Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cold Wet Christmas

We are in Southern California where it's a cold, wet Christmas Day.

My "Number One Fan" Project is not going so well. It's not easy for me to be an unconditional cheerleader. I haven't given up, but I think next year, I'll opt for a more conventional gift.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Señor Conductor's Wild Ride

I love public transportation in foreign countries. They are such a great way to get a sense of the locale you are visiting. The London underground, the Tokyo subways, the double-decker buses of Hong Kong, the TGVs of Europe, the banca boats of the Philippines...

The long distance buses of Mexico are always an adventure, too.

We were stuck on an ordinario going up to Puerto Vallarta where we were catching our flight back north. The primera plus that was supposed to leave at two turned out to be a two AM bus and the only bus service to PV during the day was the local bus service. There was no choice (unless you consider waiting til 2am to be a real choice...)

Unfortunately, there was no bathroom on the bus and Big Dog, being the dog that he is, needs to wee much more frequently than most humans.

"Are you going to be okay? I knew I should have saved an empty yogurt tub," I mini-stressed as I scurried onto the bus, grabbing the front seat (and pushing aside the conductor's sweater to do so. Yes, rather rude, but I had been more cavalier on an earlier trip only to have Big Dog get sick on the bus, so I was determined to get the front seat no matter what.)

We hadn't gone more than a few kilometers out of town before the driver began texting on his cell phone. He seemed either really bored or really sleepy.
"They ought to outlaw texting while driving," grumbled Big Dog.
"Oh, look. He's done," I whispered as the driver put away his cell phone. "Maybe he can concentrate on driving."
But that was not to be. The driver continued fidgeting. Next, he's cleaning the dash with a rag. Then, counting tickets. Moments later, he's organizing a wad of cash. Each time his mind wandered from driving, he slowed down. It was making us fidget. We were leaving town an hour and half later than we had planned AND were on the slow bus to PV.

"I want to arrive sometime this century," I giggled. We were still in good spirits and continued to poke each other each time the driver did something other than drive.

But soon, the soccer movie ended (yes, DVDs have taken the place of blaring car stereos on these long distance buses) and some unheard-of fantasy movie with talking animals appears on the TV. It's dubbed into Spanish and louder than hell. The noise began to wear me down and we're still only a third of the way to PV! The more fidgety we got, the longer the trip seemed to be taking. As the sun began to set, the bus turned off of Mex200. The sign on the side read "Tomatlan 12K." It made me panic.

"I hope there's another way out. I hope we're not going to have to come back this same road."
"I'm sure there's another road out," said Big Dog, uncharacteristically optimistic.
But when we got to the town of Tomatlan, the bus made a U-turn.
"Oh, nooooo," we groaned. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come.

Like, being stuck in this town, parked next to a store selling baseball caps and kids' jewelry, for 30 minutes for no apparent reason. Like having the driver's wife and whiny son board the bus and distract the driver from driving.

("Have you noticed that when the driver talks, he drives really slow?" I whispered to Big Dog.)

Like, stopping on the edge of town while the driver sent his wife out to get him dinner (!)
Like, watching her come back with a giant Styrofoam cup of SOUP (!!!) with tostadas.

("If you sent me out to get you something to eat while you were driving and I came back with soup, you'd have a fit!" I giggled.
"Why couldn't he have eaten back in that town where we sat around doing nothing for half an hour?!" ranted Big Dog.)

Like, watching the driver eat his soup, spoonful by spoonful, driving extra slowly so he wouldn't spill any on him. We were crawling along the highway now.

("He's going 35kph!" gasped BD. He had already passed his tolerance limit and was now threatening to hijack the bus.)

When he had eaten his soup down to the very last spoonful, had all the tostadas, had his soda and said "see you later" to his wife and son who got off the bus, it was already pitch black outside. And what do you do when you can hardly see where you're going? Step on it. Of course.

The horrible talking animal movie was over and now we were treated to some screeching electro-opera at top volume. Perfect soundtrack for screaming down the highway, blindly. And wouldn't you know it, the driver soon got bored again. More texting, counting money, counting tickets...except now we're driving a tad too fast down a curvy stretch hugging cliffs. It's an easy plunge into the ravine below.

We eventually got to PV sometime after 9pm and were so happy to be there we didn't care what the posada wanted to charge us for a room. We were finally off that bus. Alive. Hurray!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Big Dog and I are not good gift givers. We're terribly shoppers, so trying to get a gift really stresses us out. Plus, being a non-consumer, I can imagine what stuff other people would like to receive. I enjoy handcrafted gifts -- a poem, a drawing, cookies -- and feel guilty making a happy face and raving about some gadget or clothes others may give me. I know a lot of thought went into it and I am grateful for their kindness, but the truth is, I would be way happier if they had kept their money and made their own lives more pleasant because there is really nothing material I need.

(Okay. My digital camera died this spring and I would love a new one, but I've started sketching interesting scenes now and I keep thinking that I never would have done this if I still had that camera, so...)

Big Dog and I rarely give each other gifts. We don't do special things on special days, either. We do special things when it's convenient.

This year, though, I've decided on a little experiment. I am going to be Big Dog's Number One Fan for the rest of the year. From the 15th of December, until the end of the year, he will have his Fan Club of One. I'm going to do everything he wants to do, wholeheartedly. I'm not going to make my druthers known. I will laugh at his jokes as if he were the Maestro of Humor and I hadn't heard them a million times already. I will be thrilled to be with him.

Big Dog won't know about this. It's a secret, so don't tell him. I'm not even sure I'll tell him after the fact. (Will he even notice??)

This experiment/present began yesterday. I never thought of myself as being especially willful or selfish and I always think of myself as being extremely undemanding, so why is this experiment turning out to be so much harder than imagined?

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Don't Quit Your Day Job

During our Tokyo days, we used to say things like "I'm a director/producer now, but what I really want to do is plumb" and "I'm a media personality, but what I really want to do is wait tables." As glamorous as our lives may have seemed to outsiders, it had taken over everything. We were constantly working and production is always both mentally and physically challenging.

First, let me tell you plumbing is a great profession. It's also highly lucrative. Politicians and media producers are about the only people who don't know that.

Second, be careful what you wish for. Big Dog is now doing way too much plumbing.

As for me and waiting tables... when you are multi-lingual, there are too many other ways of making money. Teaching languages, interpreting, translating, dubbing. It's too much trouble for most working people to pick up a new language -- much easier picking up someone who already has the language ability. I never got to flip burgers, babysit or wait tables -- all of my early jobs were language-related.

Friday evening, we got an SOS from the Japanese restaurant on the highway.
"Our waiter's gone off to university and two of the kitchen staff are on sick leave. It was insane today but it'll be impossible tomorrow. Saturday afternoons are hell. Can you help us?"
Several hours in hell? Doing something I am clueless about? Why not!

I recruited Big Dog, too. Between the two of us, we might be able to manage, I thought.

The day started off nice and easy: a few North American couples to ease us into our new jobs. In between, we learned about the different plates for different dishes and all the different sauces and garnishes that go on at the last minute, we learned how to make the drink orders, wrap silverware in napkins...there was so much more to do than just taking and delivering orders!

And then, just as they predicted, it got busier and busier. By 3pm, the place was a battlefield. Orders were flying in, plates were flying out. Seeing that we were running out of glasses, I quickly washed a batch that came in. Calls were coming in for take-away.

We knew this pandemonium well, though it's been a while since we'd been in it. Your brain goes blank and your body switches to automatic.

"Teri pollo! Mesa Seven!"
"No! This one's for Mesa Ocho!
"Two teas, helado, one sin, one con sugar."
"Yakimeshi sencilla, para llevar!"
"Limones, doko?"
"Cambio, onegai shimas!"

We were calling out orders and questions in a strange mix of Japanese, English and Spanish. Customers, too, were ordering in a bizarre mix of languages.

As it turned out, BD was a great host. He was all over the place, taking orders, delivering orders, bussing... Even during the mayhem. Plus, he looked cute in his hachimaki, Japanese headband. I looked hot and disheveled. My hair wouldn't stay slicked in place like the señoras' and my shiny, sweaty face was making me a little self-conscious. Worse, I proved to be as untalented in this field as many others. I am not a natural born host -- more like, natural born hermit. I bounced from cashier to dishwasher to prep staff, filling in the holes, but it's a good thing I have other skills because I made a pretty pitiful waitress.

At the end of the day, we were both exhausted. But, we found out that the Mexicans who dined here were fabulous tippers. Actually, pretty amazing! Here we were, thinking that North Americans were such good customers.

And I learned a thing or two (again) about humility.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thumbs Up

"Let's go to Km20 today and see if K's home," Big Dog suggested.

We are finally starting to get a bit more active, hiking up to the big overlook at the tip of the bay, walking over the hill to the next tiny bay... You have to time it right because it's so hot here.

What Big Dog really meant was "let's try to hitch a ride to Km20." We'd discovered how easy it was to hitchhike in this part of Mexico. The people here are friendly and helpful and the topes (speed bumps) at the entrance and exit to every town ensure a stream of slowing vehicles. Drivers can't pretend they really want to pick you up but are going too fast to stop in time.

Sure enough, in about 60 seconds from the time we get to the tope on the main highway, we're picked up by a pickup truck. The middle aged couple in the cab are headed for La Manzanilla, only a couple of kilometers from the Km20 milestone (kilometerstone?) A boy in the back makes sure their purchases (case of beer, several plastic bags with what looks like groceries) don't fly out.

I gripped the side of the truck bed to make sure I don't fly out. It's a little hairy, flying down the twisty road. Lanes are narrow, shoulders are few and cliffs are steep. Plus, the driver not only filled his tank with gas along the way, but a plastic container in the back. I pictured us flipping over into a ravine where I would be impaled on a tree branch, turned into a human kabob, soon to be seared to a crisp by the ignited gasoline. Maybe I'll be doused with the gasoline in the container, even before getting kabobbed.

Nothing like that happened, of course, or you wouldn't be hearing from me.

However, the truck drove us right into the town of La Manzanilla, so we had to work backwards: walk through the laid back little town, grab a bite, then walk a mile or two around the deserted bay to Boca de Iguanas (Mouth of the Iguanas!) where we could cut back into the jungle.

K and J, two guys we met last winter, live in a small complex deep in the lushly vegetated area between the bay and the highway. There are giant banyan-like trees, soaring smoothly upwards. Along with the all-pervasive coconut palms, there are elegantly erect royal palms. Bananas, papayas, all kind of vines and shrubs fill the spaces in between.

There's not a whole lot out here. We were able to get a couple of beers at a small abarotte (minimart) near the beach, but unlike the abarottes in real towns, this one was poorly stocked. God help you if you find yourself out here with a toilet paper emergency! (Guess you could always try out the banana leaf..) But it would still be my choice location if I were to ever move here. The peaceful quiet, the isolation, the lushness once you come in from the bay, all appeal to me.

Our friends were both out working, so after a cruise through their complex we headed towards the highway.

"It's going to be harder getting a ride here," grumbled Big Dog. "I knew we should have done it the other way. Or walk back around the bay to La Manza."

I had to admit, he was right. The vehicles were all zooming past. We had to perch precariously on the edge of cliffs when large trucks whizzed by. We'd been walking for hours non-stop and I was getting tired.

"Well, a bus should come by eventually," I thought, "and in the worse case, we'd walk 20 kilometers. It's doable." But somehow the kilometers seemed longer here. It was forever before we came to the Km19 marker, and even longer to the Km18 marker...where, to our relief, a water vendor truck stopped for us.

"Gracias! Gracias!" we sighed our thanks to the driver who let us into his cab.

By then, we had learned our lesson of the day: Hitchhiking is easy...IF you're at a tope.

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