we had an opportunity to don the cutest little helmets in order to explore the old Cinco Señores mine. Very cool. Not bored. Even a little bit.

John, David (guide), Laura, Ralph and Tanya.