Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Y tu esposo?

Ralph is away in Edmonton. He's been gone for a week to support his brother who just lost his wife. I would want his brother here to support Ralph if I were the one to pass along as well. So off he went.

Last Tuesday, I went to Apoala. Of late, we have had a few tours there and we recently spent an overnight there exploring a longer tour possibility. From 5 different people, I was asked: Y tu esposo? which means: And your husband? The guy who signs us in, the lady who graciously accepts my leftover salads, the guy in charge of the cabins, the guide David who I am pretty sure I have not worked with before, and then the older man who we often give a lift to, 500 meters almost straight uphill. This older gentleman walks down into the lower Apoala village every day to work at the health care centre there, and then back up at the end of the day. There is a doctor once a week and perhaps a nurse on other days, but he goes to make sure it is open and available. He had the very best comment: "You can drive, too!". Ralph usually drives. Mexican women drive but somehow my being able to drive had surprised him.

Apoala - from up above

On Thursday we had a booking for Hierve el Agua. It was a single traveler so off we went. It's always different touring without Ralph because usually he drives and I talk, so guiding solo means driving (always an adventure) and talking both to the guest AND telling them about Oaxaca. I managed to not hit any speed bumps at high speed. The guy at the front gate asked why I was alone today, was my husband OK. Maria, the lady at Hierve who kindly accepts my leftover salads asked: Y tu esposo? I smiled and explained: He is gone to Canada. He should be back next week. She seemed reassured. Touring alone means I have to channel my inner mountain goat and bring guests to all the little nooks and crannies that Ralph usually explored with them. It's a fun change.

Ralph at Hierve el Agua.
Although I thought that would be it for touring for the week, Jen had such a good time at Hierve that she asked if we could do the Yagul and Tlacolula market on Sunday, It was half marathon day,  and I had not thought about doing anything that day, but Erin is visiting and she said we should do it, it was a short easy day. And so, off we went. Arriving to closed gates in typical fashion, I texted Pedro the caretaker to make sure he was on his way. We sat and chatter for a few minutes and Pedro showed up on his motorcycle. As always, he opened up the tomb for us and while we were waiting for Jen to be ready to head into it to explore, he asked: Solo hoy? Alone today?

Artsy Yagul.
After a short break at Yagul in the shade we headed over to the Talcolula market. It was a great day there, not too crowded and some fun new things. I stopped to talk to Maria, a lady we are acquainted with, who makes beuatiful red pottery I use for cooking (and almost everything else!) to aks about a recent piece I had purchased (not from her) that had a small chip in it. She told me the test was to put it in water. Good to know! Before I headed off she asked; "Y el senor?". El Senor Ralph went to Canada. Ah,she nodded. For how long was her next question. I supposed another week, more or less. She nodded again. It was acceptable.

Always room for another basket. Always.
Yesterday I went to run a few errands after my massage and one was in the plaza where the Starbucks is. Erin wanted a latte, so Perseo, our usual Starbucks barista who knows my name took my order and said: The latte is for Ralph? He usually has an Americano...

It is interesting what things can make you feel part of a community. I always felt welcomed here in Oaxaca, but now I feel looked after and cared for, too.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

DHL, Drama & Process

Yesterday I bought a bag of chocolate chips and then left them in the heat of the car for a few hours. I now have a massive chocolate chip in a resealable bag. (Yes, I damaged the bag in the taking of this picture...)

I attribute this moment of sheer lack of brilliant foresight and incredibly un-intelligent thinking to the fact that only hours earlier my brain nearly exploded in my skull due to the incredible stupidity on behalf of DHL. Well, let me in fairness not paint the entire company with the same brush. I generally get outstanding service from the delivery people who work for DHL. Really outstanding. Like the driver who was set to deliver by package calls my cell phone and comes three blocks over to deliver it to the bar where I am having a cocktail. Yes, like that good. Memorable.

But the people behind the desk are a whole other story. Hence this blog post. I should warn folks that this incredibly dense behaviour, although occasionally illustrative of the mind shattering checklist inside-the-box process bureaucracy experienced in Oaxaca, I am positive this can sometimes be a global experience.

It was one of those experiences where you want to find the person in charge of the stupid policy and just shake them. Maybe, if the occasion presents itself, a light open hand slap upside the head.

For back story, I am sending a small gift of 2 pair of too-small-for-me-brand-new-except-one-run workout trousers (not pants, as they are destined for England, you see), 2 watter bottles and 2 packages of M&Ms. I know this seems like a ridiculous bit of stuff to send but just go with it for now.

I walk 9 blocks to the closest DHL office to buy a box to pre-package my stuff and get it ready for shipment. I will not seal the box because DHL has to see the stuff you pack to comply with their customs and import/export policies. (See what I just did there - I recognized a good, solid, makes sense policy.) I will also mention there is currently a small heat wave in Oaxaca and although only 11 in the morning and already close to 30 degrees (86 in the other measurement).

I arrive at the DHL office to a small line up, but this gives me time to evaluate which box I need. I decide on the smallest yellow DHL express one. It is 41 pesos. (2.17 USD or 3 CAD). I get to the counter to a whispering service person.

Customer Service Hint #1: Speak Up. I have no problem with your Spanish - IF I CAN HEAR YOU.

And then:

  • I ask the service person to sell me a small box.
  • She asks me if I am shipping something.
  • I tell her yes, later today, I need to box to pack it.
  • She tells me I can only buy a box at the time of shipment.
  • I just look at her. I leave.

I calm myself by counting the blocks home and wondering what the distance is (2 kilometers, 1.26 miles, round trip. I checked when I got home).

Here is what I have learned. Obviously, I had no idea that those little yellow DHL boxes were such a hot fashion item. I usually stay away from fashion news but the likes of BeyoncĂ© or a Kardashian MUST have been seen with one of these gems. Maybe they added a shoulder strap? Either way, they are obviously such a thing that having one if you are not immediately shipping your goods could not possibly be tolerated! I may well likely try and sell such a coveted item. Maybe, wait - maybe I will try and ship something in it via Mex Post or FEDEX! NO!

Customer Service Hint #2: Just tell me not to seal the box because the agent taking my package is going to need to inspect the contents.

There is a brain cell I am obviously lacking that does not allow me to understand the value of irritating a front end customer to this extent. No. You may not have a box in advance of your shipping time. Don't be ridiculous. EVERYONE knows this. Silly girl. Silly, silly girl...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

54 Hours

As so many of you know, we have a revolving door of guests, which we love. I love that 2.5 years/3 winters of living in Oaxaca and we still have guests visiting and enjoying Oaxaca. We love Oaxaca, so it is never hard to show people our adopted home. Most recently our friends Erin & Jodi left (Sunday morning at 8), we subsequently did a fun (paying) tour to Yagul, Lambityeco and the Sunday Tlacolula market, arriving home around 3 in the afternoon.

The Last Suppoer at Origen.
Pete & Barb, Ralph's sister and brother-in-law, arrive tonight, Tuesday, at 8:30 p.m. From the time we got back from tour to the time when we will go and pick up  P&B, we had 2 sleeps and a rough 54 hours or so on our own.

Whoa. What to do?
  • I gave myself a pedicure. Long overdue, the last one I had was about 6 weeks ago, in Florida, with my sister.
  • We had nothing but junk food for dinner - chips, cookies, ice cream, chocolate. 
  • We slept naked. I got up in the early morning and walked around naked.
  • I took a 12 hour "alone time" break and went hiking in the mountains. People think because I am an extrovert means I need no time alone. Incorrect. Extroverts also enjoy their alone time so they can enjoy their together time even more. How true this is. I went for a hike at La Cumbre. About 10K, and I now have my technique down for managing roaming herds of horned cows with calves. Took a picture of a blooming bromeliad and my "authentic" cup of mint tea.
    • Ralph tooks naps. I took naps. We napped.
    • Ralph did some volunteer work for the Oaxaca Lending Library.
    • We made mango chutney.

    • We sat in our little new service patio outdoor space and chatted over breakfast and coffee.
    • We dropped our van off to get cleaned.
    • We had tortas (big sandwiches) on a bench in the shade at Conzatti park.
    • We attempted, once again, to pay our "tenencia" - the annual tax on our car. Maybe Thursday...
    • We'll go over to friends a little later and have a cocktail and a visit.


      Time for a nap!

      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!