Saturday, 31 December 2016

Tepoztlan, Mexico – Days 102 to 108

The nativity scene almost opposite our bedroom window

Happy New Year, well nearly, it's actually twelve hours off here, but by the time this is posted......

We are sitting on a sofa each, surrounded by sleeping dogs, life moves at such a pace we don't know if we can keep up. Until a horse goes past, when particularly Luna runs out going mental. More horses than you would think go past!

Christmas dinner was a great success, though I do say so myself. Chicken from the 'chicken man' who we pass on our daily walk so fresh that he'd run out on Friday so we had to wait for the new culling on Saturday! He's lovely, and has a few words of English we have discovered. The other man we pass, just before him, who just seems to spend every day sitting on the doorstep is also very friendly. We do have to go down without the dogs at some point soon to go and meet the new puppies his dog has had. He has no English. Despite this they both invited us to the street party that was held on the 28th.

Christmas dinner in the garden at 3:00pm
We thought we'd go and have a look, though explaining to the dogs that yes, we were going out at 21.00, was quite a challenge. They obviously didn't approve! There was a small stage set up which we arrived at the back of, so had to squeeze past, good, that means the noise, sorry music, will be directed away from the house! Bang on 21.00, much to our surprise, the music started, very loudly! We were all issued with polystyrene cups with hot pineapple punch and then basket after basket of snacks came out and were passed around. Was it rude for us to take? Or rude for us to refuse? I took, he refused! We had a bit of a dance (well shuffle, it was that or completely frenetic) were greeted by the chicken man, looking resplendent in black suit and hat, and green shoes, who was thrilled to see us, and ran away. We'd managed an hour and a half and lost half our hearing, which perhaps made sleeping easier!

Dinner, before gravy was applied before you ask
The dinner and wine were good!
Our first little bit of street party, was the opening of the nativity just opposite the house, which is very cute, but seemed to be appreciated best with lots of firecrackers, you know, the ones we don't have anymore that you light and then throw at people so they scream! I mentioned to Louise that we quite liked the nativity which made her laugh, firstly because it was only taken down about three months ago, and secondly because last year it obviously wasn't silent, as it is this year, this was her email: "Oh good, I'm glad you think it's cute!! I sent a video to my parents of them doing it and they were absolutely horrified and are convinced that no housesitters would be able to endure 'that awful noise'! The dogs seem to really enjoy it though!! I find it funny most of the time but if it's at night/when I'm in the middle of work/it goes on for longer than a few minutes then it's less amusing! And I do worry that it might bother housesitters so I'm glad you're ok with their 'choir'!! " So what we are 'missing out on' I dread to think!

A bit blurred, but this was the street party in full swing
Its a hard life, but with good company!
Although I am loving the chance to cook, we have in our three weeks had three meals out, the first one on our first night, followed a week later by a shared T-bone steak which came with a bottle of wine, for £12.00 and was absolutely delicious. Last week was a trip to the vegetarian Hari Krishna restaurant as Louise described it. The closest we are going to get to Indian here, which although being very enjoyable, wasn't very Indian! Tonight we are staying in, it not being a popular night to go out, and have finally finished the chicken, so we have a fish to be roasted whole and served with pico de gallo and new potatoes. This, as Christmas dinner was, will be followed with Apple crumble and proper custard, cream and egg yolks, no calories there then which also means we have to have meringues to use up the egg whites, more sugar and whipped cream! In conjunction with the shortbread he has made for afternoon tea, we are going to be the size of houses!

Our blunder through the woods
We have been for a blunder through the woods looking for the mirador on the summit of the hills to the left of the pyramid. We failed, we found the path to the pyramid which was absolutely heaving, so I refused to go up it. Interesting little walk nonetheless. We were going to try again today, but apart from needing to buy the fish, we also had to go to the ferreteria (hardware store). Suddenly realised as I was washing up last night (yes, I do wash up, despite his claims) that water was jetting out backwards from the bottom of the tap! On closer examination, it has obviously been on it's way out for a while as the screw fitting was broken, and we've seen no bits. So with the tap 'pipe' in his pocket we headed into town, the homeowner was sympathetic on the phone last night, but won't be here till next weekend, so we thought we'd be a bit proactive. Amazingly, for £3, the same as we paid for our fish, we got exactly the same pipe and fitting, which took him about a second to fit! We then tried to go to the convent which we visited yesterday, amazingly with no photographic media, think he must have been ill. So wanted to get a few pictures, but we were too early, so they will be to follow!

A bit overgrown in places
The only real 'excitement' we've had was capturing the scorpion. I know he wasn't actually doing us any harm, but he did wander about at night, just waiting to be stepped on which freaked both of us out a bit, when I read that 1000 people a year in Mexico die of scorpion sting, and no sting is painless! So it's nearly midnight we've had a glass of wine, and we've got a scorpion on a card covered by a plastic pot! What next? Ask our helpful Facebook friends and deal with it in the morning obviously! So it spent the night on the outside table, under a plastic pot, with a saucepan over it, with a brick on top. Just in case! The Facebook thread made entertaining reading, never have we received so many comments to a post, they ranged from "burn it with fire" "take it to the vets" "drown it in tequila" to the most popular of deep fry it! I had to explain that I could see no place for fried scorpion with our traditional Mexican Boxing Day meal of cold chicken, cauliflower cheese and jacket potato! In the end, dressed in thick gloves, jacket, socks and shoes, (Brian not the scorpion) a knife was slipped under the pot, it was pinned down and a brick firmly applied. Sorry Louise. All over very quickly and easily!
With occasional good views
We did get a nice panorama after scrambling up some rocks however
The tale of the scorpion. It's up there in the top corner of the bathroom, just coming out of it's home in the crack...
Here's a close-up. We'd seen it there for almost a week, one night Jackie finding it down on the window shelf
Then, on Christmas night, there it was, in the middle of the wall...
So I slapped a plastic container over it, slid a piece of card under and we'd caught it. Now what do we do?
So, next day I put it all on the patio, slid the card out....
Slid a knife under, pinned it down, removed the plastic container and......
Glad it was pinned down!
This was Christmas night outside our bedroom window, loud music, firecrackers and lots of laughing
The church by us all lit up
Returning from a dog walk, outside the house
Street art near to the house. The small rectangle under the people figures is below...
It says that it was only painted on 2nd December 2016
Best photo so far of the hummingbird that visits the garden. Just as I took the photo it decided it had had enough of the flowers and was just flying off at high speed. Just managed to catch it
The entrance gate to the big church in the centre of town, built in 1580
The church from the corner of the grounds
Inside the main church. The nunnery was closed, so hopefully will get photos later as it was fabulous when we visited yesterday without camera
And then we visited the fish stall in the market to buy fish for tonights (NYE) dinner. Sadly not the one he is holding though, that weighed 9kg. We had one of the smaller ones on the right
She didn't mention my iced coffees. Just a hint of sugar and cream in that (not!). Fabulous!
So its Happy New Year from the dogs.....
And even though she's the smallest, Maty

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Happy Christmas from Tepoztlan – Days 94 to 101

Happy Christmas from us

Well, our Central and South American adventure has turned, for the moment into a domestic routine, so for anyone reading this expecting daring adventures you will be sadly disappointed and our story for the last seven days (and probably the next five weeks) is more mundane, but nevertheless full of the different and interesting for us at any rate.

It’s Christmas so we want to wish any readers Merry Christmas or Feliz Navidad and a Happy New Year from our small temporary home in Tepoztlan, a smallish town nestled in a valley surrounded on three sides by  craggy, interesting looking hills or mountains, depending on your point of view. Dictionary definition of a mountain: ‘A large, steep hill’, dictionary definition of a hill: ‘A naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain’, so there you have it, they could be either, but as they are most definitely ‘craggy’ I’m going for mountains!

In the garden on Christmas Eve with all the dogs
Tepoztlan sits at altitudes of about 1650m along the main street where all the restaurants, shops, stalls and markets are up to 1750m where we are and up another probably 100m or so to the highest properties. The surrounding mountains go up to an altitude of about 2100m. It’s clear from the above that it’s quite hilly and we have a 100m hill to climb each time we visit the market, main shops or restaurants, which is quite good for exercise, so we’re not complaining at all. We do have a shop very close to us and on about the same level and they sell most things and at a price that’s only slightly more than in town, so collecting 1.2 litre bottles of beer for example saves the heavy trip up the hill. It’s an ‘old school’ type shop we would say, the type I remember in the UK as a child. A few things are on display, but for most things you need to ask at the counter for what you want and almost anything is then produced from a shelf. Eggs are served singly and put in a bag and sugar is in a bag tied at the top. The owners are friendly people but speak not a word of English so it’s forcing us to use our Spanish and I was quite pleased today to be able to go in, greet them, ask how they are, ask for everything I wanted, understand the price, pay and bid my farewell. I am improving, but still can’t hold a conversation.

In the kitchen area with Luna looking on
All the streets in Tepoztlan are what I would call cobbled streets, made of stone and cemented into place, some rougher than others, but all fairly uneven. It means speeding by cars just does not happen and the average speed is about jogging pace, or about 10-15km/hr, which makes it a pleasant, safe town. There are, however, quite a lot of cars, vans and trucks about, particularly on the more main streets, they are quite narrow often with no pavements, so walking can be interesting and, walking up hill involves, at times breathing in lots of exhaust fumes.

And from where Luna was in the previous photo, into the lounge area
The cost of things here is quite low, I just bought a 200g jar of instant coffee for example and it cost 58 pesos, or about £2.30, probably 1/3 of the UK price. A 1.2 litre bottle of beer is 32 pesos, about £1.30, wine a little more expensive as it has to be imported at 95 to 120 pesos (£3.90 to £4.80) for a reasonable bottle and the 2.8kg corn fed chicken we bought for our Christmas dinner tomorrow was 162 pesos (£6.40).

The weather is very pleasant, it’s been 23/24 C here almost every day with clear blue skies. In the sun it’s quite hot and sun screen must be worn along with a wide brimmed hat. The sun rises about 7:00am and sets about 6:00pm, after which it’s a very pleasant temperature for wearing a ‘T’ shirt. We sleep with just a sheet over us at night (and with two, sometimes three dogs for warmth) and windows open (but with screen across to stop insects) and, by morning we are only just warm enough, but that’s fine, it soon warms as the sun rises.

Here's scruffy Luna
I mentioned insects just then and that’s a big item! Spiders seem to quite like it in here, from small harmless ones to quite big evil looking ones, probably not harmful, but difficult to ignore. The Black Widow, very harmful, sometimes fatal to humans if it bites us, spider that we found in the garage made us a little more careful, making us shake clothes and towels before use and this was only made worse when Jackie found a scorpion (some also very nasty to humans if stung by them) hiding in a crack high up in the bathroom and coming out intermittently. She found it on the shelf in the bathroom one night, but it had gone next morning, then we saw it appearing from its crack and then back in again. It’s too high up and difficult for us to get to so, as far as we know it’s still there, making us quite wary when we go in there. Of course it could be anywhere in the house now, we don’t know, so we’re always a bit careful!

11 year old Maty, with a very silly bow that Jackie put on her
People here are all very friendly and most people will say Buenos(as) Dias/Tardes/Noches and often try to hold a conversation which quickly grinds to a halt as they realise the extent of our language, but we are on waving terms to quite a lot of people we see fairly regularly either on our own or with the dogs.

We go on the same dog walking route as specified by Louise, always taking walking sticks to fend off any other dogs and, so far have had no problems. It’s always a relatively slow affair as they (particularly Cookie) like to sniff everything, often taking 5 minutes or so before we even move away from outside the front door of the house. The quantity of dogs in the town does mean there is mess on the roads, but not too bad and we try to pick up our dogs mess on their walks (except when we forget to take a bag – sorry Louise, but we remember most of the time) to avoid making the problem worse. Our routine continues when we get back with a trip round the garden to pick up the days mess, meaning we can walk in the garden without fear of treading in anything.

And Cookie
The dogs, incidentally are a joy, Luna (big scruffy dog) is relatively timid. All three are rescue dogs, but Luna, Louise told us, was found as a tiny puppy waiting by her dead mother, hoping she would wake up. She’s always been a bit frightened but she’s OK with us and unfazed by the big noise fireworks. She doesn’t like being followed on her walks so we always stop to let people pass, but other than that she has simple pleasures in life. She likes company and we’ve heard her and the others howl when we’ve left them (for a short time) and had to go back to see what all the fuss is about. Other than that she just wants someone to throw her ball for her. She brings it in and drops it alongside one on us and just looks. The patio door is usually open and it is possible to throw the ball out, bounce it off the wall and right down the garden, taking her seconds to retrieve it asking for it to be done again. Such a simple life and pleasure, there’s much to be admired in that!

As you can see, space on the bed is at a premium
On the occasions we have gone out and left them the greeting we get on our return is fabulous. Anyone would think we’d been away for hours, sometimes less than an hour, but we still get joyful welcomes, Maty jumping up wanting fuss from both of us, Cookie running backwards and forwards wanting fuss and licks, Luna’s whole body wags and she picks up her ball and doesn’t quite know what to do in her excitement.

At night, as Jackie has previously said, bed space is at a premium, often only with Maty and Cookie, which is enough, but if big dog gets on as well….

And Jackie has had a few kitten and cat strokes!
Anyway, I imagine you are quite bored with all this mundane stuff, perhaps you’ve even stopped reading. For those people that haven’t, I have been out for a couple of walks on my own. We both did the ‘Pyramid Walk’, which is what everyone does, so wanted to do something else, but being aware that the surroundings are quite forested and craggy with not too many tracks I decided I needed to be careful, not going too far and making sure I made a careful note of junctions on little tracks.

Look at this butterfly on my waterfall walk
My first venture out was towards from the bottom of the town and out into countryside towards the mountains and where I thought a waterfall may be. An old local I saw on the way waved in the direction I was going when I asked (in Spanish) if there was a waterfall this way. Sadly I didn’t find it then, probably having chosen the wrong route at path junctions, but I did find it on my second visit, going a bit further and choosing different paths. 
And here it is on a flower
Unfortunately the waterfall was dry, as we’d been told previously, it only flows in September and October when rains come, but it was still quite impressive, having a drop of probably 15 to 20m and a man-made pool at the bottom. I bet it’s crowded with people when it flows, but on the day I visited there was not a sole about. Saw quite a few quite large butterflies though and some quite big grasshoppers, fortunately no large spiders or anything that could inflict a bite or sting on me. Oh and I didn’t mention the humming bird that has paid us a visit on several occasions, but no photos yet I’m afraid.

Managed to get a photo of this grasshopper
So, that’s about it I think, I didn’t add that fireworks are in great presence here and not only at night. I suppose it’s because of Christmas, but it may occur all year, we don’t know. Fortunately the dogs seem immune to the loud bangs that are always occurring, not even moving when we were jumping out of our skin when we first arrived. Now, even we hardly notice. It’s not a quiet town even without the fireworks, often we can hear music playing, cars tooting horns, revving engines, particularly up hill and, the downside of cobbled streets and slow traffic, the sound of rattling vehicles as they slowly move by.

And here's the dry waterfall with plunge pool
So we’re near the end of the year, and it’s been quite a year, not only the political changes that have been going on in the UK, USA and Middle East, but illnesses and deaths from not only celebrities but also some of our friends and family. We don’t want to dwell on it or name names, but it’s been quite upsetting at times and us being so far away has not helped. To anyone reading this who has been affected, we are thinking of you and we really hope 2017 will be better.

Here’s to 2017 (that’s if we don’t do another blog entry before the end of the year)!

Jackie finds another cat, this one right outside our front door. I'm standing on the wall above
Here's a few creepy crawlies. This one only has 6 legs, seen a day or so later with only 5. Was it the scorpion?

I know you won't believe it, but there is a scorpion in this photo. It's in the crack high up in the top corner....

Here's a zoomed in version, that bit sticking out is it's tail with sting

Yet another medium sized spider, this one next to Jackies side of the bed. She was casual about it, it may still be there as far as we know

And here's the scariest of them all. out of focus I know, but I was more interested in taking evasive action should it have moved than taking the photo! It's a, sometimes fatal to humans, Black Widow. Not all that big, but the big red splodge on its back clearly identifies it. Keep away from this guy!