Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Cancun & Tulum

Today was to be a day for exploring Cancun--but first I needed a haircut. The bright sun meant I needed to wear a hat whenever I was outside. Once I had the hat on for any length of time my hair was so soggy and greasy looking I wouldn't take it off. The solution was a scalping.

I went to my friend's barber who was shocked that I wanted my hair cut so closely. After a false start--when he cut only the top of my head down--leaving the sides long, it was a done deal. I didn't care if it looked terrible or not--it felt GREAT! Cost? Fifty pesos (about US $3.75) including tip. Not bad.

Kerry wanted to show me how inexpensive local housing was away from the tourist zone. We went to visit a local businessman he knew. Horatio had a small internet cafe and was building a hotel adjacent to it. We toured the construction and he offered to show me some other property he owned that was for sale. He had a three bedroom house with a garden courtyard for sale in the Cancun city limits for $57,000 US. He also had two bedroom apartments for rent at 300-500 dollars. Later we looked at one and two bedroom houses for sale from $10,000-15,000 US. These were not in fancy tourist areas, but in the real world where "real" people live. It was encouraging to me that housing could be that affordable. I'm sorry I don't have photos for you to see.

I'll grant you that most from the states would not want to live in these areas. The quality and cleanliness in these areas varies from house to house; they are a long way from the beach and here your neighbors would not be rich. But for me, that is not troubling. I prefer to be comfortable rather than fashionable; economical rather than astronomical.

Later we headed to a huge mall were we walked around checking prices. Most of the products were high end and not discounted. Kerry assured me that most everything we saw there could be had for less somewhere else.

We stopped at a kiosk (Spanish=cabina) marketing new construction one and two bedroom condos. These were not the upscale, fancy tourist condos, but real world stuff. One bedrooms were about $20,000 US, 2 bedrooms were about $26,000.

The next day we headed to Tulum, a smaller city south of Cancun. Tulum has the only known Mayan temple site on the ocean.

Image: traveladvisor.com

Image: tropicalsky.co.uk

(Here you might ask why I am using other's photos. There is a pretty good reason . . . I accidently deleted mine.)

While the temples at Tulum can't hold a candle to those at Chichen Itza they are sited in a fabulous spot. I heartily recommend it as a must see place.

The beaches at Tulum are marvelous--but they are priced waaaay out of my range. Here's a shot of where I won't be living . . . rats!

We toured the modern city of Tulum as well. I stopped at a little shop to buy a hat with a larger brim. I found a beauty. I was surprised and pleased to find that it was made in Texas! Why is it every hat I look at in the Wal-Mart at home is from China? Can't they stock anything from the US? It is a shame when I have to travel to Mexico to find something made in the USA.

Here is the American-made hat, with my American-made head in it.

After Tulum we headed back to Cancun where we had some terrific fish tacos in a side walk shop in the tourist area. Good eats, great prices.

The time had flown by, I had seen and learned a lot, but tomorrow it would be time to go home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Back to Cancun

Back to Cancun

We took a last look around Merida and headed toward Cancun. There was much we hadn't seen--but unfortunately time was limited. We had to leave. I hope to go back one day.

Instead of taking the four-lane back to Cancun we opted for a more scenic route. I worked more on road signs in between keeping an eye out for those sneaky topes!

Many signs I could decipher fairly easily. For example, "Precaucion Zona Escola" I knew right away meant, Caution School Zone. "Despacio" (slow) I already knew. Not from road signs, but from begging locals, "Despacio, por favor," (slow, please) when I couldn't understand their rapid speech.

I also nailed "Ceda El Paso" (yield right of way), but that was just a lucky guess, and I got half of "Poblado Proximo." Proximo is enough like approximate that it was no problemo--you know that one! What I couldn't get was Poblado; it means small village or town. 

Sometimes I hadn't a clue. "No Rebase" left me cold. Kerry told me it meant no passing. There we many more I had to ask about, but slowly I was picking things up and felt more comfortable.

We stopped in one village and Kerry bought a plant for his balcony (balcon) at condo. It was a large plant in a big pot. He paid about $3 US (40 pesos). The same plant would probably sell for $10-20 in the US.

A we drove into Cancun Kerry showed me that the mile markers had both Arabic numbers and Mayan numbers, so I learned to write one to twenty in Mayan! I can't reproduce the symbols on my keyboard, but just in case you want to amaze your friends and neighbors, here is a table I found online:

The number system is based on twenty--not ten as ours. The symbol for twenty is their zero with one dot above it.

Once archaeologists decoded Mayan numbers it allowed the current batch of doomsayers to predict the end of the world this year since the Mayan calendar doesn't go any farther than that. My advice? Don't give your stuff away just yet!

I couldn't find a thermometer to check exactly how hot is was, but it was plenty humid. I told Kerry that his first job the next day was to take me to his barber. My hair (the bit that grew around the edges of my bald spot) had to go!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Merida & Progresso

Day two in Merida began with a leisurely breakfast in the courtyard.

The hotel had a buffet for guests. There was fruit and eggs and toast and a whole lot more. The most surprising part was the breakfast meat: sliced hot dogs!

We saw an interesting sign leading into the pool area:

There was something else I hadn't seen before--a machine that dispensed soft drinks and BEER. Please note: I'm just pretending to buy a beer for the camera. I had orange juice for breakfast. Really!

After breakfast we headed to the seaside town of Progresso. The drive took less than an hour. Kerry had not been there before but he used his Garmin. (Yes, they have Mexico chips for GPS units!)

If you look at the map Progresso is almost due north of Merida, and is a much smaller town. The road leading into Progresso had a number hotels so I didn't know what to expect when we got into the town center.

In Cancun the beaches are lined with hotels and high rise condos. Not so in Progresso. There was a large board walk and long pier reaching out into the water. Elsewhere homes lined the windy beach. I saw no hotels in town. Most of the houses along the beach were large. We did find a three bedroom place one block from the ocean for $150,000--downright cheap considering. But I was just looking, not buying. There was no population sign, but I would estimate it was no larger than 25,000 or so.

Most of the town had great pavement. But the east end of town had potholes, potholes, potholes. There was an attractive town square and the boardwalk was nice and clean. The breeze seemed stronger than in Cancun--more a wind than a breeze. I imagine it was due to Progresso being north facing rather than east as in Cancun.

We ate seaside on a long veranda at a large restaurant. It seemed crazy not to have seafood so I did: a pasta dish with fish and scallops in a white sauce; mixed vegetables on the side. Excellent! All in all I was much pleased with Progresso.

Eventually we headed back to Merida and revisited the main square that evening. There were muscians and people selling flowers, jewelry, toys for little ones and much more.

Merida would be a wonderful place to vacation. There is so much to do in town and still be close to the gulf. I'd love to spend a couple of weeks there exploring galleries and museums. As tempting a place as it is, I still want to opt for something smaller and quieter. If I were to land here it would be in Progresso, not Merida.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


We arrived in Merida, a city of about one million, late afternoon. It was hot away from the ocean, and hotter still in the large city. It is the capital of the Yucatan state. It is also known as a great cultural center with many galleries and museums. At its center is the old colonial district where some buildings date back to the 1500's!

Kerry knew a hotel in the colonial district, the Delores Alba, that is clean and has good rates. Parking is in a gated and locked lot. It is monitored by camera and guests are buzzed in and out. As in any large city, security is important. Any tourist, anywhere, should always be careful. There are some bad people everywhere in this world of ours. Here is a photo of another hotel security system. Not state of the art, perhaps, but effective. The parking garage is below the ledge.

My room was on the second floor and had two windows--with wooden louvers but no glass. One looked out on the center court of the hotel. The other onto a hallway. It wasn't fancy, but it was clean and had an air conditioner. I turned it on just before bed and it kept me cool through the night. Expedia has some great pics of the hotel. To see them, click here.

After checking in we headed out in the car to have a look around. It was hot enough that I wanted to buy a fan. We went to a local market--a sort of indoor/outdoor mall. Most shops were linked by passages that wormed through the buildings to no discernable plan. Outside the streets were narrow. Everywhere the people were friendly.

We had intentionally not gone to a tourist area. I wanted to see how the "real" people lived--especially since I planned to become one! A saleslady brought out fans, one-by-one, and plugged them in so I could test them out. I made my selection, we took it to the car and then wandered around. This wasn't a grocery store (Tienda de comestibles) but nearly everything else was available in the many small shops. As expected, clothes and electronics were more expensive than in the states.

After we returned to the hotel we walked to a nearby square and had dinner outside,"fuera,"in the plaza. I had grilled fish (I have forgotten which kind), with a black bean & corn salsa that was excellent. The side was rice and I had a cold Modelo. All good!

The plaza was packed with people. Tourists, of course, but local families and sweethearts, too. Sunday in the plaza is a big event.

I was able to attend a service in the oldest cathedral in the new world; the Catedral de San Ildefonso (1598), first in the continental Americas. The service was in Spanish but was still enjoyable. The building was spectacular.
The facade
The Nave (center section)

A side section

Afterward, worn out from the long day, we headed back to the hotel. I slept like a rock.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cancun and Chichen Itza

After telling the church it was time to visit my friend, Kerry, in Cancun. I had some vacation left so used a week and scheduled a trip. After a rough start--I missed a flight in Dallas and had to stay overnight--I arrived on May 10. It was warm and sunny.

Kerry and a friend of his, Ricardo, met me at the airport. After dropping my stuff at his condo they took me to a small restaurant under a bull ring. Kerry said they had the best lamb tacos in town. He is probably right--they were terrific.

Back at the condo we planned our next few days. We had to budget time more carefully since I had lost a day in Dallas. We decided to head for Merida the next day, stopping at the ruins of the Mayan temple(s) at Chichen Itza. In the Mayan tongue, Chichen Itza means "the mouth of the well of the Itza," Itza being the name of the Mayan tribe who lived there.

I crashed on the couch and slept like a rock, with a strong breeze from the ocean keeping me comfortable.

Some years ago I had visited the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha in Belize. They were impressive. First discovered in 1963, Altun Ha is not nearly as well excavated or restored as Chichen Itza (1842). The tallest of the structures at Altun is about 55 feet. It would be dwarfed by the Kukulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza which rises more than 80 feet. I looked forward to seeing the site. As you can see from the photos below (taken with Kerry's I-phone) I was not to be disappointed.

The pyramid of Kukulcan

Another view of Kukulcan

The site covers just a bit less than six (!) square miles. Below are just a few of the other structures.

The last photo is of the sacred well, or cenote. It is about 60 feet from the top of the well to the water and the water is about 65 feet deep. With no surface rivers in most, if not all of Mexico, cenotes are an important source of water.

En route to Chichen Itza we stopped and had lunch in the town square of Valladolid and exchanged dollars for pesos. After Chichen Itza we headed for Merida (May-ree-deh).

Our trip began in Cancun in the NE. We took Hwy 180--an excellent road--to Valladolid, detoured slightly to Chichen Itza and then rejoined 180 to Merida in the NW part of the Yucatan.

Kerry, who amazed me with how well he speaks Spanish, told me I would have to re-program my vowel sounds. In Spanish vowels are not pronounced  Ay Eee eye Oh yoU, but rather eh, ay, eee, oh ooo. At least that is my best approximation. To learn how to really say them click here.

I also began to learn Mexican road signs. Long ago on a mountain road outside San Jose, Costa Rica I had learned the most important sign--Peligro. It means Danger. Of course I learned the hard way! The first time I saw the sign, I reached for my handy Spanish-to-English handbook and was sent flying almost into the back seat when the road dropped off about a foot. I'm not likely to forget that one!

Kerry told me that there was another sign in Mexico nearly as important as Peligro: Tope (toe-pay). A tope is a Mexican traffic control device we know as the speed bump. (In Jamaica, by the way, they are called, "sleeping policemen.")

In Mexico a tope may appear anywhere--even in the highway! Some are huge and steep. Some are mid-sized--and some aren't too bad. You can't always tell by the sign which size it is, so you had better slow down or get your teeth rattled--and maybe the car springs broken into the bargain. You quickly learn to watch the brake lights of the guy ahead of you. If he brakes, you had better brake, too.

One thing about topes--no one drives at autobahn speeds. Self preservation won't allow it. Plus, they save a lot of money on traffic police, radar and stop lights. Verrrry efficient!

Next time: Merida, the oldest church in the New World and more road signs.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is it Safe?

It didn't take long for word to spread that I was leaving. There were many questions, but the main queries were these: "What about the drug gangs?; "Will you be safe?"; "Where are you going?", and "Why are you going?"

The first two were the biggies. There has been so much bad press with the drug wars and beheadings going on that everyone was worried. I tried to assure folks that I wasn't headed to a border area were the violence is concentrated. I also explained that I would be at least as safe there as I would be in Ft. Wayne. I found a video on utube by an ex-Dallas policeman who lives in Ajijic--and has for years. I tried to steer people toward it as it answers the obvious questions. You can see it here .

Many imagined that I would be living in a hovel without any amenities miles from civilization. Sometimes we gringos forget that there are plenty of places in the U.S. where people are living without creature comforts. But videos like this one about the town of Chapala show what a beautiful city it is and can put one's mind more at ease. See it here.

In any event, the most dangerous part of the trip for me will be crossing the border at Laredo, Texas. On the other side, Nuevo Laredo has seen vicious murders and beheadings. I will worry there, but I will cross very early in the morning and will have Duke with me. I know what a softy he is but he certainly looks menacing!

O.K. . . . Maybe not so much!

The "Where are you going" I could answer fairly easily--but the "Why are you going" was tougher. It was hard to explain that after years of seeing to the needs of others--and that went back even farther than my time with the church--I just needed a breather; a time to refresh and re-connect spiritually. It could never happen here; I was too involved. There was the church, the free health clinic I helped to found, local and state politics, my old union local, etc. etc.. If I stayed in the area I'd get caught up in everything once again.

But "Why not in the U.S.?" many wanted to know. I explained the cost of living was much better as was the weather; it would be an adventure . . . and . . . I would be forced to see everything, including myself, in a different light.

Not everyone understood, I know, but most everyone seemed to take my word that it was necessary.

I knew I would be answering questions right up until I left. I also knew I would be saying, "Come on down and visit and see for yourself!

Next: Continuing to check things out: Cancun and environs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Telling the Church

Catching up

Telling the church was a two-step process. First I would have to speak with the staff parish committee. In the United Methodist system the SPC provides the principal support for the pastor. They are to help him in his spiritual life, see that he gets sufficient time away, maintain total confidentiality and make salary recommendations to the church council. They are also asked to appraise the pastor of areas where he is doing well and where he can do better. It is a great system--When it works.

In years past I had dealt with SPCs that had one or more members who only knew how to complain, demand, and deny any support at all. It made things difficult. Thankfully the committee this year was the best I had ever worked with by far. I knew when I went to them they would be looking for a way to be supportive rather than to be destructive.

This made things both easier and more difficult. Why? Well it was easier because I knew they had my best interest and that of the church at heart. It was harder because I didn't want to tell these wonderful people I would be leaving them.

There were tears on both sides at the meeting, but all members understood I needed a break and they were fabulously supportive. We spoke about the replacement process and how the asst. superintendent would be visiting to speak with them about what they were looking for in a new pastor, etc. I answered their questions as well as I could. Nothing about the meeting was truly easy--but considering the subject it couldn't have gone better.

The meeting was supposed to be confidential but I knew it would be no more likely that the secret could be kept than it had been possible for me to tell absolutely no one about my decision. I had to tell others and did. So would members of the committee.

Before word leaked out too far I tried to speak with some members who I feared might be the most upset with my leaving. I wanted to do my best to be certain they would stay and give the new pastor a fair chance. My argument was simple. 1. The Gospel, not the person who delivered it, was the important thing. 2. They had great friends in the church and if they left they would be leaving them, too. 3. Even if they left they would still be dealing with a new pastor somewhere else who would no doubt leave someday as well. 4. They loved our little church and the church loved and needed them.

In the end all agreed to stay at least six months. I could trust that they would be good to their word, and expected that after that long they would love the new pastor as they had loved me--maybe even more. I was able to speak with most folks before the general announcement, but not all.

Then, the next Sunday, I announced to those present who had not yet heard that I would be leaving at the end of June. I wished I had been able to speak with each one before Sunday, but time hadn't allowed. Nearly all were disappointed--but there were a two or three to whom this was great news indeed. I was happy to finally have found a way to please them!

Next: Addressing worries about safety, and continued preparation.