Oaxaca wedding celebration

After our delicious early dinner in Oaxaca in the comfy inner courtyard of Las Danzantes, we re-entered the bright sunny street and noticed a very large lady-doll dressed in white, and a handsome man-doll looming beside her. We discovered the wedding ceremony was already in progress inside the Cathedral and the street dance with the dolls, the dancers, and the band was preparing for their exit. This festivity is called “Mono de Calenda”.

I am not being very discerning with which photos to post. I have too many.

The public looks on as the celebration moves into the streets.

It was an interesting “people watching” afternoon, while seated on some shady church steps, chatting it up with a local.

That was Saturday. Today is Sunday. You never know what you’ll find. There are more art galleries and cafes and interesting shops than anyone has recorded on a map or on the internet. Here we go again…it’s time for a walk. I am “caught up” on blogging.

Oaxaca pictures, few words needed

Wall murals:

Love the details in this Spanish courtyard:A wedding:The Cathedral, yet again:The market next to the Cathedral where I purchased my blouse and ponchos.

Unfortunately, there are many more begging people here than we have seen anywhere else in this year of traveling.

These arches lead into a garden. How pretty!

Well…it’s a Sunday afternoon, and soon the squares and streets will be FILLED with people and activity. Curiosity “calls” the cat! Lol.

Oaxaca…culinary capital

Mmmmm. We had the most delicious lunch at Las Danzantes, in such a comfortable courtyard in the middle of the afternoon heat!

A steamed and roasted ancho chile pepper stuffed with corn fungus, onion, garlic and herbs served with a banana purée. It tasted like soft dried fruit somewhat like prunes.The flan de queso was heavenly too! Way beyond my words. But have you read the book entitled The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister? Now she can describe food to you. It’s a sexy book. Yet it lulls me to sleep. Lol.

They are opening up a roof-top patio next week. I can’t wait to go!

Charming Oaxaca

So here we are in Oaxaca and yes, it’s charming!

(Quick side note about the writing itself: We’ve been in Oaxaca for a full week and my post here is a tad too sequential for my liking; the product of quick daily jot notes. I think I write quite “unemotionally”, but to be clear, let me tell you…we are having a blast!!! At almost any moment in time, I am overcome with elation, noticing how FUN this is! Happy days!)

For me to be truly enjoying myself, I seem to have to feel physically comfortable with the climate! And I do! And I need to be free of bugs. And I am! The weather is a hot 33*C in the day, but it’s really dry (no humidity) which feels much more comfortable than heat with humidity (although my tanned skin appears scaly with dryness and in need of moisturizer which is unusual for me). The sun rises and sets at 6:45 a.m./p.m. and by sunrise the temperatures have slowly dropped down to a cool 12*-14*C. (Some nights it’s still very warm at midnight while on other nights it’s refreshing already immediately after sunset, by 7:00 pm.)

We rented an Airbnb in the Xochimilco neighbourhood for $1190 for a full month including all fees ($38 Cdn per night, for 31 nights). The reviews were fabulous and the place has a huge patio that’s fully shaded in the afternoon and evening, and it’s very QUIET (no traffic, no crowing roosters and no barking dogs except far in the distance). I love the smooth tiled floors beneath by feet and the two comfortable couches! And, it didn’t need any cleaning whatsoever; it was spotless!

The hosts, Paulina and Julian are awesome, as is our Colorado neighbour Maddie in the apartment next to ours (and her Swedish boyfriend Simon who also lives in this city). They both do on-line work here for long hours and are madly in love, so we don’t see much of them.

The next door apartment has a king bed, but our two doubles are ever-so-fine and comfy. 🙂

Paulina and Julian designed the place beautifully.

We had dinner with our neighbours tonight, served on our patio, prepared by our host Paulina. How sweet is that?!

A home-cooked mole served with chicken, rice and veggies. We were joined by two of her sisters too. Hoping Julian sends me his photos. We had a great time!

It’s a lot of fun heading out the door to go for a walk where, once again, everything is new and intriguing. The blue misty mountains in the background with the predominantly violet, fuchsia and rose flowering trees, along with the colourful painted buildings make the streets vibrant and beautiful!

Just down the street from us there’s this street corner that’s particularly stunning, but the camera can not capture what I feel and see here.

On our first morning in Mexico, we walk a few blocks down a cobblestone street, meeting locals walking hand-in-hand, until we reach Mercado Organico La Cosecha.

We are hungry and eager to have fresh tortillas cooked on a wood-burning fire. The menu is completely foreign to me: entomatadas, enfrijoladas, memelas, tetelas (rather than the familiar empanadas, tamales, tacos, quesadillas, etc.)

We order the first two and try each other’s. They are delicious! There’s a notable special ingredient or quality in these corn tortillas that is especially tasty.

We have some USD$ on us but no pesos at all, and the ladies make an exception to take our US cash. (Two large breakfast plates for a total of $7 USD or $9 Cdn.) After breakfast, we easily find an ATM at a Scotia Bank to withdraw pesos at no cost to us (free card and ZERO fees to withdraw….the reason we applied for this card.) It all adds up, right?

Then, with my MapsMe app, we walk to the end of the next block and another block to the right to find Mercado Sanchez Pascua where we purchase eggs, fresh Oaxacan cheese, fresh butter in a plastic bag (scooped from a huge sack in the freezer), fresh yogurt, avocados, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, canned refried beans, and lots of fruits including limes, mangos, grapefruits, oranges, pineapple, and figs. Also raw honey, little tied-up bags of fresh salsas, and tostadas (deep-fried whole tortillas to be broken into taco chips, so much tastier than the bagged, processed ones!)

There are SO MANY varieties of chile peppers…..orange, yellow, green, and every hue of red and purple. I have hundreds more photos than I post because it’s too much.

I photoed these because Harold and I pretty well ate these daily for a full year, when we lived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Directly across the street from the entrance to the market is a Rito Chocolateria & Tienda where we purchase a bar of 70% chocolate with the most complex flavors I can recall, and also good coffee (for Harold).

Immediately next door we purchase fresh hot corn tortillas at the Tortilleria Tienda. We have all the essentials for small bites at home in the upcoming week. We just didn’t find whole-grain bread today.

We return to relax for the afternoon at home; I’m reviewing and deleting photos from the past week. See how the shade returns to our deck early in the aft!

For dinner, just a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb, we find the lovely Ancestral Cocina Tradicional (ancestor’s traditional kitchen) set in a spacious treed patio far from the street, with a guitarist playing and singing Spanish songs. I order Tlayuda (toppings laid out over a large baked tortilla and folded), while Harold has the Mole negro served over chicken. Oaxaca is the birthplace of mole; mole is a rich and complex sauce slow-cooked and made from dozens of ingredients such as chiles, nuts, seeds, onions, garlic, fruits, and herbs. Black mole (negro) is the most complex with over 30 ingredients, and contains lots of dark unsweetened chocolate.

The cousine in Oaxaca is outstanding so we’re keen to experience it; although more costly than cooking for ourselves, it is not expensive. We eat for $29 for the two of us, including an alcoholic beverage each and including the 10% tip. Some dishes certainly run higher than that, and finding more hole-in-the-wall family restaurants would be delicious too and cost still less.

Sunday, Day 2 in Oaxaca, we catch the crimson, orange and pink sunrise on the patio and have breakfast at home.

Then walk down the cool, shady cobblestone street to the organic market to purchase a loaf of whole grain bread. Harold enjoys his breakfasts: two pieces of toast with peanut butter. All I need is fresh fruit and yogurt with a sprinkle of nuts and seeds.

Then to Santo Domingo Cathedral with it’s ornate Baroque interior with a carved family-tree ceiling unlike any I’ve seen (below). Jesus’ family, the Dominican order/family, and a lineage of priests in this local community. The interior was worked on and added to year after year and a single painting or piece reveals philosophies. Some are created by great painters. Perhaps we’ll hire a guide to learn more, we’ll see.

We pass by the cathedral and square daily and it’s seems to be growing more beautiful, seen in different light of day, with changing activities surrounding it.

We walk to the Zócalo, the hub of the city, exploring the center until the early afternoon. This square is ALIVE with music, families, eateries, and vendors. On the weekends, Mexican families spend hours at the square…walking, eating, visiting, and dancing.

We return for a late taco lunch at home, relaxing on the patio in the afternoon.

Have supper at a wood-fired-oven roof-top restaurant called Mezzaluna with views of the Templo de Santo Domingo. Beautiful warmth embraces us but there’s a gorgeous comfortable breeze.

At night, the Cathedral and Zócalo plazas are bursting with activity….so many sellers with their colourful cotton textiles, many street food stands, and much music. Orchestras, marimba bands, solo accordion players, traditional Spanish, rock and blues.

Monday, Day 3 – We’re taking it in slowly. The city streets feel relaxed and comfortable. There are pedestrian-only streets and narrow one-way streets too, so no exhaust to deal with, sidewalks are in great condition and swept clean, and walls are bright and colourful. There’s plenty of places to check out!

Mezcal is huge here! People are excited to introduce it to us. I didn’t think I’d care for it, but what’s not to love about the cream-based ones?! The fruity ones are refreshing and delicious too, and we keep a bottle in the fridge. We have too many drink choices…..awesome coffee, exceptional hot and cold choclate drinks we make with a frother, pure fruit juices and smoothies made in our blender, artisanal beers, and now mezcal added to the mix. Wines are on hold (consumed in Argentina and Chile).

This is one “happening” cafe!

The bakery/restaurant called Boulenc is filled with people, and line-ups are waiting to get in (4 photos above). It looks like a hole in the wall, but, it offers croissants, for example, to match those in France, no question about it. We discover the doorway that offers items “to go”, and purchase fabulous treats…..potato/onion/cheese biscuits to die for, homemade peanut and almond butters, pineapple and mango marmelade, whole wheat bread, pickles, basil pesto, nutty granola, and humus. A place to return to!

Dinner at a “just down the street” restaurant called a.m. Siempre Cafe with it’s refreshing patio wasn’t a traditional Mexican dinner but the portobello mushroom and roasted pepper burger with salsas and chutneys and homemade bread was exceptional, with drinks and tip for just under $20 in total.

Tuesday, Day 4: We walk around our Xochimilco neighbourhood, finding the Templo de Santo Toma (church) with it’s empty park and benches which will fill during the weekend market. Harold enjoys a chicken taco on the street, keen to support a local (above). We love to “mix it up” you know….from pretty swanky dining to eating on the street!

We walk through the unique structure that is the Children’s Library named after Jorge Luis Borges where I find a few books in both English and Spanish but none with both languages. (I’m not studying these days anyway; perhaps it’s because I am waking earlier and naps have been coming to me several afternoons in succession, and I’m not resisting!)

We also enter the Office Depot on the big Hwy #190 in search of a gift for the little artist on the street. I’m feeling a sweet spot for him in my heart. For him, we purchase a large book of drawing paper, 24 Prismacolor Crayons in a nifty metal case, HB pencils, eraser, and 4 good quality sharpeners. We’re hoping he’s in school on the weekdays but expect to see him selling his drawings on the street again next weekend and look forward to sharing these supplies with his mother (and him). I hope it’s appropriate as I couldn’t resist the gesture. Hoping he’ll pursue his art; he’s very good for a 6 year-old! Every day, we pass by his mother with a baby.

Other than this, the day is uneventful, which is just lovely! The patio is gloriously comfortable….so fortunate that it’s situated as it is, with early afternoon shade!

Eventually, we will look into excursions, but for now, the patio is too good to leave. There are posters around town alerting us to many special events taking place also.

On menus everywhere, described dishes include “queso de Mennonita”, so I inquired, “Where does the Mennonita cheese come from?” “From Chihuahua”, we’re told. No surprise there, of course.

Tonight, after the yummiest tortilla soup at Casa Taviche (I don’t need more than a starter given the hot temps and inactivity of the day)…we finish the meal with deep-fried cinnamon-spiced plantain topped with blueberries, sesame seeds, and…..the divine flavor of eating flowers! It was exceptional and I told the young chef so.

He confirmed that yes, the dessert contained the petals of roses. Sublime! I took this photo in the market….a huge barrel of rose petals, a common ingredient. 🙂

I like walking away from the downtown to the darker, quieter neighbourhood of our Airbnb. This aqueduct is a few steps from our Airbnb and we pass it daily, with a little park above it. The air temperature is cooling down earlier tonight; already feeling super comfy at 9:30 p.m. I read, write, or listen to audio before bedtime….a day is never long enough to get it all in. Meanwhile there are countless activities, festivities, concerts, galeries, events, and excursions to take in. I just haven’t felt like a lot of it. There’s plenty of stimulation just exploring the streets and I’m loving the downtime too, during our first week in Oaxaca.

Dinners at La Biznaga and at Calabacitas with their pleasant courtyards open to the sky were two gems we’d happily return to, if there weren’t so many new ones to try! Enjoyed the live music by a native Buenos Aires singer.

Just outside our place, we encountered a guy from Connecticut named Gary and joined him in walking up to the Guelaguetza (an open air concert hall), and the planetarium, where we had panoramic views of the city and the ruins in the distant hilltops.

Ended our walk with a coffee in Cafe Brujola, an upper-end local chain of coffee shops. There, we encountered Beverly and her friend Phil (folks from NYC); she was so attractive, vibrant and vital I couldn’t help but engage with her. She was 81, a former psychologist, and she left me feeling inspired (talking about age and what’s important).

I feel particularly energetic today, because I figured out this morning that for the past two days I was suffering from a weightiness above my eyes which was a result of allergies. That has lifted, and I hope it doesn’t return. I took an antihistamine today.

The jacarandas are in full bloom presently (so gorgeous!) and we have heard they can cause more allergy symptoms than most plants. But I’ve been feeling perfect since!

I had fun getting a haircut and purchasing a poncho and an embroidered cotton blouse. I also found some simple rayon/cotton dresses I absolutely love but they are priced at 2400 pesos which is $166 Cdn. 😦 I’m no longer interested. My cotton blouse was 50 pesos ($3.50 Cdn) so perhaps I’ll get a few more of those.

Yesterday was Saturday, and we discovered this fresh fruit and veggie market under this beautiful shade tree just a block from our Airbnb. For 110 pesos ($7 Cdn) we purchased a big bag of mangoes and TONS of fruits and a few veggies too…melons, pineapple, etc. (Me with my hair cut, yeah!)

And now, I’ll insert just a few more random shots.

More about this folklore another time!

When girls turn 15, they have big celebrations! She’s 15 on this day!

Stunning courtyards.

I am concluding this post with a few shots of the manual construction labor we observe. Harold will appreciate these inclusions, when he reads my blog. Keeping him interested, lol!

Was this the longest post ever or what? Cheers! Much more to come. I tell you, it’s VIBRANT here!

4 airports in two days

After 11 months in South America (between late October 2017 and early March 2019), we left the continent, thinking it best to explore Brazil another time; being so large, it warrants “planning” to take in it’s carnival, beaches, soccer, the Amazon, it’s parks and world heritage sites. So…..we said farewell to South America, and flew with LATAM from Montevideo to Lima, then with Aeromexico to Mexico City and on to Oaxaca, Mexico! Neither of us has spent much time in Mexico and those travels are as far behind us as the late 70s!! Dare I admit?! Oaxaca is Mexico’s culinary capital and is also known for its indigenous peoples and cultures! Today, it is one full week since we have arrived, and Oaxaca is charming us! We will be staying for some time!

From Piriapolis, we bused to the airport and then spent a night at the Limper B&B really close the Montevideo airport. The hosts wanted to visit in their garden, while I had a crazy ’bout of respiratory issues due to all the bus travel with AC. I was SO stuffed up I could barely breathe or speak. Great spot for an overnight stay and we had to be up by 5!Montevideo Airport. Left Montevideo at 7:43 a.m. arriving in Lima at 10:50 a.m. Overlooking Montevideo.

file-12449a1b-167e-4127-a619-c340e7f5180c-690-000000e900926d2bCrossing over the Andes. A mine, with details visible.

Arriving in Lima, Peru. The flight was cheaper if we purchased a new flight from Lima, so we spent a night here near the Lima airport.

We stayed at the Bidieen Inn. The construction across the street was noisy and the traffic was steady. This old beater was blasting out announcements from the speaker on top of his car. Hilarious. We have no issues sleeping…we’re adaptable! 🙂 This was our rooftop patio. Another view from the patio looking down the street. Sunset from the patio. The hotel served us dinner. We didn’t feel like taxiing into the historical or tourist zones (been there, done that) because we have an early flight to catch. Left Lima at 8:05 a.m. and arrived in Mexico City at 1:20 p.m.We had a 3 hour lay-over in Mexico City. Enjoyed some Mexican cousine in the airport. We flew out of Mexico City at 5:10 pm and arrived in Oaxaca at 6:15 p.m. (just a 65 minute flight). Then took a collectivo to our Airbnb.

Our new home: An Airbnb that is a-m-a-z-i-n-g-l-y situated on a street that is t-o-t-a-l-l-y quiet at night and very, very quiet by day too! What a find!

Casa Pueblo

Carlos Paez Vilaro was an important Uruguayan artist….a painter, potter, sculptor, muralist, writer, composer and constructor. He lived in Montevideo and Buenos Aires and also in Brazil, Europe, and the Congo. He worked with Picasso too. What started as a summer home and studio became his permanent home, which took 36 years to complete. It has 13 floors with staggered terraces and gorgeous views of the sunset over the Atlantic. We came to watch the sunset here! This home is also an art gallery to house his art, and contains a 20-room hotel too (he built a special room for many of his best friends, for their visits – painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, singers, etc.). There’s a room dedicated to the 20th c Argentinean writer Ernesto Sabato, and a little square dedicated to the president of Uruguay. It also houses a museum: The artist’s son was one of the seventeen survivors of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes and his father pays tribute to his surviving son, Carlos Miguel. The artist died 5 years ago.

CasaPueblo, somewhat like the houses of the Mediterranean coast, “evokes the nest of a bird typical to Uruguay.” I wish we could have walked all throughout this maze of a structure but it is not open to the public except on very special occasions.

A photo of a photograph in the artist’s home. It’s impossible to see the scale of this place, unless taken from on the water.

People filling the cliffs and terraces to see the sunset.

Punta del Este …the St. Tropez of South America

From Valle Eden, we bused to Tacaurembo (12:00-12:30), then from Tacaurembo to Montevideo (2:15 – 7:25 pm) and then another bus to Piriapolis, a small resort city on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. (The landscape today was rolling and lush, somewhat like the MB Pembina Hills, but less wooded and more agricultural. That isn’t a very precise description at all. I enjoyed the vast areas of waving white plumes – pampas grasses.) We arrived in Piriapolis close to midnight and the waterfront promenade was bustling!Piriapolis, above. We ate some delicious seafood. And spent two nights in Piriapolis, a more affordable alternative compared to Punta del Este nearby.

We took a day trip to Punte del Este, the “St.Tropez” of South America (above and below).

Punte del Este is a luxurious resort city, that runs along Uruguay’s scenic Atlantic Coast complete with gourmet food, all the latest fashion shops, and a beach that stretches for miles on end….all the way up into Brazil. We began our day with the famous photo stop….Le Mano (the hand), a manmade landmark that depicts a hand unearthed from the sand.We walked the peninsula, and had lunch on the water at the harbour. And peeked into some shops. (I lost my sunglasses in a shop, AGAIN, but recovered them within minutes).

Then we took a city tour (it was the only way we could get ourselves to the special destination, CasaPueblo, an hour out of the city).

Punte del Este became a resort in 1907; until then, no one lived here. I learned that this city has a population of just 9,000 but receives 2 million tourists per year. Some condos sell for $9 million.In some neighbourhoods, houses are valued at $14 million.A Trump tower is currently being built along the coast in this city (as if anyone cares). Cameron Diaz, Paris Hilton, Ralph Lauren, etc. etc. all have homes here. There are European neighbourhoods, North American neighbourhoods and Argentinean neighbourhoods. The average salary in this city is twice what it is in the rest of the country (elsewhere it’s $500 USD per month, here it’s that X2).

The tour took us to a great art gallery.And to an old church, and a lighthouse.And to this wavy bridge that tickles your tummy when you cross it at some speed. More info from our tour guide: Uruguay, when compared to all other North and South American countries, is 2nd to Canada regarding it’s quality of life, democracy, and level of corruption. Uruguay is the 2nd country in North America to legalize abortion, same-sex marriage, and the selling of marijuana (by the gov’t). Many communities have African traditions, from the days of the slaves. There are also many Jews, Muslims, and other cultures in Uruguay. Uruguay holds the longest carnival in the world….its’ celebrations take place in different locations on different dates, making the carnival last for 40 days. At some points on the peninsula, we could see the ocean in all 4 directions! People also mark the central point of Uruguay where British ships defeated German ships in 1939.

And how great is this……All education in Uruguay is free! Anyone, at any age, can study at colleges, universities, trade schools, for as many years as they wish…sports, art, music, languages, cinema, culinary school, carpentry, construction, politics, you name it, it’s free. Health Care is free too; people can choose private or public health care for free; there’s no discrimination.

Our day trip passed quickly and our city tour finished at sunset at a special spot…..CasaPueblo. Next post.

“alternative” life-style in rural Uruguay

Our newest acquaintance in Santa Ana, Uruguay, insisted we visit one of her most beloved locations in her country. She wouldn’t really tell us any details about the place, only saying that the rooms are good, and that the owner cooks for you, and that it’s a blissful experience. As Ana put it, “My whole soul embraces them at Valle Eden. My heart lodges them eternally. You and Harold must share your beauty with the people there.” So we went………to Valle Eden, in the northern interior of Uruguay.

By TAB bus from Santa Ana to Colonia (7:20-7:50), by COT bus from Colonia to Montevideo (8:00 – 10:50). At the Montevideo bus station we discovered the 12:30 TURIL bus to our destination was already FULL. Fortunately, we could take the NUNEZ bus which left at 13:00, arriving in Tacuerembo at 7:00 pm. From Tacaurembo, we had expected to be taking the 6:00 COPAY bus (headed in the direction of Paysandu) to get off at Valle Eden (about 25 minutes to our final destination). So we messaged our contact person, Hugo Alfonso, requesting him to tell Mabel not to wait for us unnecessarily. Hugo informed us there’s another bus at 7:15! Fantastic! We’re going to get there in one day after all!

We got off the bus at the 2nd stop of Valle Eden, on the dark highway, where we were surprised to be met by two guys who carried our bags. We walked along a grassy ditch, crawling through fences, and quickly arrived at a homestead where people were gathered around a fire or table. We were warmly greeted by the owner, Mabel, a lady somewhat older than myself.

It takes us a full day (+) to figure out what is taking place at this home. No one speaks a word of English. Mabel has a big heart and love for “community” and through word of mouth and some local means of communication, she welcomes people to work for her in exchange for room and board.

When we arrive, living in tents on her property, are six guys in their 20s and 30s and a retired lady from Montevideo. Two guys are from northern Argentina (Gasty the juggler and Nito the wannabe mural painter), four are from Brazil, (the rasta guy Paolino who calls Harold Roger Waters, two tall thin guys one bearded and one without), and a wonky-looking guy with a belly, as well as one retired jolly lady from Montevideo, Uruguay.

They all work at a variety of tasks, seemingly knowing exactly what needs to be done and initiating it all on their own.

Assembling and sanding a large wooden board which will be painted with a creed of communal guidelines. They paint the outer mud walls of the kitchen, sharpen machetes and knives, rake out garden beds, mound earth for plantings, plant vegetable seedlings, thoroughly clean the bathrooms from top to bottom, carry in wood, build cooking fires indoors and out, prepare lentils and beans over an outdoor fire, help the owner prepare mouthwatering baked and fried dishes, peel and cut apples to dry in the sun, peel and cut pears to cook down into a compote, set and clean the long eating table, sweep out and wash the kitchen floor, and wash their own dishes. They wash their own clothes and hang them to dry. There are also afternoon naps under the trees, on benches, in their tents, or in a chair, and smoke and snack breaks. Uruguayans, like Chileans, smoke a lot of cigarettes! Everyone is very “tranquillo”. Work is carried out slowly, steadily, and quietly. Only the Uruguayan lady has a month of internet access because the others haven’t bothered to buy data.

Mabel’s sources of income include room and full board for guests (which is what we were doing), and selling goods from her garden and kitchen at a permanently set-up kiosk in the park, just a 10-minute walk from her home.

On the Saturday that we were there, she had 25 guests (including her 7 volunteers)! That is a lot of mouths for Mabel to feed three times a day! She thrives on hospitality and sharing her cooking. Harold says she’s a Mother Theresa.

The accommodations on the property are make-shift shelters…a roof over the head with mattresses provided. City folks and young people love the rustic experience.

We stayed in a little private cabin right next to her kitchen….with a firm bed mattress and clean comfy cotton sheets and pillows. She even provided a fan, but we didn’t need it as it cooled off at night. There were two shared bathrooms on the property.

There was also a comfy thatched hut with shelves of books, that was a gathering place for relaxing, playing the guitar or chess or for having naps.

We watched the activity unfold around us. Each morning, Mabel was busy in the kitchen preparing from scratch home-cooked meals for the day. In the four mornings we woke there, she made chapatis for breakfast, deep-fried potato croquettes, deep-fried dulce-de-leche pastilles (turnovers), cheese and ham filled empanadas, huge pans of pizza, and she baked bread several times. The rasta guy did most of the cooking (hot steaming pots of beans, lentils, and chicken noodle soup). She also made her own sausages while preparing chicken for us on the side. Sometimes there were desserts too, like rice pudding and cups of “fruit something”.

She was always utilizing the fruits from her trees, spending long hours peeling and cutting up pears and apples and drying them in the sun or stewing them for hours on the wood stove to make a complote to eat with bread. She had very good well water piped in to her place.

Her large organic garden was impressive..she spared each and every fruit and was grafting old trees to produce new plants.

She also kept healthy looking chickens, roosters and 6 baby chicks. No one was going to be sleeping in late in this household. Lol.

The young men (and woman) volunteering here were staying for varying lengths of time, each interested in gaining wisdom from Mabel’s wholesome way of life.

Mabel was obviously a pillar of strength. She worked extremely hard, from morning until night, despite her arthritis, and whatever else was getting in the way of her walking with ease. You could tell she had a strong set of principles and somehow everyone knew the expectations (I think she screens her volunteers pretty carefully). Yet one day, the guy who often juggled while everyone else was working was gone. She canned him! Now that surely sent a message to the others. Anyway…..Mother Mabel had worked her “magic” to create a cohesive group and this “impromptu” community looked like they had been forever bonded; it was a remarkable atmosphere to observe and be a part of.

All the guests and volunteers gathered together for a 1 pm hot lunch.

Then in the afternoons, Mabel sold her homemade dried teas, dried fruits, jams, pasties, pizzas, etc at the kiosk in the park and returned after dark. The guys would help her bring her goods there as needed (she is fiercely independent, but also relies on help). Between 8:30 and 9:30 pm we gathered again for dinner.

On Sunday afternoon, we all hung out at the park with Mabel and ate our meals there (coleslaw, roasted chicken, potato & rice salad). There was always enough to eat but never seconds, and that just felt right! Mabel always filled her plate last.

We paid Mabel $450 pesos per night ($18 Cdn) and $800 pesos per day altogether for the two of us to eat for the full day ($32 Cdn)…so our total expenses were $50 per day.

The refreshments “station”, outside the kitchen….thermoses and thermoses for Mate consumption.

Photo taken on the first early morning of our stay. In the kitchen at the hearth. It’s sweltering hot in the day, but cool in the morning, and always comfy in the shade.

One day Harold and I did a walking tour in the valley with Hugo Alfonso, a local young man.

He showed us Chanten or Yanten pronounced Zjan-ten for headaches, the plant with the large leaves that spread out on the ground and send up a sharp spike. And Concorosa, for the heart. And holly leaves for tea. And on and on, so many medicinal native plants.

We walked through forest and up a ridge until we could see the panorama of this valley with the Cuchilla in the distance, the highest land in Uruguay.

It was a hot walk and several times I doused my head in the cool river as we passed by.

It felt like living in the 60s and 70s you know…..all these young people and their peace and love ideals. It was a cool experience.

The “volunteers” as well as Gabriel (a favorite fun guest) walked us to the highway to see us off, carrying our bags for us. Even Andres, the recluse who lives in the bush (who works for Mabel in exchange for food, who owns nothing at all not even a pair of shoes!) came to see us off. We had really connected, and Marita even had tears as we parted. They all waved and waved and it was pretty sweet.

Good-bye Balneario el Ensueno, Uruguay

For the full month of February, we “settled” at Balneario el Ensueno/Santa Ana, a place that is safe, peaceful, quiet, and naturally beautiful. At this Uruguayan seaside community we particularly enjoyed the river, Rio de la Plata (an estuary). On a few days, we arrived at the beach surprised to see all or much of it had disappeared as a result of the high tide, whereas on other days the tide was so low that we’d walk far into the river to get to shoulder level for a swim. My favorite swims were on the days when the river had a rhythmic gentle surf flowing directly toward the shore, with no wave to swim into and we were floating above the gentle swells. We had two one-week stretches of 30-35 degree temps, and two stretches of cooler weather, 20-24 degrees. During some of the cooler days, we walked the full length of the 2 km beach in both directions, while on hot days we relaxed under the trees in our chairs or on our tarp, listening to the sound of the surf, listening to audio books, and swimming to stay cool. Always, the temperature of the river water was gorgeous and we appreciated the clean fresh water. We experienced three rainfalls in this month, and once, after it, there was considerable green algae in the river, but it dissipated the following day. Noisy parakeets, colourful butterflies in droves, red-crowned Cardinals, yellow bellied birds, eucalyptus trees that fill the air to clear your sinuses, lots of sunshine, three bus trips into the small city of Colonia, and backyard visiting by candlelight with Sam and Ana…..this was our February.

The little bio construction cabin Sam and Ana are building, to be expanded next summer.

The fresh yeast bread Sam and Anna made and shared with us.

Our favorite clump of trees on the beach, where the sand is so soft I could snuggle into it and find complete comfort!

So pretty!

A perfect walking beach, without a slope.

There was only one seller on the beach, and only on the weekends when there more people on the beach. He sold homemade baked goods: a sweet bread with a custard top, a turn-over pastry filled with dulce de lèche, or donuts. We tried all three and enjoyed them all. Otherwise, we never packed a picnic for the beach, because our home is near.

Obviously, this month was all about the beach!

Everyday with variations in the sky, the sand, the river, the people, ….

The treed and grassy park extended the FULL length of the beach, with many benches too.

A day in picturesque historical Colonia, with remnants from the Portuguese and the Spanish.

Happened to be in the city on Valentine’s Day…plenty of other tourists around to take our photo.

From Feb. 9-19, I dedicated myself to daily hours of Spanish study with an online course until it seemed I couldn’t keep up with applying my new knowledge, needing more opportunities to speak. It’s certainly a challenge! Crazy thing is, I can speak and be understood without hesitation for most anything I need or want to say. Understanding has always been MUCH more difficult. The thing is, I haven’t been speaking with correct grammar, and with my study this month, I now KNOW much more grammar, but to apply it means I have to slow down, think, and I have zero practice speaking correctly. So I sound “at a loss” much more often; it’s a difficult phase, and it’s frustrating! In the English language, our verb “go” can be used to express numerous ideas, all using the verb “go”….go for, go at, go on, go under, go in, go to, go from, go beyond, go here, go there. In Spanish, however, each new meaning has a brand new verb that must be learned (ir, irme, seguir, entra, hundirse, ven aqui, ve alli, hacer …..) There’s much more language to learn in Spanish! Never mind learning the genders, pronouns, and tenses. I still love it, but the other big challenge has been trying to understand the unique Uruguayan pronunciations and expressions. Oh my! So pretty to listen to, but too often, I nod my head and pretend to have understood! And along with it all, there are misunderstandings, and times I just scratch my head! Oddly, there is just one-English speaker in this community, and he happens to live 10 steps from our door. That’s good, but it also means I resort to English. It would help me a lot if Harold were keen to speak Spanish too, but he’s content without pushing for it, comprehending lots of bits and pieces.

Here’s some info about the realty of this seaside community (for me). Back in the 1930s and 40s, all of this land was purchased and owned by Brazilians and Argentineans and a few Europeans. The existing pine and eucalyptus forest was planted at that time. When it was passed down to the next generation, and the next, and they discovered the taxes hadn’t been paid, some of them lost interest in it. So a considerable number of properties have been unattended to for many years. The new interested buyers of these properties pay $13,000-15,000 USD for the occupation rite, which they apply for, which has to be notarized etc. Then they pay the unpaid property taxes for just the last 10 years….which is just $125 USD per year. Then they can build their house on the land and no one could take it from them; if they tried to, it would cost them a lot, including all the costs that the new owner had incurred. 6 years after having acquired the occupation rite, they can begin working on getting a title for the land, which they receive within 10-12 years (from the initial start of getting the occupation rite). It goes through all the procedures and notarizations. And that’s it. Federico, who we are renting from, is presently working at getting the titles for a full block of properties here. That’s his employment and he has three rental homes next to his, ours being one of them.

Most people build their own home in this “resort” community. But there are also two companies that put up homes here…the containers and the cement block homes. You can get a cement block home for $25,000 USD. There is one home just around the corner from us that is listed at $55,000. USD.

The land is more expensive in El Sueno than it is in Santa Ana. Not sure why that is. The services they provide include water, dirt road maintenance, electricity, and garbage pick-up. Everyone has there own sewage system.

Some notes about Uruguayan employment and work ethic, gleaned from the intelligent English-speaking Montrealer, Sam, who resides here for 6 months of the year and is living with a Uruguayan. Sam has worked in sustainability projects in the Congo and in Asia. Has a wealth of cross-cultural experiences, and plans to make this country his future home. He tells us:

The Uruguayans are encouraged to be lazy. When there was an economic low, the government returned 5% of their taxes to the people; you can see a deduction of 5% on your receipt when you purchase something. As a whole, the people have no work ethic, he says. Says the adults are like big babies. He tries to employ them; says it’s really hard to get them to work. In general, they also don’t look ahead. The guy that Sam employs in bio-constructions has to be told again and again to look ahead as he is brick-laying. Says they don’t garden at all because the soil is heavy clay and they couldn’t be bothered to amend the soil. He says the fields in Colonia are heavily fertilized because without it they wouldn’t get a good yield. The average salary here per day is $1200. pesos ($36 USD or $48 Cdn).

Sam is interested in creating mud baths here to prolong the tourist season. The mud here is divine, with cleansing properties! Right now, the home owners rent out their home in the summer season only and make around $25,000 – $35,000 USD per year, from these rentals.

Sam said our neighboring community to the south, Juan Lacase, is very poor. Since the 1940’s they depended on just one industry… a paper mill. Now that paper mill has shut down and the unemployment in that town is really high! They were so accustomed to having the mill for work, they didn’t bother to get an education.

And on another note, here’s me trying to be humorous about Uruguay’s “mate-drinking tradition”: Are you even able to imagine this visual? Day and night, Uruguayans walking everywhere with a thermos, mate cup and straw in hand! It has to prepared in just the right way so it doesn’t taste like “kaka”. And everyone gets a little extra boost of immunity through the shared stainless steel bombilla (straw). They never ask if you have a cold; it’s just handed to you with the word “toma” (drink). They start drinking mate before they are pre-schoolers and are immune to the caffeine; they actually sleep at night and aren’t completely jolted and jittery all day! It’s really something to observe, lol.

We met an Italian lady, Sibila, in the historical neighbourhood of Colonia. She beckoned us in when we were looking into her window where baked goods were laid out. We stepped in and shared a most delicious apple torte and had a lovely chat with her. She showed us her home, built in 1850, with it’s high ceilings, tiny but functional kitchen, grape-covered central courtyard, bedroom with ensuite bath!, and a stunning balcony at the top overlooking the Rio de la Plata (like the sea), and with views of both the cathedral and the lighthouse. She told us how she stays in Colonia from Dec until end of March. Then goes to Argentina where her two grown sons and grandchildren live until June. Then returns to Italy until fall, then back to Argentina to see her family and then back to Colonia for the high tourist season. She shared her contact info and extended an invite to rent her home when she is not there, saying that the weather is agreeable in all seasons. It’s a beautiful home, in an excellent location for a shop. She sells unique cotton clothing and leather handbags imported from Italy, and bakes and sells a local torte with jelly and lattice-top crust and the apple torte that was spectacular. A pleasant encounter!

Harold walking up to the Italian lady’s window.

The traditional dessert, pasta frola, and the apple torte fresh out of Sibila’s oven. Sibila in the window too. It took me too long to catch-on that “casera” means homemade. Duh, of course!!

In Sibila’s inner courtyard. We walked up the stairs…….

…..to sit in her patio with a sea breeze and views!

Taken through the bus window, returning from Colonia to our community, after weekly shopping.

A small sample of the fresh veggies in season.

And as the end of this month neared, our new Uruguayan friend Ana encouraged us with a great deal of passion, to visit one of her favorite spots in the country. She hooked us up with her friend Laura, whose friend Hugo’s friend Mabel has a hostal there. I did the necessary correspondence through Messenger using google translate, and voila, a new destination awaits us. It’s an out-of-the-way place about 5 hours by bus from the capital, to a tiny hamlet, where the woman who will “keep” us grows an organic garden and where her friend Hugo has a tiny museum and runs walking tours. We’re headed that way day after tomorrow, on the 28th. I hope the bed is comfy, and that the interior isn’t too hot, but I imagine it will be pretty great. It’s quite possible we won’t have internet while there. Length of stay is undetermined. Time to pack up and start exploring again! We’ve become SO relaxed!