Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas comes to chez von Zaurunyon

On Friday we realized that it was only a week until Christmas! We hadn't done anything around the house to prepare for the holiday, so this weekend was massive preparation mode! Now the tree is in the living room and the turkey is thawing in the fridge. We'll be totally on top of things by next Friday!

We got a beautiful noble fir. It's the good kind of noble - not the shelfy kind. Ian made them knock 150 pesos off the price. He's a master bargainer. When he speaks more Spanish he's going to be unstoppable!

Sammy didn't violently object to the reindeer antlers this year!

But he fought with the Santa hat pompom!

The Santa hat didn't make Hugo happy, even when Ian was hugging him!

Reindeer antlers weren't fun either....

But happily an unused luggage tag saved the evening!


On December 11, Ian and I attended the annual railroad workers end-of-year party. It was everything I'd been promised: an amazing location; excellent food and drink; lots of important people; and pretty girls, dressed identically and imported for the event. The event was in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a 1930s-era museum of Mexican art and culture in the heart of the central historical district.

The party opened with about 90 minutes of music. There was a small orchestra with one of the best conductors I've ever had the pleasure to watch, a very talented Mexican mezzo-soprano, and a Cuban quintet. They performed a great selection of music. I don't think there were more than three songs from any one genre.

They also took photos of guests as part of the swag, but I can't get them into the right format to post. We looked awesome - you'll just have to take my word for it until you come visit, then you can decide for yourselves!

The invitation arrived like this. Keep reading to see what the actual invitation looked like. Anybody planning a wedding might want to take note.

The invitation itself is a 3D photo of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the site of the party. On the base is a plaque with my name and title engraved on it.

The back of the invitation box: it's a train, lest we forget the reason for the party!

And the invitation itself. It's a book with a ribbon tie and hand-written invitation.

And they gave everybody a crystal-and-mirrors train as a souvenir. It's quite heavy. STFRM stands for Sindicato de Trabajadores Ferrocarrileros de la Republica Mexican - Union of Railway Workers of the Mexican Republic.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Taxco, Guerrero

This is the lovely little silver mining town of Taxco de Alarcon in Guerrero state. Ian and I drove there (first time driving in Mexico!) to finish our Christmas shopping. It's a great place: lots of silver, lots of artists, lots of pink rock, and lots of tiled roofs. It is just as steep and narrow as it could be, and the streets are better suited to donkeys than to Beetles!

Taxco cathedral seen from above (from the Cristo in the photo below).

Cristo Monumental looks over the city from above. The statue, like the cathedral, is in pink stone. It's a great view.

A narrow street away from the center of town. The white line is the lane divider. That's part of why VWs are such popular cars! (See the taxi photo below.)

A street in Taxco with the cathedral at the end. Most streets are two-way, and drivers are really civilized about each other and about pedestrians. It was tight, but we never felt ourselves in danger!

Street in Taxco. We were there at the end of the Feria de la Plata - Silver Festival - and the whole place was hopping!

Our hotel, Los Arcos, was a converted 17th century monastery. Its courtyard was like something out of a movie with irregular stairs, a giant tree, fountains, and unexpected arches. It was a very nice hotel for our purposes.

A sweet and serious little boy enjoying his lunch near our hotel.

Ian had the camera all weekend, so he documented the fire out of me (as they'd say in Alabama) buying stuff from vendors. I was not in haggling mode, so the process was painless, regardless of the look on my face! Here I'm buying straw finger toys that the cats will love until they destroy them.

Also not haggling over the price of ceramics in the street. They're lots cheaper in Taxco than Mexico City....

And finally, not haggling over a cute straw bag from one of the many men in many hats.

This is a car-bus taxi, locally called a combi. Most (if not all) public taxis in Taxco are VW Beetles (the old kind) or car-buses. It's a great town.

There's a lot of funny ideas in Taxco about how best to use all that silver. This saddle weighs in around 20 kilos (according to the salesman).

Ian's job

Ian's new job here is not as nice as he thought it might be.

Ian mixing the freshly ground rocks, potting soil, and sand for the cactus garden. Believe it or not, there were three trees in this space before we took them out, and one was a cedar!

Ian working in our jail-like front garden. We hope it will someday be filled with cacti!

After a long silence....

We're back! It's been very busy here Molly's work picks up and Ian's language classes get going, but we're still here and having fun!

First we have a cat update. Hugo is a feline Hoover and sucks up all the loose hair and lint off the floor. It's all four brain cells on full fire. And so his bad habits caught up to him: he got his belly shaved for an ultrasound! He's mostly fine but is on antibiotics for a UTI and will get special anti-hairball meds for the foreseeable future. Let this be a lesson: don't eat garbage off the flor even if it moves!

Sammy, on the other hand, is doing just fine!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Underwater in Acapulco

There were lots of cool fish and other things to see while we were snorkling. Acapulco has no coral, but there are tons of rocks that attract all sorts of fish, eels, and other swimming stuff. The colors and variety of fish were amazing, though of course the little disposable underwater cameras do not really do them justice.

We are very excited about exploring more of the hotspots around the country and doing much more of this.

The puffer fish were probably my favorite fish that I saw. While none of them puffed up for me, they were very large and very beautiful.

And here is Ian happily floating along...

And my beautiful wife reminding everybody to peace out.

Acapulco and a birthday!

For Ian's birthday, we headed to Acapulco! It's a great beach town that hit its prime in the 1940s - 1960s. Now it's an odd mix of old Acapulco hotels and beach houses and modern luxury bayside hotels and luxury homes and condos. We took a boat ride around the bay and out into the ocean and then went snorkeling. There were loads of cool fish and eels and rays, and Ian is now considering scuba certification. We'll go back in a heartbeat if anybody wants to come visit!

La Roqueta Island in the sun. What a wonderful weekend!

Our hotel - the Mirador - from the boat. It was just about the perfect balance of funky and nice, and the view from our room was amazing. You can see in the lower right side a stone viewing area that the cliff divers use to get into the water. There are more photos of them below.

The Acarey boat trip. It was a great introduction to Acapulco. They showed us all the houses and hotel belonging to famous people now and famous people from Acapulco's heyday: John Wayne, Mariyln Monroe, Elvis Presley, Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan for those of you, like me, who hadn't ever heard of him).

Out on a boat in the sun. It was so nice to be in fresh air!

Sunset on our first night. It was a little too cloudy, but it was so nice to see the Pacific! Huzzah for the left coast!

Birthday boy with a cigar and a view. I think the beard makes him look younger!

Birthday sunset from our little hotel balcony.

This is a side view of an Acapulco tourist landmark. Everyday young men (age 15+) jump off the cliff from right in front of the little blue chapels into the ocean below. This photo is meant to give a sense of scale for the jump; there are more photos below. The viewing platform is just below center on the right side of the photo. The boys jump from there into the water and then clamber out the other side to scale the cliff. The first jump is maybe 30 feet; the water is about 12 feet deep. Then with nothing but their fingers and toes, they climb the 105 feet to a little stone platform in front of the chapels and dive off into the ocean. It's breathtaking to see but it's also a little terrifying. The little ocean channel s narrow and shallow, and the waves are constantly roiling the water. This started as a native tradition and evolved into what it is today.

The last jump of the evening is done with torches for dramatic effect.

Clavidistas preparing for the 105 foot climb up the rock wall. They jump into the ocean from about 30 feet (est), swim across the very narrow channel, and scale the cliff face to jump from the top.

The clavidistas climbing the cliff. It's about 105 feet (30 meters), and they jump into about 12 feet of ocean, give or take depending on the surge and the tide.

A clavidista in action. Next time we'll use the bigger lens for a sharper photo!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Today we went to Teotihuacan, ruins very near Mexico City. At its heyday, Teotihuacan was a city of 200,000 people and covered about 20 sq kilometers. In around 750 CE, the site was abandoned and burned for reasons unknown to modern archeologists. Ironically, that probably saved it from destruction at the hands of the Spanish 700 years later. The area is centered around the Avenue of Death, a series of wide plazas about 1.5 miles in length and surrounded by temples and pyramids of varying size and restoration. It starts at the Temple of Quetzalcoatal, passes a series of small and minimally restored buildings, passes the Pyramid of the Sun about 2/3 of the way up, and ends at the Pyramid of the Moon.

These dudes hang out on top of a high pole (50 feet or so) and play music in a modern tribute to an ancient custom. They spend some time upright and then begin the process of spinning upside down, still playing music, all the way to the ground.

A close-up of the piper during his descent.

Carvings on the Temple of Quetzalcoatal. I think the squarish one is Tlaloc, the rain god, and the other is a feathered serpent.

Lizards like ruins.

Oh yeah, we climbed it. The Pyramid of the Sun is around 250 steps, but with the crush of people, the irregularity of the stone, and the lack of normal oxygen at 7000 feet, it felt like much, much more.

Pyramid of the Moon from the top of Pyramid of the Sun. There would have been a temple on top of the pyramid when the area was actively used.

Looking up the Avenue of Death from in front of Pyramid of the Sun to the Pyramid of the Moon. This photo is meant to give a sense of scale: this is the last third of the Avenue as we walked it today. It is around 1.5 miles long.

Looking at the Pyramid of the Sun from the plaza by the Pyramid of the Moon. When this was an active center, the pyramids would have had temples on top of them. Apparently there is new evidence that suggests the Pyramid of the Sun was in fact a temple to the rain god, Tlaloc, instead of the sun god - an ironic name change may be in order.

Standing on the Temple of the Moon with the Avenue of Death stretching down to the Temple of Queztalcoatal in the far distance and the Pyramid of the Sun in the near distance. The Avenue of Death is so called for the number of tombs along it, not for any more gruesome reason that we're aware of!

Here we are blocking the view just to prove we were there!

Lunch at La Gruta, a 'restauran tipico' except that it's in a legitime cave. It was tasty and cool and really nice.