Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Yesterday morning we completed our packing and closed up the Arctic Fox RV for six weeks. We went with Jim and Phebe to one of our favorite Los Barriles restaurants for lunch, El Viejo, an open-air, family-run Mexican restaurant right on the main street in town. Following a delicious meal and discussion with Jim and Phebe of plans for our return in January, Jim and Phebe dropped us at the airport at San Jose del Cabo. An uneventful flight home followed, including quick passage through Customs and Immigration, and arrival at our home already warmed by Cathryn’s parents’ trip earlier in the day to crank up the heat, a refrigerator stocked enough to allow us to have meals today without benefit of a trip to the grocery store, and a coffee table piled high with mail and boxes of items Bob had ordered online while in Mexico, courtesy of a drop-off from Lynn and David who kindly collected our forwarded mail while we were gone.

While we’re very eager to see all of our family and many of our friends, we must admit that leaving warm (82 degrees) sunny Baja, Mexico and waking up this morning to rain, gray skies and 48 degrees was a bit daunting. Lynn tells us nearby Bremerton registered TEN inches of rain in one day earlier this week, so we know everything is soggy, and the forecast for the forseeable future is more of the same. Ah well . . . we have loads of fun plans during the six weeks we’ll be home for the holidays and are truly happy to be here (or at least Cathryn is – Bob threatens to jump on an airplane back to Baja next Friday after Thanksgiving dinner, and return December 19 for Christmas plans!) We’ll take up blog-writing again in the first week of January when we arrive back in Baja. We hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our experience

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Waterfall and swimming pools

Russett came to the house about 10:00 this morning, and the five of us loaded into Jim and Phebe’s Subaru to head up into the hills. We drove 5 miles up a nearby arroyo, a dry river bed which only has water in it during rare periods of extreme rain or hurricanes. (cut and paste this link into your browser  to see an aerial photo of where we went.,-109.7903&ll=23.67488,-109.7903&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1    Eventually, the arroyo had wide, shallow stream rivulets running through it, and at Russett’s instructions,Jim kept driving on through the sand and water. Eventually we entered a shallow canyon lined with granite and gorgeous rock walls with astonishing numbers of cactus, trees and flowering bushes sprouting from the rocks. Jim parked the car and we headed upstream on foot.

The water remained shallow – never more than knee-deep – and we worked our way over rocks, through the stream and gradually uphill for perhaps a quarter of a mile. It was really gorgeous and many photos were taken. After taking a rest in the shade to cool off and have some conversation, we picked our way back through the canyon to the car, drove down the arroyo about a mile and parked again. Wandering up yet another small canyon, we found ourselves a quarter mile later at a lovely 75-foot waterfall with a large pool at its base. It wasn’t long before Phebe plunged into the pool to cool off, and Russett and Cathryn quickly followed. The water was cold for 2-3 minutes, but quickly felt refreshing. Russett was correct that we’d love this place, and we certainly will return when we’re here again after New Years, hopefully bringing any guests who visit us, including Lynn (Bob’s sister) and David. If you'd like to seem more pictures, click on the picture titled Los Barilies Waterfall and Swiming Pool. 

Los Barriles Waterfall and Swimming Pool

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fishing Round 2

Monday morning Jim, Bob and Cathryn piled into the Subaru to head to Punta Pescadero again while Phebe went on a walk with Russett. Bob exited the car about 4 miles short of our destination and took off in his running shoes. Jim had done some work on our spinning rod while we were in La Paz last week adding some features to make the clipping on of lures easier. He also added an 18-inch leader with a fly at the end, in addition to the lure to give it weight for casting. As happened last weekend, Jim caught a number of fish one-after-the-other and released each . Cathryn hooked 3 fish in the first 15 minutes, but only one made it all the way to shore. All 3 were Ladyfish, a slim, silver fish which is fairly acrobatic and jumps into the air while trying to fight the line. Pretty! By the time Bob arrived, it was just late enough in the morning that the fish had ceased biting, so we headed back to the house for showers. We have enjoyed our little efforts at fishing here, so expect we’ll keep trying when we get back home.

Fun Weekend: Los Barriles

Jim and Phebe greeted us warmly at the home they’re renting this winter in Los Barriles and opened the yard gate so we could park the Arctic Fox inside the fence for the 6 weeks we’re back in Seattle for the holidays. We had a lovely reunion catching up on each other’s news on their roof-top deck. They invited Russett, the next-door neighbor and landlady with whom they’ve become good friends, to join us for dinner, and she arrived with flowers and chocolate cake. Phebe prepared a fabulous meal of shrimp curry, rice and salad, and Jim made delicious margaritas. Following dinner, everyone ushered Cathryn back to the roof-top deck, put a blindfold on her eyes and a walking stick in her hands, with instructions to take swats at a piñata Bob had purchased back in La Paz and hung from the palapa in honor of her birthday. What a hoot! We ate Russett’s delicious chocolate cake and candy from the piñata and talked “late” into the night – past 9:00. Cathryn had a perfectly lovely birthday and felt very generously feted by friends and Bob.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fun Weekend: La Ventana

Saturday morning we drove to La Ventana, a small fishing village an hour south of La Paz with 1,000 year-round Mexican residents. The population swells to about 2,500 in winter months when the wind blows, and Canadians and Americans come to wind-surf and kite-sail. The bay is gorgeous with aquamarine water, mountains covered densely with cardon cactus and other green desert vegetation to the west across the road, and a large island a few miles off-shore offering interesting vistas. We were charmed by the place.

While back in La Paz, Mady was a student at the school with us. She’s a French woman married to a British man, and they live in Hood River, Oregon half the year and in La Ventana half the year. They invited us to park our RV in their yard and spend the night. We did and had a wonderful time. They built their home 5 years ago after spending previous winters camping on the beach in an RV and falling in love with the area. Larry is a serious kite-sailor (and scuba diver, mountain biker, etc) and Mady plays piano, bikes, teaches a yoga and pilates class 3 times each week, and they have an active social life with many friends in town. Larry designed their gorgeous home with many artistic and architectural touches, and it has a drop-dead-gorgeous view of both the bay and the mountains. Mady and Larry scheduled a dinner party including 3 other part-time La Ventana residents we’d previously met on the beach at Playa Juncalito a few weeks back. Potluck dinner on the upstairs terrace and lively conversation followed, and as usual, “Baja Midnight” had everyone heading for bed by 8:30.

Sunday morning Larry and Mady led us on an hour-long walk through the hills and trails toward the mountains behind their home, followed by breakfast at their favorite local hang-out -- which cost all of 200 pesos or about $16 for all 4 of us, for a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet with fresh fruit, eggs, pancakes, fresh-squeezed papaya juice, coffee, etc. Mady and Larry are friendly, generous, entertaining

Reprise: La Paz

Last February we spent a week in La Paz over two visits. We loved running on the Malecon, and we spent a fun evening at the Carnaval parade and celebration, but overall came away with a pretty negative perception of the place for two reasons: Bob lost his wallet there, leading to a couple weeks of hassles with Mexican and Washington bureaucrats (which of course had nothing to do with La Paz); and secondly Cathryn got stopped and extorted by a couple of traffic cops, an experience which left a really bad taste in her mouth.

Having now spent two full weeks in La Paz while attending school, we’ve had the chance to reappraise our feelings about the city. This time we came away enormously positive feelings. First, the city is an authentic middle-class, cosmopolitan Mexican city of about 250,000 residents. We walked through El Centro (the downtown area) and saw hundreds of little shops that had nothing to do with tourists or gringos and everything to do with meeting the needs of the local population. We went to restaurants where everyone (except us) was Mexican, and we were able to have tamales and empenadas for less than a dollar from sidewalk carts. We felt completely safe there, and people were polite and helpful. Overall a great place we’d be happy to have the opportunity to visit again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We’re very pleased to have completed our two weeks of Spanish classes yesterday. The school does a nice job of reinforcing students’ hard work and accomplishment by conducting a Graduation Ceremony. There were 6 of us who completed our studies yesterday, and at a ceremony in the salon we were each given a Certificate of Achievement and asked to make a brief speech (in Spanish, of course). As usual, a cake and coffee were served, but in this instance they went one step further and added candles to the cake in honor of Cathryn’s birthday (which is actually this Sunday), and the entire staff sang a Spanish birthday song to her, followed by the traditional Happy Birthday song in English. Very thoughtful!

Cathryn is pleased that she can now speak in the past and future tenses, though her speech in those tenses remains halting. Bob feels good about the two weeks in the sense that it provided a good base on which to further build his ability to speak. The biggest challenge for both of us was the large volume of information in a very limited amount of time. Learning the language requires a lot of memorization, and with sometimes hundreds of new words coming at us daily, plus grammar and conjugation of verbs, there simply wasn’t time to absorb it all. But we have our school materials, notes and flashcards and are committed to practicing while we’re home during the holidays as well as when we return to Baja in January. Both Mackenzie and Adrienne have offered to speak Spanish with Cathryn while we’re home (Mackenzie is fairly fluent having lived in Costa Rica with a non-English speaking family for 4 months; Adrienne because Spanish is one of her two majors at University of Colorado). Vamos a ver.

This morning we pull up stakes in La Paz and head to La Ventana, a small fishing village on the beach about an hour down the road. We’ll stay only one night, then head to Los Barriles to visit Jim and Phebe for a few days before flying back to Seattle on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A NEW New Background Color

Bob recently changed the background color to our blog and asked for comments. Three people commented that it improved the readability of the blog, but Mackenzie said the new color was wierd. Adrienne didn't like the new color and said the old one provided better background for the photos, which is what she looks at more critically (in the positive sense of the word) than most. Valerie offered a link to a site with a wider range of blog formats for us to look at. We'll have to wait until we get home and have more time on the internet to do that research.  In the mean time, Bob has changed the color again and tried to strike a balance between readability and setting off the photos. Thanks to those who provided comments and please know the current color is "a work in progress".

A Visit To a New Friend

We’ve completed our second to the last day at Spanish language school, and the Finish Line is within sight with only one day remaining. While each class remains a challenge, and we’re very tired when we get home, we see real progress, feel these two weeks have been of tremendous value, and we’re glad we enrolled. We continue to feel the instructional materials are excellent, the quality of instructors is very high, and the school offers a good return on the cost. More on the school experience when the week comes to an end.

Back home we have a good friend, Andrea Tull, who has a close friend we’ve never met, Katy, whose mother, Mary Lou, lives in La Paz 8 months each year. When Andrea learned we were coming to La Paz she suggested we make contact with Mary Lou. Last night we met her.

Mary Lou and her husband Neil first came to La Paz 40 years ago on vacation. 15 years later after retiring from 40 years in engineering work at Boeing, they began driving down the Baja in an RV for extended visits, and in the mid-80s bought property in the city of La Paz. Over the ensuing years they established an exquisite garden that looks like a tropical arboretum with olive and grapefruit trees, a couple dozen species of cactuses, flowering vines, and many plants unfamiliar to us, plus hordes of birds. The lushness is astonishing! They built a lovely one-bedroom home with high ceilings and tile floors, a small swimming pool, and outdoor living space under the palapa to sit and enjoy the garden, play bridge and enjoy meals, coffee or cocktail hour. Mary Lou’s daughter and son-in-law subsequently built a two-bedroom guest house on the property, and they purchased the adjacent lot to extend their garden space. Mary Lou’s husband died a decade or so ago, and she continues to spend 8 months each year here, and the summer months in Washington near her 4 adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We spent an hour at her home this evening, then went to Campestre Restaurant & Grill for a delicious traditional Mexican dinner. Mary Lou answered our many questions about her life in La Paz, and we were quite impressed with her adventurous spirit and the very enviable life she has carved out. Her grown kids come to visit each winter. We never cease to be amazed and impressed with the many ways in which people have created rare and wonderful lives outside the United States. We hope to see Mary Lou again in March when we head northbound and return through La Paz.

Monday, November 9, 2009

We Changed Our Background

We expect you might have noticed that we changed the color of the background on our blog from white to black at the beginning of our trip, and from black to green today.  Cathryn said she thought the black background was less readable then the white. Bob thought the white background was boring. So how about you? If you have an opinion let us know by posting a comment or sending us an email.

The Weekend is Over!

We were up early and back to school this morning. As part of the educational process at Se Habla...La Paz they rotate the instructors each week, so today Bob began with Marta (no photo yet) and Cathryn has Merit again in the morning, same as last week, and Alexa (Bob's instructor last week), in the afternoons. Based on today's sessions, we agree the change is beneficial in terms of exposing us to different teaching styles and accents. Alexa, for example, is from Mexico City, where they say d's with a "dth" sound and v's like a "b".

After school today we went to a small shop where they have looms and do weaving in the backroom. They sell their products plus other woven products from different areas in Mexico. The workshop was fascinating, and some of the rugs were very nice. Bob bought Cathryn a small throw rug for her birthday next Sunday. She's happy with her gift!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

They Won’t Take Big Bills??? Learn From our Mistake

Twice last week we tried to use our two 1000-peso bills (each worth about $75), once at a gas station and again at Wal-Mart, and both times they refused to take them. At Wal-Mart we had actually spent more than that, so we thought they should take it. All we could figure was that perhaps they had a policy prohibiting taking bigger bills, like some stores do in the U.S. We figured we’d eventually go to a bank and get them changed. Later, we were talking to the woman who runs the RV Park in La Paz where we’re staying, and she was surprised we’d had this problem and asked to see the bill.

We were embarrassed to find we’d not looked at the bills sufficiently closely. It turns out we were trying to pass off a 1000 Costa Rican Colones, which is worth a whopping $1.75! It seems that when we got our pesos from the Gig Harbor Bank of American branch before we left home, they gave us these two Colones bills(instead of pesos) as part of the package. We’re a little grumpy about this now, but expect to be majorly grumpy if and when they refuse to make it right when we talk with them on our return home. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but we expect they’ll say: “We don’t know that we gave you those bills, maybe you’ve mixed them up”; in other words, “you’re lying to us”. So next time you’re traveling out of the country and order some foreign currency in advance, here is one more thing to think about as they’re counting our all that strange-looking money for you!

Aviators (Or corruption Mexico style)

High unemployment and low pay have led to the development of a number of “work-around” systems to increase income. One of these systems involves people who have come to be known as “aviadoras” or aviators. These people are family members and friends of people who work for the federal government. They are put on the federal payroll but have no actual job or responsibilities. They only show up to work on the 15th and 30th of each month, which is payday, but otherwise don’t do any work.

Weekend in Los Barriles

Friday afternoon we left La Paz after school and drove to Los Barriles, about 80 miles to the southeast. We spent a week here last year and really enjoyed it. This year our friends Jim and Phebe are renting a house here October through mid-January, and we will take over renting this same house in mid-January and February. Phebe is currently in Massachusetts on some family business, so Jim is “bach-ing it”.

We spent Friday night sitting on the roof-top deck watching the sunset and sharing our respective experiences since arriving in Mexico. Saturday morning we rose early and drove north along the beach about 9 miles to Punta Pescadaro where we fished from the beach for an hour so. Jim caught and released five fish using a casting rod and flies, while Cathryn and Bob, using lures and a spinning rod, didn’t catch anything except a couple of rocks, but had great fun doing so! After fishing we went to a nearby hotel on the beach for breakfast, following which we all swam in the Sea of Cortez, took a dip in the pool and a spent a couple hours under the palapa reading our books.

Following afternoon siestas necessitated by our early rising, Saturday evening Jim prepared a delicious dinner with chorizo sausage, rice and salad. We were joined by Jim’s next-door neighbor and local landlord, Russett, who brought extremely sweet, fresh pineapple and watermelon for dessert. We spent an enjoyable 4 hours exchanging stories and learning more from Russett about life in southern Baja. We’ll return to La Paz this afternoon to prepare to resume to school. After being retired for a couple of years, we have now  rediscovered the concept of “the weekend”. We’ve enjoyed visiting with Jim and seeing the Los Barriles area again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More on Se Habla...La Paz

Now that we’re slightly rested up from the weekend, we can write more about our Se Habla . . . La Paz school experience. We re-posted a couple of pictures from our collage yesterday to show each of our classes. We’re extremely impressed with the school and its’ quality of instruction. The number of instructors varies week to week depending on the number of students enrolled. This past week there were 4 instructors: Merit (who is also the Director of Education), Marta, Alexa and Orlando. Cathryn’s class was taught by Merit two hours each day. She’s an incredible professor who exhibited a warm, friendly personality, great sense of humor, exceptional patience, outstanding English fluency, and teaching methods that were exactly what her students needed. She holds two University degrees (education and accounting), is married to the principal of a Telesecundario school, and has an adorable 4-year-old son. She and her family joined Juli, the school’s Director, and the 6 of us students at a restaurant for dinner Thursday night in La Paz. Orlando, Cathryn’s other professor, also has a friendly personality, great sense of humor and moved our class along at an appropriate pace for our skill level. He’s a young man who was educated in both Mexico and the U.S., plays soccer, and has lots of friends and a cute girlfriend. He taught us a lot of “street slang” in addition to the more formal aspects of the Spanish language. Bob’s instructor, Alexa, is from Mexico City and speaks with a slightly different accent than the Baja-born instructors. She did a great job of bringing Bob along in an encouraging way and was very patient with his ability say the same word incorrectly multiple times.

The last hour of class on Friday, Cathryn, Megan and Bill were exhausted and had over-full brains, so Merit obliged us by spending the hour telling stories and answering questions regarding how certain things work in Mexico. We’ll tell you some of these “how things work” stories in future posts.

Friday, November 6, 2009


We’ve completed our first week of Spanish language school – thank goodness! It’s been an astonishingly difficult experience after so many years away from school, but we feel like we’re finally “getting it”, so think it’s been worthwhile. Nonetheless, we’re glad the week is over. See the photos of our classes, along with our professors and classmates.

This afternoon we left La Paz and drove, without the RV which we left behind in La Paz, to Los Barriles. Our friends Jim and Phebe Richards are renting a house in Los Barriles for 3 months, only 2 hours south of La Paz. Phebe has gone to New England for a week with her family, so we’ve come to keep company with Jim in Los Barriles, a town which we enjoyed immensely last winter. Tonight we sat on the roof-top deck and had a sunset drink along with Russett, the landlord who lives next door, a lively and interesting woman who hails from Boise, Idaho but now lives here full-time. Jim prepared a delicious curry dinner, and we’ve spent the last 5 hours catching up on news since we last saw Jim and Phebe in Olalla. Life remains good, and we are happy and healthy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back to School

Today, Wednesday, is our third day of school and we’re beginning to get the hang of the routine. Today is the first day Bob felt his Espanol isn't a completely hopeless task. His pronunciation is still not good, but he’s beginning to get it. They started him out with vowels, and then he has to say them in a word which is where he begins to pick up the rest of the alphabet. He still has to look at each word on paper or on the board and then carefully pronounce each vowel. It’s slow, but he’s now getting it right about 60% of the time. His goal for the two weeks is to learn enough with an instructor that from then on he can learn on his own at a more relaxed pace. This stuff still feels like it's coming at him with a fire hose. (Footnote: Cathryn thinks Bob is doing much better than Bob thinks. His initial expectations of progress are/were unrealistic, and he is unduly pessimistic about his ability to do this. Cathryn thinks it’s amazing what he can do/say already after only 6 hours of instruction!)

Cathryn is also finding Spanish school rather exhausting! We know Adrienne will have no sympathy for this sentiment – Ryan and Mackenzie either, for that matter, though it’s “history” for them, unlike for Adrienne who says “Welcome to my world!” On the other hand, Cathryn’s extremely pleased with how readily she’s picking up the material only because it’s not completely new, even if she last studied it 35 years ago. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle, in that once learned, it comes back more readily than when it was first new. Her class will finish working in the Past Tense at the end of this week, the move on to Future tense and Past Participle. Of the 3 students in her class, one is only here this week, then he returns home. The other student is Megan, a 32-year-old woman who is completing her Pharmacy degree in Albuquerque and wants to learn Spanish to communicate with the very large Spanish-speaking population back home. She and Cathryn are extremely well-matched in their speaking level and learning pace and are enjoying each other a lot. Megan went with us to the markets this afternoon (see paragraph below on this).

Today, after school we went off with Cathryn’s classmate, Megan, to fill up our propane tank (for the first time this trip) and then went to two small public markets in downtown La Paz. One of the markets focused on clothes, the other on food. Much of the clothing in these markets is new, but very dated. We’d guess they started out in a retail store in the U.S., then went into a discount store, again in the U.S. and then may have gone through the same cycle in Mexico before ending up in the market. The food market was about half vegetables, which looked excellent, and the other half meat and fish. The meat and fish was mostly not refrigerated and frankly not very appealing. It was 3pm by the time we got there, so maybe it looked better early in the day. We stopped by the CCC, a major grocery store, on the way home and bought the food needed – under rather better hygienic conditions.

Now we have to do our homework, cook dinner, and then we’ll be ready to enjoy a glass of wine and time with our books.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Roll-Back in Time

Sheesh, we feel like rusty old cars. Or at least our brains do! Yesterday was our first day of Spanish language school in La Paz. Neither of us has attended a formal educational program in the last 25 years, Spanish is brand-new for Bob, and Cathryn last studied it 35 years ago in high school. We arose before 6am, ate breakfast and made our lunches before leaving the RV at 7:40 to drive through town to “Se Habla . . . La Paz”. The experience conjured up images of kindergartners climbing the yellow school bus stairs, as did Adrienne’s wise-crack email about “have a good first day at school!” Bob will be in a 2-hour private class taught by Alexa, as he’s the only beginning student currently attending. Cathryn is in a 4-hour class with 2 other students who speak at her same level, taught by Merita and Orlando for 2 hours respectively. Bob’s instruction began with the alphabet, how to pronounce vowels, numbers, months of the year and a vocabulary list. Cathryn’s began with a vocabulary list and conjugating regular verbs in the past tense – a good thing, because all 3 of us students speak only in present tense currently. At the end of the day, we agreed: this is hard!!! The teachers are all Mexicans who speak varying degrees of English, which is irrelevant because the instruction is entirely in Spanish anyway. Bob seems unclear on how much progress he might make; Cathryn thinks an enormous amount of previous knowledge is returning quickly, and the benefit will be huge in terms of her comfort communicating. The school facility is a lovely 4-story home/building containing half a dozen small classrooms, a kitchen, dining room, salon, library and numerous beautifully landscaped and furnished outdoor terraces, one with a swimming pool. The owner’s home is on the upper floors. Wi-fi is available throughout the building.

We’d been told some school days would be extended to include a cultural presentation or event. Yesterday was a big and fascinating one! November 1 and 2 constitute “Dia de los Muertos”, or Day of the Dead, celebrated by Catholics, the predominant religion in Mexico. The first day focuses on children who have died, and the second on adults. We were given a 40-minute presentation on the meaning of Dia de los Muertos and the culture practices surrounding its observation. In short, they believe the spirits of dead relatives and friends return each year at this time and can communicate with the living. They build altars to enable the process. Following the presentation, a school van took us to a local cemetery to see how families have decorated their loved ones’ graves and tombs with flowers and altars, and some hold celebrations of the person’s return with music, food and a “party” of sorts. The return of the person’s spirit is a joyful event, not sad, so the air is celebratory.

Last night we drove to el Teatro de la Ciudad (City Theater) to attend the 10th Anniversary of the Celebration of Dia de los Muertos, a region-wide outdoor event in which groups compete well in advance to be selected to erect an altar for display. There were about 25 very elaborate altars constructed one next to another, and we spent an hour looking, taking photos, and occasionally talking to someone. In addition, there were vendors selling food, toys and trinkets with families roaming the grounds. There was a large stage with a sound and lighting system and groups performing dances, music, and plays every 20 minutes or so.

Several dozen elaborately dressed, beautiful young women in long dresses, fancy hats and with skeleton-like make-up on their faces and arms roamed the grounds posing for photos. We were told later in the evening they would each be presented on stage and judges would select the best costume. It was a happy, fun event with a festive air and we found it fascinating. Hopefully Bob’s photos can convey some of the sense of it all. We feel very fortunate that with no forethought or planning on our part, we’ve managed to arrive in La Paz twice now at the time of a major cultural event: Carnaval when we were here last March, and now Dia de los Muertos!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Generalizations and Stereotypes

(Bob writing here) When we were in Loreto last week, we saw a newspaper article pinned to the wall at a gringo-owned restaurant that I’ve been thinking about on and off ever since then. The general theme of the article was that the local Mexicans, and Mexican business people specifically, were not providing quality customer care to the “precious tourists” (read: North Americans), and that this was a problem that ought to be addressed. Now the local gringo weeklies down here, of which there are quite a few, don’t exactly rival the NY Times for editorial content, and the writing style would fit well with most high school newspapers, so maybe I should let this self-centric screed go without letting it bother me, or giving it much weight.

But the article did raise some issues that the writer thought might contribute to the tension between the local population and the very strong, almost overwhelming presence of US and Canadian residents in parts of Mexico. Among them were: the dramatic wealth differential and treatment that Mexicans receive in the U.S., which apparently is widely reported down here and viewed as being the result of racism. There was no mention that perhaps some of the behaviors and attitudes displayed by these North Americans in Mexico might contribute to the problem. The article went on too long, and was quite defensive in tone, but I’ve been thinking on and off since reading it about what the Mexicans’ attitudes toward us really are.

Overall, our experience with individual Mexicans we’ve met has been quite positive. Much of it is superficial, as it is in any environment in which you’re a tourist and the individual you’re dealing with has no expectation they’ll ever see you again. When I’m out running, I usually wave at folks driving by. This isn’t truly being friendly on my part; mainly it’s a defense mechanism. I hope if I wave and make eye contact, maybe they won’t run me off the narrow road. I often get a wave back, but it seems mostly perfunctory, without any real warmth. One place I’ve particularly noticed we haven’t received pleasant responses has been in stores. The people checking us out have been almost universally unwilling to converse more than the bare basics, even though Cathryn tries to engage them with her Spanish. Today as we were checking out at a store, the young woman bagging our items put the first couple of items in a bag, then proceeded to put the remaining dozen or so in the cart without bags. Cathryn asked if they could please be placed in bags, and was told they were out of bags. This was true, at that checkstand. But not 3 feet away at the next checkstand there was a pile of hundreds of bags. When I reached over and grabbed several and started to bag our things myself, the girl just stood there and watched. Eventually another woman came over and helped me out, but what exactly was happening here? We were the only gringos in line, and only people whose items weren’t being bagged, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because of this that we received this treatment. (We imagine our black, latino and asian friends saying “So what? This kind of thing happens to me not infrequently in Seattle”).

It’s too early to make generalizations, but I’m troubled by the potential that a gulf exists that it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to bridge. When we were in Tanzania last year, a local man whom we got to know fairly well eventually told us that most Tanzanians assumed we were racist “because all white Americans are”, and therefore defensively expressed anger toward Americans. Again, nothing we could really change. I’ll probably never be able to answer this issue satisfactorily, which makes me sad. I guess we will just try not to behave in way that contributes to the gulf.