¡Muy Importante!

YodersAfloat is moving! Please come and see us at our new location. Be sure to update your bookmarks. Once you get there, sign up yo receive notifications of updates via e-mail.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

1/31/2012 - Micro macrame

While we were still in La Paz, we met a young lady from Colorado who was traveling around Latin America doing environmental work. Amanda showed Lulu some cool string bracelets and such that she'd learned from various artisans in her travels. Well, if you know Lulu, you know that nothing would do but that she had to learn how to make these bracelets, too. Unfortunately, Amanda moved on before Lulu got a good handle on the technique. I did some Google searches to try to find out something about these teeny little knots. They are so small that the bracelets actually look like they're beaded. I finally found something called micro macrame that looked like it might be the right thing.

Lulu studies several websites and tried her hand at it. The first few efforts were less than show quality and she was getting a little discouraged. But, other than tatting, I've never known her to throw in the towel on a craft. If someone else can do it, then so can she. Dammit!

Well, her perseverance finally paid off. She made a small, fairly plain bracelet and then decided to tackle a hat band for my new chapeau. This turned out to be quite an undertaking as a hatband is a wee bit longer than a bracelet and it takes a LOT of tiny little knots to make something an inch long. But, she did it:

Pretty snappy, eh?

Here are two bracelets she finished. The one with the twin snakes crawling around on it is some sort of Peruvian bracelet. It came out so cool that now she's working on one that has a coral snake color scheme.

Pretty cool, huh? If we ever make it down to the San Blas Islands off Panama, I suspect she'll take up mola making.

Monday, January 30, 2012

1/30/2012 - Back to Mazatlán

Having spent the better part of the day learning about, and tasting tequila distilled agave spirits, exploring the little towns of La Noria and El Quelite and eating our fill of molcajete, about all we had left to do was find our way home. Although not exactly on a straight line to Maz, we decided we had plenty of daylight left to try to find the beach at Las Labradas which is said to have some 400 year old cave paintings. So, off we went.

The guidebook we were using said to take Hwy 15 north out of Mazatlán to kilometer post 103 and then turn west on Hwy 2 to Dimas Station. Easy enough. Of course, since we were currently at about km marker 30-something, we had a little ways to go. But, traffic was light and the weather was perfect so no worries.

Long about km marker 73 we saw a sign pointing to Dimas in one direction and San Ignacio in the other. The highway number wasn't evident but it sure looked like where we should turn. However, since we were still 30 km shy of where the guide told us to turn, we figured this was just one of a couple possible routes and probably not the most direct. I mean, why else would Captain George's guide say to turn at Km 103? So, we pressed on.

We did eventually reach km marker 103 but there wasn't a turn right there. There was one just a little ways down the road however and we turned west. Things seemed a bit weird to me because we turned near a town called Elote and the road we turned onto said we were going to La Cruz. La Cruz is north of Dimas. I had a tiny little road map of the entire state of Sinaloa and took a look. Sure enough, there is a road crossing the Hwy 15 that connects La Cruz and Elote. And, guess what, the map didn't show any road from Elote down to Dimas. We should have taken the turn back at km 73. Thanks, Capt. George!

Oh well, no biggie. We'll just drive to La Cruz and then head south from there along the coast. Simple, right?

Having grown up on the west coast of the US, I knew that navigating coastal towns was pretty much a breeze. I mean, there are only ultimately 3 directions you can go without getting wet. Armed with this confidence, we entered La Cruz.

Obviously, the thing to do is continue west until you find the main north-south road and take a left. Unless, of course, you happen to see signs directing you where you want to go. Well, helpful signs didn't seem to be an option, so we just continue heading west. We went through one major intersection with a traffic light but there were no signs so we just continued west. Naturally, the road turned and made us turn with it a few times but we still maintained a generally westerly direction. I could see from my Sinaloa road map that the highway continued all the way to the northern border of Sinaloa at least, so there was no chance we could miss it. No chance at all.

Pretty soon the road turned to dirt and shortly afterwards, it ceased to be recognizable as a road at all. How could that be? We were absolutely certain that we didn't cross over or under any major thoroughfares and yet, if we continued on, we'd be getting wet very soon. Oh well. We turned around to try again.

Now, La Cruz doesn't seem to be a very big town but I'm convinced that it has some sort of voodoo spell on it. Why? Because we could never seem to find the same street twice. We would wander around the town on dirt roads and, in places where we had to cross a paved road, and indeed had crossed the paved road a few minutes before, no paved road would now exist. Intersections moved or disappeared altogether, and still, the elusive north-south highway refused to be found. Finally, frustrated, we decided to start our own way south. As with coastal towns everywhere (uh-huh!), each one would have access to the highway and we figured maybe we could find it if we went to a smaller town.

We headed south-ish out of La Cruz. At least the road was paved, if not signed. We did come to an intersection that, if I remember right, showed Salado to the left (east) and Saladito straight ahead (south). Saladito (if that's truly what it was) was a tiny little town. The paved road ran through it, at least most of the way. Everything off to the right or left was dirt. Oh, there was one paved cross road but, before we took it, we thought we'd ask for directions. Traffic was extremely light so it was no problem just to stop in the middle of the road. We saw a young lady, probably a teenager, and waved her down. I asked, in my iffy Spanish, where the road to Mazatlán was. She looked sort of surprised and hollered over at an older lady, probably her mother. I asked mamá, ¿Donde es el camino a Mazatlán? ¡MAZÁTLAN! She cried out and then started laughing. We laughed along with her although we weren't sure why this was so funny. Well, she came out and gave us a bunch of directions, nearly none of which any of us understood. However, we let on like we did so as not to offend and then went where she pointed. She and her daughter walked back to the house chuckling.

Well, her directions didn't help us at all. We just ended up wandering around the dirt back streets of Saladito. We decided to try the direction thing again and this time we'd make a more concerted effort to understand what we were being told. We spied a nicely dressed gentleman of about our vintage getting out of a car.

"Hola señor. ¿Puede ayudanos?" (Hello, sir. Can you help us?)

"Sí. ¿Qué necesitan?" (Yes. What do you need?)

"¿Donde es el camino a Mazatlán?" (Where is the road to Mazatlán?)

Laughing, "¡MAZATLÁN!" (Mazatlán! What the hell do you mean, Mazatlán? Wait'll I tell the wife about this!) He didn't actually say any of that stuff but you could tell by the smile on his face that it wasn't often that he ran into gringos looking for Mazatlán.

He proceeded to give us directions and we made a conscious effort to understand them. Had him repeat things several times until I was pretty sure we got the gist of what he was saying. Basically, it sounded like we were supposed to go back to the next street (turns out he meant the next paved street) and turn left. Follow the street until it crossed the canal. Then something about a corner (rincón) and a bridge (puenta). We thanked him and gave it a shot.

Well, we found the canal but, shortly after crossing it, we ran out of pavement and then the road got really bad. Like 4-wheel drive bad. We decided, screw this. Let's head back to La Cruz and try again.

We got back into La Cruz okay but quickly decided that our only real option was to ask someone. Maybe it wouldn't be quite so funny here as it was in Saladito. We pulled into a Pemex gas station. Marj and I walked inside and talked to the young woman at the counter.

"Hola. Estamos perdido." (Hello. We're lost.)

I knew we were in good hands when she good-naturedly leaned on the counter and essentially said, "How can I help? Tell me all about it."

Again I asked how to get to the road to Mazatlán. She asked whether we wanted the inland route or the coastal route. Since we'd just come from the inland route, I asked for the coastal route. She then started giving us directions. Whenever we got somewhere that we didn't understand, I asked her to clarify and she was always happy to do so. Keep in mind that she spoke NO English. The gist of it was that we were to go up to an intersection with a big sign (I'm pretty sure she was pointing at the particular sign (for John Deere implements), and then go right. Follow the road around a very long curve. Then, at another Pemex station, take a right. Cross some railroad tracks and then we should see the sign directing us either north or south. We thanked her, she wished us luck and said that if we have any problems, just stop at another Pemex station and ask again. She waved us goodbye and smilingly sent us on our way.

We followed her directions as best we understood them and, lo and behold, we found the highway and managed to get on it headed south.

As we proceeded to Mazatlán (all thoughts of cave drawings now forgotten) we realized that, even if we had been able to figure out how to reach the road from Saladito, or even from Dimas if we'd come that way, there was no way to get on it. This was a VERY limited access/egress highway. I don't believe there was a single on or off ramp the entire way until the highway (toll road as it turns out - and not cheap, either; just under $100 pesos) ended on the northern outskirts of Mazatlán.

But, all's well that ends well and at least we brightened the day of a couple of citizens of Saladitos (and gave them a story to tell and laugh over) but we also had our day brightened by a sweet young lady at a Pemex station.

Knowing what we now know about access to the highway, I really wonder where the folks in Saladito were sending us. At least now I know why they had to stop and think about directions that, to the uninformed, would seem to be obvious. Try asking anyone in Newport, Oregon how to get to Highway 101, for instance, and they won't hesitate for a second. Of course, one can get on and off 101 from Newport so it's much easier. Saladito to Mazatlán? Sort of a classic case of "you can't get there from here".

Sunday, January 29, 2012

1/29/2010 - El Quelite


Stuffed to the scuppers with molcajete and limonada, we piled back into the rented Nissan and headed back out to the main road so we could drive to the colonial town of El Quelite. "Colonial town". I'm not really sure what that means. A town that was built when Mexico was a colony? Is it a label that places the town in time or that harks to its ambiance? I don't really know. But, if someone describes a Mexican town as "colonial" I sort of know what I expect to see. Oh well.... See what you get when I'm not talking about food?

Anyway, we made the relatively short drive (way less than an hour) from La Noria to El Quelite. We entered the town under the same type and color of arch as graced La Noria's entrance. I believe these town are all under the auspices of some sort of historical commission or something, though I don't know that for sure.

Upon entering, we were greeted with a slightly larger, more active version of La Noria. We parked in front of the church and got out to walk around.

This looked like another likely candidate for a homepo

rt after anchor-swallowing. As we often saw chickens wandering around loose, I'm pretty sure we could have our chickens here. El Quelite is the home to the largest cock-fighting farm in northwest Mexico although that really has nothing to do with chickens walking around loose. Unless they're escapees. Here chick, chick, chick. No. NOOOOO! GAAAAAHHHH!

El Quelite had similar achitecture to La Noria although there was a little more tendency toward the use of wood and long, covered, ranch-style front porches. Just right for sitting in the shade during a hot summer afternoon, enjoying a cold cerveza or maybe a siesta.

We stopped in at a ceramics shop and a leather shop where Dave bought a straw cowboy hat. They had beautiful saddles. Almost made me want a horse just so I could own one of them. Not sure why I didn't take a photo. Maybe I was just too awestruck.

Check out this cool ceramic drain spout:

A couple of odd cactuses:

And a proud papa or possibly grandpa showing off his little one on a ride through town.

I tell ya, the clop-clop of his horse's hooves on the cobblestone streets was classic. Yeah, we could definitely settle down in a little town like this. Although our guide book said there were only 2 restaurants, we saw several more than that. We (at least Dave and I) tried to convince ourselves we were hungry enough to eat but we knew we really weren't so, eventually we piled back into the Nissan and headed back towards Mazatlán via the coastal route. And that's a story in itself.

Mañana: the trip back home

Saturday, January 28, 2012

1/28/2012 - La Noria

If Lulu and I ever swallow the anchor, which we probably will someday, La Noria is the kind of town we'll probably settle in. While we were getting our FM3 renewal paperwork done last week, we saw an ad for a fully furnished 1-bedroom apartment, all utilities (including internet) paid, on the second floor, facing Plaza Marchado in the heart of old town Mazatlán, for $500 (US) per month. Although briefly intriguing, we are more small-town oriented and will probably want to be someplace that we can have chickens. Thus, La Noria or some other place of the same ilk.

After the Los Osuna Distillery tour, we returned to La Noria for a look-see and some lunch.

There were no population signs at the entry to the town but, if I had to guess, I'd guess the population at maybe seven or eight hundred people. Maybe. We were there in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, so I assume the heavy traffic that you can see in these photos was pretty much normal.

We saw a few small tiendas but I imagine any major shopping would have to be done in Mazatlán, which is only a short drive away. We also saw a bus that may connect La Noria to Mazatlán. As I said yesterday, El Sazón de la Abuela Tina appears to be the only restaurant in town. But, I wouldn't be surprised but what there are a number of very small eateries that one wouldn't recognize as such unless one spent a lot of time there. But, no hay problema because Mazatlán is so close.

We wandered around the mostly empty streets for awhile.

At first, we were accompanied by a bunch of urchins (all boys) in school uniforms, who kind of clambered around hinting that they wouldn't mind a little handout. Marj gave them each a piece of gum which appeased them for awhile. Of course, she immediately had to follow up with a lesson about littering as a few gum wrappers hit the streets. Eventually, the kids left us alone and, in reality, they were pretty easy to ignore, even when they were hanging around.

We visited a leather shop that was supposed to be famous for tooled leather belts and handmade huaraches and I want to get a pair of huaraches. The belt part was right but he didn't have any huaraches, at least as I define them. He had some sandals but not these:

But, no worries, I saw plenty of them at the mercado in Mazatlán.

Anyway, with the leather shop being pretty much the only place to look for something to buy, we continued wandering around the bustling streets.

This is, to me, the archetypal "sleepy little Mexican village".

But, you can only walk around in a town this size for just so long. And then, it's time for lunch! So, back to Grandma Tina's we went.

As I said yesterday, the molcajete had been recommended to us and we had tipped off the waiter at breakfast that we'd be back for molcajete. Consequently, he didn't even bother bringing us menus. Although they had several varieties of molcajete listed (I snuck a peek at the menu at breakfast): chicken, chicken and shrimp, beef, etc., we opted for Molcajete de Camarón; shrimp molcajete. We all ordered limonadas to drink. While we were waiting for our order, Lulu ventured back to the kitchen area to snap a few photos. One of the things we absolutely love about these little Mexican kitchens is how simple they are. Typically there's a flat place to chop stuff up and put stuff together, a wood fire with a grate and/or a griddle over it, maybe a tortilla press, and a refrigerator. Not a whole lot else.

That's our waiter with the red neckerchief and the cook, probably his mom, behind him.

If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see a couple of molcajetes in the fire heating up. This might explain why the finished product boils long after it's brought to the table.

So, best molcajete ever? No. Make no mistake, it was really, really good. But, you'd have to go a really long way to beat the molcajete caliente at Los 30 in Mazatlán.

Here we all are, completely sated and ready for the next leg of the trip.

Tomorrow: El Quelite

Friday, January 27, 2012

1/27/2012 - Los Osuna

We drove out of the marina parking lot about 8:30 AM in a rented Nissan; Dave & Marj (s/v Kievit), Lulu and I. Our plans were to go to the Los Osuna Blue Agave farm and distillery and also to visit the little towns of La Noria and El Quelite. But first: breakfast!

We figured we'd stop at some roadside spot as there usually seem to be lots of places to eat without making specific plans. So, we headed out of the tourist/resort area and turned inland. The directions I'd gotten from Google Maps said that we should drive 9 km at which time we could get on Highway 15. So, we'd just find someplace to eat in the next 9 km. But, before we knew it, we were at Hwy. 15! Wow! That was fast. I'm no metric expert but it sure didn't seem like 9 km to me. But, whatever, we turned and headed south. We were only supposed to go about 1.2 km and then turn left off of the highway and on to the road to La Noria. Well, our 1.2 km point came and went without the slightest opening in the concrete divider that ran down the middle of the highway. That's when it occurred to me that this wasn't Highway 15 (in spite of what the sign said) but, rather, Highway 15D, a distinction that showed up on Google Maps but nowhere else. Certainly not on the highway signs. We were well into Mazatlán before the highway ended and we got the opportunity to turn around.

Once turned in the right direction, we started looking for breakfast again. We saw some potential places but nothing really appeared to be open yet. Oh well, we'd find something later. So, back up to where we turned on to the highway. This highway is pretty weird. While we were able to exit where we got on, there wasn't an exit headed east. No, we had to exit westbound, back the way we'd come, and then hang a U-turn at the first opportunity. We decided to chill out about breakfast and just see what happened.

We turned off the REAL Highway 15 on to the road to La Noria. This is also the road that Los Osuna is on and the distillery is first, what with La Noria being pretty much at the end of the road. A few kilometers in, we saw signs for a hotel/restaurant. We figured we'd stop there for breakfast so we wouldn't arrive at Los Osuna too early. A few more kilometers and we turned on to a dirt road, following the signs to the hotel. A little further down the road, we happened on a bright little cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.

While were were poking around and taking photos, we listened to steady thunk-thunk-thunk of a campesino cutting down brush and trimming trees with a machete. Guys alongside the road with machetes became one of the constants of the day.

Continuing on, we passed more scrubby-looking land and finally came to a spot where we had to pull over to let another car get past. As the drivers' windows came together, he rolled down his and told us that the hotel/restaurant was closed. Big surprise. We turned around and headed back to the main road. Oh well, at least we got to see the cemetery and some pretty ranches along the way. Our plan now was to go to La Noria and have breakfast, then return to the distillery and then return to La Noria to do a little sightseeing and maybe get some lunch (okay, definitely get some lunch).

As soon as we crossed under the arch welcoming us to La Noria, we saw our restaurant "El Sazón de la Abulea Tina". But we drove on into town anyway. We knew we were going to eat at "El Sazón..." for lunch because it had been recommended by another blogger so we thought we'd try to find another spot for breakfast just to sort of spread it around. Well, it took no time at all to drive through La Noria and realize that "El Sazón..." was pretty much the only place to eat, at least for tourists. So, back to Grandma Tina's we went.

Turned out to be a good choice. The people were extremely friendly and the food was excellent. I had huevos rancheros.

Huevos rancheros are always served on a corn tortillas as far as I know. But these were served on a black corn tortilla that were being made fresh in the kitchen as needed. Much heartier and more flavorful than the standard masa-based tortillas. Lulu had huevos con jamón (eggs with ham) and Dave had huevos con chorizo (eggs with chorizo sausage) and I can't remember for sure what Marj had. Too busy eating to notice I guess.

If you clicked on the link above, you saw that a fellow traveler had rated Grandma Tina's molcajete as the best ever. You also may have picked up that I have a thing for molcajete and Dave is developing the same "thing". So, nothing would do but we had to come back here for lunch and try some. We told our waiter that we would definitely be back later today for the molcajete. He was such a cute kid (maybe 15 or 16) and seemed pleased to hear it.

So, finally breakfasted, we piled back into the car and headed back up the road to Los Osuna Blue Agave Farm and Distillery. What a beautiful place!

There were already a couple of tour vans parked there when we arrived but, we had no more gotten out of the car than a young man walked up and introduced himself as our tour guide. Later on, I believe I heard one of the other tour guides refer to him as "the boss". He certainly knew his stuff. Wish I could remember his name.

The Los Osuna farm/distillery has been under continuous ownership and operation by the Osuna family since 1876. They don't make "tequila" here. Tequila, like Champagne or Bordeaux, is the name of a place. Tequila is a town located in the state of Jalisco. Mexican law has degreed that distilled blue agave liquor can only carry the name "tequila" if it is made in Jalisco or certain areas of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nyarait and Tamaulipas. Mexico has also claimed exclusive international rights to the name "tequila". So, being located in Sinaloa, Los Osuna does not make tequila. What they do make is "100% Blue Agave Distilled Spirits". And they make a pretty limited quantity of it. The only places it's available in the US are some cities in California, some cities in Illinois, and, just recently, in New York City.

The blue agave plant is a pretty formidable looking beast.

How anyone figured out they could get anything edible or drinkable, much less marketable, from these guys is beyond me. I guess you work with what you've got. Anyway, after the agave is harvested, the leaves are cut off leaving what is called "the pineapple".

The pineapples are then loaded into an underground pressure cooker where they are steamed under pressure for 40 hours.

The next step is to get the juice out of the cooked pineapples. Nowadays this is done with a macerator and a press but, in the old days it was done first with mules:

And later with steam:

We chewed on a sample of the crushed pulp and the juice was amazingly sweet. The next step (fermentation) in the process was to mix the agave juice with yeast to turn the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. They use a special yeast that they've spent years isolating and developing for their needs. Following fermentation, after the CO2 has bubbled off, comes the first distillation. The distillate is about 30% alcohol and 70% "other stuff". Not nearly pure enough for the final product. So, the distillate is distilled again. Following the second run, the resulting liquid is now at 60% alcohol. Our guide referred to it as "to kill ya". We sampled a teeny tiny bit and it was definitely strong! They use some of the to-kill-ya to disinfect their bottling equipment and bottles. Since tequila blue agave liquor is typically about 35% alcohol, the to-kill-ya is diluted using water that has been run through a two-stage filter (including reverse osmosis) and ultraviolet disinfection. At this point, the liquor is clear and is sold as "blanco". This is usually the cheapest form of the liquor and has the unadulterated taste of the agave. Some of the batch is transferred to oak barrels for aging. During the process, some of the wood flavor and color leaches into the liquor, giving it an amber color. The taste also smoothes out a bit during aging. Liquor that has aged 11 months is called "maduro" (or, on tequila labels: "reposado"). Some of it is aged 7 years and gets much darker. This is called "añejado" and is naturally the darkest, smoothest and most expensive variety available. Maduro is the only kind that Los Osuna sells in Mexico. Presumably, you can get the other varieties if you live in San Francisco, Chicago or New York.

We saw some guys sitting around a couple of vats. It looked like they were tearing the labels off of the bottles and uncapping them as well. This seemed a little backwards so we asked about it. Our guide said that some of the bottles had some small residue, possible from the water, possibly from the bottle caps. They were pouring the liquor (fortunately it was the Blanco) in a stainless steel vat. It would be re-distilled and the bottles would be rewashed. They had cases of the stuff to deal with.

We were then shown the correct way to taste agave liquor. Our guide brought out a brandy snifter with some maduro in it. He swirled it to show it's body and viscosity. Then he had us sniff it with our left nostril first. This side was supposed to pick up the wood odors. Then the right nostril for the alcohol odors. Then both nostrils together. Then, take a breath, take a sip and, after swallowing, exhale to get the true flavor. Well, I'm not sure about this right nostril-left nostril stuff. We tried it and did find a difference between one side and the other. However, later we tried it again in reverse and found the same difference: mainly, the first sniff was stronger smelling than the second. Dave and I chalked this up to olfactory fatigue more than the right brain picking up one thing and the left something else. But, it was fun anyway, even if it's bogus, which it may not be.

After the tour was the tasting. There was a pretty spot set up under the trees with tables and chairs, a couple of gift shop booths and a bar. The deal was, it cost 25 pesos for the first shot. All of the shots afterwards were free. You could sit there and get shit-faced if you were of a mind to. We anted up $100 for our 4 shots and proceeded to taste. Lulu got into it and thought she was some sort of tequila bandito.

Don't get between that girl and her shots if you value your life. We spent an hour or so sitting around sipping tequila although we limited ourselves to only 2 shots. Hey, it wasn't even noon yet! We bought a bottle of Maduro and a few keepsakes as well. There was a guy singing for background. He was very smooth and the volume was just right. It turned out to be the same guy who was singing at Carlos & Lucia's on Christmas Eve! We bought a CD.

Finally, it was about time to leave this beautiful spot and head back to La Noria.

Los Osuna, the agave way to start your day. Highly recommend a visit if you're in the neighborhood. Other than the 25 pesos for the shot, which was totally optional, there was no cost for the tour.

Tomorrow: Back to La Noria.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

1/19/2012 - A comment about comments

I've heard from readers occasionally that it's sometimes problematic to make comments on this blog. Most recently I heard from Dani but earlier I had heard the same thing from the Ceol Mors and even occasionally from my Mom. All of them told me that they'd had problems with other "Blogger" sites (those are the ones that have "blogspot" in their name. So, tonight I decided to see if there was anything I could do about it.

I checked with Google since Blogger is a Google product. Turns out that they know about the problem already but still haven't fixed it. In the meantime, they directed blog administrators (hey, that's me!) to switch from the embedded comments that appear at the end of the blog to either a full page or pop-up window. Supposedly, these formats don't suffer from the problem. So, tonight I switched to the pop-up comment window. I turned the word verification off briefly but got a spam right away, albeit on a blog from back in January 2011, but still. So, I turned the word verification back on.

Please let me know if you have any difficulties posting comments. I don't mean difficulties like you have nothing to say, I mean actual technical difficulties. Also, if the problems cease but you experience them on other Blogger sites, please feel free to forward this entry to them. They probably just don't know.

Thanks to everyone who comments (yes, even you, Raoul). It's fun to get feedback to know someone out there is reading this stuff. Thanks especially to Dani, Cidnie and Mom for letting me know the comments weren't always working.

1/19/2012 - You are what you eat...

...and I'm only 5'3" tall.

I think I ate more shrimp in one day yesterday than I ever have before. After not walking very far for awhile, Lulu and I decided we were ready for another long walk. We had a few minor items to take care of: get a little walking around cash at the ATM, renew the TelCel banda ancha card for another month and pick up some coffee (been enjoying Blasón Espresso and I've only found it at Wal*Mart and Ley's so far). We didn't walk the whole way but we walked most of it. For any Mazatláneros out there, we rode the bus from Marina Mazatlán to the Banamex in the Golden Zone. Then we got out and walked. Sabalo to Buelna. Turned left on Buelna and walked up to Avenida La Marina (the Home Depot corner) with a quick detour to stop at the TelCel store. Turned right on Avenida La Marina and followed it to Revelución where we took another left. Walked up Revelución to Adolfo Lopez Mateos where we turned left, walked a block or so and stopped at Wal*Mart. Got our coffee and some ramen and continued on Mateos until we hit Buelna again and turned left back towards Sabalo. When we got to Avenida La Marina again, we turned right and started working our way back to the marina while also looking for a place to stop for lunch.

We finally saw a sign for Mariscos (seafood) so we stopped. The place was called Mariscos El Chabalo and was basically a driveway with tables and chairs and a cooking area towards the back. There were two tables with two people at each one, all Mexicans. We sat down and looked around to see if there was a menu posted or anything. There didn't seem to be. Without being too nosy, we could see that the guys at one of the tables were eating what looked like ceviche out of a molcajete. The other guys had goblets with some sort of hot-looking shrimp cocktail or something in it. We waited a little longer and the proprietor served the first guys some good looking seafood soup and then came over to our table. Clearly there wasn't a menu and he spoke no English. He did, however, speak very fast Spanish. Asked what we would like and we sort of looked over at the table with the guys eating soup. He said "Sopa de mariscos." and we said that's what we'd have. In just a few minutes he returned with two big bowls of steaming seafood soup. He brought us a pint jar filled with a bright yellow sauce. Said it was habanero and obviously homemade. Then he asked us what we wanted to drink (at least I assume that's what he asked although I didn't recognize one single word. He listed the various choices. The only word either of us recognized was "Coca" so we each ordered a Coke.

The soup was great. It had lots of pulpo (octopus), camarón (shrimp), calamar (squid), almejas (clams), otiones (oysters), as well as chunks of pescado (fish). We dressed it up with some of the habanero sauce and crumbled a bunch of saltines in it. It was really good. When our bowls were about half empty, he came around and refilled them with more of the broth.

Meanwhile, the two guys at the table that had been eating soup were served a big bowl of boiled peel-and-eat shrimp. Man! I wish we'd been sitting with them. They were also enjoying micheladas. We'll very likely return and when we do, we'll take our time and try to have lots of different things. And we'll definitely have a michelada. Maybe we can get the proprietor to talk a little slower for us.

After lunch, we continued our walk back to the marina. Got back about 3:00 after a trek of just over 7.5 miles.

The plan was to join Dave and Marj for dinner at Restaurante Los 30 again. Dave was wanting some of that molcajete pretty badly. About 6:00 we jumped on the bus and headed out. When we were leaving Los 30 last time, we saw a table where this couple were eating a big platter of boiled shrimp. We decided that was a good way to start. The waiter brought us a big platter of warm boiled peel & eat shrimp. This was a big platter and these were big shrimp, but we tucked in and made short work of them. Then we ordered dinner. Lulu was pretty full so she just ordered the tostada supreme which was covered in different kinds of seafood. Dave and Marj shared a Molcajete Caliente and I ordered Camarones Cucarachas. I had no idea what "Shrimp Cockroaches" would be but I was game to find out. I was delighted to discover that Camarones Cucarachas were big shrimp deep fried until the heads, tails and shells turned a golden brown. They were served with a slightly sweet sauce. I ripped the head off the first one and tried to peel it. No way. So I figured that maybe you were just supposed to eat the whole thing, shell, legs, tail and all. Tried one that way (including the head) and it was great. The shells, legs and tails were very crispy but the meat inside was still tender. It was delicious.

Los 30 is turning into one of our favorite Mazatlán restaurants. The staff last night was first rate. There were three tables of gringos and a couple of them had 6-8 people. The lone waiter ran (literally) around keeping everyone's requests filled. He looked like he was having a really good time. The chef managed to keep up even though each dish required a fair amount of personal attention (you should have seen the beautiful coconut shrimp). A young lady who we figure was the waiter's sister (this seemed like a family operation) helped wherever she was needed. All in all, we had a really pleasant time. We're already trying to decide what we're going to order the next time we go. Between Los 30 and Mariscos El Chabalo, there's no danger that we'll run out of seafood anytime soon.

Sorry, I forgot to take my camera.

Monday, January 16, 2012

1/16/2012 - The race is on

Yesterday, Lulu and I joined Dave and Marj on Kievit for a little regatta. Turns out there were only four boats competing but, what the hey. Lulu and I have never done any racing except on Kievit, and then, only once, so we're not a hell of a lot of help. But it was just a race for the fun of it so it didn't really matter all that much.

The race started out somewhat dubiously. D & M had attended a skippers' meeting to get the course layout, etc. The diagram we received made the course look like it was just a long straight course. Around the two buoys twice and done. We headed out from the marina a little early to get the sails up and get a little feel for the course before the race started. You can see how seriously we were all taking the race as Lulu checks to see where the heck the wind is coming from and Dave readies the fishing gear.

Finally, all 4 boats were out on the course and it was getting close to starting time. Again, my experience is limited but from what I could gather from Dave, the way these things usually work is that a specific starting time is set. a horn is sounded 5 minutes before the starting time and then sounded again to start the race at the precise time previously announced. During that 5 minutes, the racers are jockeying for position. The idea is to be as close to the starting line as possible, going as fast as possible when the starting horn sounds to get a running start. The race was supposed to start at 1:00 and all communication would be on channel 69. We set the VHF to the right channel and started heading up to the starting line to be in position. Then we hear over the radio that the race would start in 10 minutes (or something like that; it was hard to understand what was being said as most of it was in Spanish). OK, we'll go around again. We pass the committee boat, where the starting official is, and ask "how long?". They come back with "three minutes". Then, a few seconds later, over the radio, we hear that it'll be four minutes. Then we hear it'll be five minutes. It was impossible to keep the starting time straight. Finally, we thought we had it right and started chugging to the starting line. It was getting closer and closer and there was no indication that the start was imminent. We sort of slowed down as best we could and hollered at the committee boat, "When?" We didn't really get an answer until we were pretty sure we were over the starting line. Then the official on the committee boat said, "OK". OK what? OK, it's time to start? Or OK, you're looking good and can continue? We had no idea so we just started racing. Of course, by now, in order to not go over the line too soon, we had slowed down and lost speed. The other three boats headed off in a NW direction and we headed on a SW course to build our speed back up. But, it turned out that Kievit can point so high that we were actually on a really good course for the first mark.

There were some tense moments several times as we neared and rounded the buoys. Our main competition was a brown-hulled Mexican Cal 29. I can't remember the name so I'll just call it "the brown boat". This guy could turn on a dime. We'd go around the mark and he'd be right beside us and between us and the mark. It was pretty cool to watch. Anyway, we all went around the first buoy and then we thought we were supposed to go to the other buoy. But the brown boat's skipper said, no, we had to go back across the starting line and then go to the other mark. Huh? That meant that the course, instead of being in a straight line like it showed on the diagram, was actually L-shaped. Geez! Could this be any more confusing?

Well, we managed to follow the course with help from the other boats. Dave made a couple of very smart calls as far as how to go before tacking and we ultimately crossed the finish line first. Of course, we were the biggest boat and, after all the handicaps were figured in, we came in 3rd on corrected time. Seems like there should also be a correction for whether or not your boat is all loaded up for cruising as Kievit is. But, whatever, we know who crossed the finish line first. If we'd been trying to be the first ones to get our goods to market, the other boats would have gone home hungry.

The weather was beautiful although a little more wind would have been nice. But, it was warm and sunny and the seas were quite calm. Only thing that would have been better would have been if we'd hooked a big ol' dorado.

Obligatory food content:

I decided I'd make dinner tonight. I love to play with my pressure cooker, y'know. I spent the afternoon putting together "BBQ" ribs, oven-roasted potatoes, and fresh steamed green beans. The ribs weren't actually ribs as near as I could tell. Oh, they probably came from somewhere in the vicinity of the rib cage I imagine. I think that, once the really nice slabs were harvested, they handed the leftovers to the bandsaw operator and said "Cut this into as many 1.5" wide strips as you can." It was pretty unrecognizable anatomically-speaking but, after pressure cooking for 13 minutes followed by a nice finish under the broiler, it tasted mighty fine. Next time I'm getting real rib slabs.

Music: Been listening to "The Loft" on the Sirius/XM radio. I'd swear these guys stole my iPod and then just added a few songs of their own. What a great station most of the time. This afternoon we've heard EmmyLou Harris, James MacMurtry, Buffalo SPringfield, Dion, The Delphonics, War, Robert Cray, The Flatlanders, Tift Merrit, Drive-By Truckers and so on. If you wonder what kind of music we like and happen to have access to Sirius/XM, tune into The Loft and find out. BTW, I found out about The Loft when I heard them playing it at The Container, the bar/restaurant that Keith (s/v Chamisa) and I frequented in San Jose Del Cabo on the way down here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

1/14/2012 - CAUTION: food content

I'm not sure why I persist in thinking of this as a cruising blog. We all know what it's really about, don't we? That's right, it's mostly about FOOD. The saying that every boater gets sick of hearing is "the definition of cruising is doing boat maintenance in exotic ports". Well, for us anyway, that's just a small part of it. We were sitting around the palapa Wednesday afternoon, shooting the breeze, drinking a beer and waiting for the music to start. A fellow cruiser there said that he never stays anywhere for more then a week. He figures that gives him plenty of time to get the boat cleaned up and see everything he needed to in each port. I was aghast! A WEEK??? We've been in Mazatlán for 3 weeks and feel like we've barely scratched the surface. We're still learning our way around. We haven't even begun to take any tours or anything. A WEEK??? If we ate out 3 times a day we wouldn't have time to sample the food offerings here in just one week. A week! Please!

I've heard some people over the years say that they don't really care about food. If they could get everything they needed for survival in a pill, they'd gladly give up eating altogether. Granted, I haven't run in to many of these folks, but a few. I can't imagine what would send someone to this sad state. The food they do eat must be so bland and unappetizing that they just assume that's what food is like. Or maybe they can't taste food due to some taste bud malfunction. That, I do understand.

Lulu had been suffering from a cold for the better part of a week and I had been sailing by unscathed. Thought I was going to get off scot free. Yeah, that's what I thought. What a putz! Just about the time her's wound down, mine kicked in. It didn't start out too bad, though, and I had high hopes for a cold of short duration in which I didn't lose my taste buds. Y'see, pretty much every time I have a cold, there is a period of at least a couple of days in which my nose is so screwed up that I have absolutely no sense of taste, what with the sense of taste and the sense of smell being so intertwined. I dread those periods. But, things seemed to be going pretty good during the first day or two of the cold. Then, on day 3, whammo!

We heard an announcement on the VHF radio that the vegetable guy was at the marina and so was the shrimp guy. The shrimp guy? Hadn't heard about him before. See what we would have missed if we'd only stayed a week? But I digress. Lulu decided we needed some shrimp so off she went to see the guy. She returned with a bag holding half a kilo of beautiful "medium" shrimp. I put medium in quotes because, in the States, these would surely have sold as "large". The large ones he had worthy of skewering and BBQing. Maybe next time. Anyway, she tried to think of what to do with them and ultimately decided that a stir fry over rice was the way to go.

I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't smell her cooking. C'mon, she's stir frying onions, garlic, ginger, peppers and shrimp and I can't smell it? Something's definitely wrong. But, I held out hope anyway. Finally, she brought it to the table.

Still full of hope, I loaded my plate and tucked in. Let me just say that I'm really glad she put some hot peppers in so I could get at least some sensation from the food. Couldn't taste a thing. What a waste!

I truly hate colds and have battled them for many many years. They don't hit me nearly as hard or as often now as they did when I was younger but they still annoy me just the same. Being a big believer in the magic of drugs, I've always sought out a sure-fire remedy. Of course, we all know there isn't one but I tried nevertheless. The best I could do was NyQuil. "The night-time sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so- you-can-rest medicine." The vile-tasting concoction at least allowed me to get through the night in some degree of comfort. Well, we haven't been able to find Nyquil in Mexico. Wouldn't matter much since even the Nyquil in the States hasn't been the same since they removed the pseudoephedrine and replaced it with some innocuous crap that doesn't work. However, I've always been in inveterate reader of labels. I hate to pay $5.00 for brand name aspirin when a review of the label shows that the store brand has exactly the same formula for $3.00. So, I know what was in the old Nyquil. It had acetaminophen for pain and fever, dextromethorfan for your cough, pseudoephedrine for your runny nose and blocked-up sinuses, alcohol to help you sleep, and some sort of nasty anise-flavoring to keep you from drinking the stuff for pleasure. There was also "wild cherry" flavoring but it was only just slightly better then the original green stuff. Now, with the exception of the nasty flavoring, I have all these ingredients. So, first for Lulu's cold and later for mine, I whipped up a bit of SRYquil to see us through.

I use aspirin in stead of acetaminophen because we don't think that acetaminophen does much and it's been strongly contraindicated when used in conjunction with alcohol. For the dextromerthrorfan, I use Robitussin DM which also gives me that yummy wild cherry flavor. I used up the very last of my stash of real pseudoephedrine on this cld. Difficult to get in the States and, so far, impossible to get down here. Thanks a bunch, meth cookers! I'll have to see if I can find something that works almost as well for future batches.

Lulu had been having really miserable nights with her cold. She was the first recipient of my concoction. She declared it quite palatable and a damn sight better tasting than Nyquil. It also did its job in giving her a good night's rest. A couple of nights of it and she was pretty much over the worst of her cold. Then it was my turn. Sure enough, it didn't taste too bad. Sort of like wild cherry tequila. And, just like her, it got me through the two nights that I had to use it quite comfortably. I'm happy to say that my cold was pretty short-lived and my loss of taste only lasted one day.

Once my buds were back in shape, I was fortunate that we still had some leftover shrimp stir-fry that I actually got to taste. It tasted as good as it looked.

Last night, having eaten on the boat 2 nights in a row, I was feeling guilty about depriving the local restauranteurs of our pesos so, along with our friends Dave and Marj, off we went to spread the wealth around.

The first day we were here, we heard Mike from s/v Tortue, who we knew from our summer in Puerto Escondido, give a review of a seafood place he and Melissa had visited the night before. It was called "Los 30". He gave it a glowing review and Mike is something if a foodie so we believed him. Since it was pretty much right on the bus route, that's where we headed. I suspect the name has something to do with the number of tables since they're all numbered and there were probably about 30 of them.

When we arrived, there were people at one of the tables. While we were there, they left and another couple came in. That was it. But, that sort of bodes well. It means that they must cater mostly to Mexicans, who tend to eat later than we do. There were no other gringos there, but Carlos, our waiter, spoke excellent English.

The menu was entirely seafood with a strong leaning towards shrimp. Dave ordered filet a la Zaragozada (or something like that) which turned out to be a fried fish filet topped with lots of grilled onions and peppers. Marj, being still sort of full from lunch, just had a tostada suprema (again, "or something like that") which was covered in various seafood bits. Lulu had one of her old favorites, camarones en crema con champiñones (shrimp in a cream sauce with mushrooms). And I, I took the road less traveled. I opted for the molcajete caliente. My first experience with a dish called "molcajete" was at a Mexican restaurant in Salem, Oregon. It was a rich seafood stew served in a molcajete (the "pestle" part of a mortar and pestle, usually made of volcanic rock), covered with melted cheese and burning hot. It was so good and that one restaurant in Salem was the only place I ever found it until we got to Mexico.

This molcajete was a little bit different. Yes, it was seafood and vegetables and cheese and broth. And yes, it was served in a hot molcajete. But, instead of eating it with a spoon directly out of the molcajete, you ladled it out onto a plate and ate it that way. The molcajete kept what was left behind piping hot.

You know how the platter is sizzling when you order fajitas? Well, that's what the molcajete was doing when Carlos served it. The broth was still boiling in it and those sticks of cheese were melting down the sides. That orange puddle in the lower left hand corner? That's some broth that boiled over at the table. This stuff was HOT!!! But, man, was it good. Lots of shrimp, cheese, grilled onions and peppers, fresh tomatoes and a toothsome broth. It was delicious and festive. Dave said "That's what I'm getting next time." It was money well spent. And speaking of money, what do you suppose this meal set us back? Let's see, we had two full meals with lots of fresh shrimp and two beers each. The bill came to $259 pesos. That's a whopping $19.00 (USD), folks! For both of us! WITH drinks! And this was not a street stand, but a bonafide restaurant. You got to love it.

After all that food, we probably need to get out and do another walk on the beach.

Oh, and here's another recipe to try. Lulu made this one evening when we didn't really want a full meal and the temperature was cool enough that soup sounded really good. This is not a Lulu original recipe. It came off the net, from where I can't remember, but it was some guy's girlfriend's recipe. Something to do with a Superbowl soup competition.

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

10 bacon strips, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 T olive oil
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt. heavy whipping cream (we used evaporated milk since that's what we had on hand)
1 (14.5 oz) can of chicken broth
5 oz shredded Swiss cheese (we used Chihuahua cheese since...)
3 T cornstarch
3 T cold water
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t coarse salt
2 t red pepper flakes (Lulu's own addition to the original recipe)

1. Preparation with a slight variation since the original didn't use the bacon grease:

2. Cook the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan but keep the grease.

3. If you have less than 1 T of bacon grease, add olive oil to bring the level to 1 T.

4. Sauté together: mushrooms, onion and garlic until mushrooms begin to soften.

5. Stir in heavy whipping cream and chicken broth

6. Stir in cheese in several batches until smooth

7. Combine cornstarch, cold water, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Stir until smooth.

8. Stir cornstarch mixture into soup

9. Bring to a gentle boil. Simmer 2 minutes until thickened.

10. Serve in individual bowls, garnished with bacon bits.

¡Buen provecho!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

1/7.2012 - Where (and when) are we?

Yesterday started out excellently. There's a produce guy who brings his truck down to the docks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. He's here pretty early so this is the first time I've made it over before he left.

I'd gotten up early (about 6:30) and TelCel, our internet provider, was screwing up so I didn't have much to do besides drink coffee and read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". By 7:30 or so, I figured the vegetable guy was there and I was ready for a little stroll. So I grabbed a shopping bag and wandered over.

His name is Gumen and he has a farm somewhere around here. That's not to say that he grows everything he sells but I assume he grows some of it. I picked out some baby spuds, mushrooms, avocados, brussel sprouts, tomatoes and onions. His wife makes tamales for sale and he had some there. They get rave reviews from the cruisers. I'm not usually much of a tamale fan. I loved them as a kid but the ones we used to get in San Jose (CA) seemed like they had a little bit of cooked masa surrounding a lot of chili or something like it. I remember the insides were red and spicy and good. Most of the tamales I'd had since then tended to be way too much masa with only a token filling of some sort. This includes the ones we bought from Mexican immigrants in Silverton. However, seeing as how everyone around here seems to love them, I thought I ought to at least give them a try. I chose one of each: pollo y res (chicken and beef).

I have no idea what anything cost. Once you're done choosing stuff, Gumen looks in the big bag and apparently counts up the number of smaller bags and tamales you have, then gives you a number. All my stuff came to 180 pesos (about $13.00). Then Gumen threw in 3 oranges, gratis.

Back at the boat, while Lulu was still sleeping, I heated up one of the tamales in the steamer to eat while I listened to the morning VHF net. These things were beautiful to look at, all tied up in their cornhusk wrappers.

Once rewarmed, I was pleasantly surprised when I tucked into it. It had a fairly thin coating of masa surrounding carrots, peppers, potatoes and shredded chicken. It was quite good. I saved the beef one so Lulu could have a taste after she got up.

The plan for the day was to get together with Dave and Marj (s/v Kievit) to head down to Centro and take in the First Friday Artwalk. They have these events all over the place. We even had one in Silverton, although I don't believe we ever attended. But this seemed like a fun thing to do. The Artwalk was supposed to start at 3:00 in the afternoon and it could easily take 30-45 minutes to get from the marina to Centro, depending on traffic and how soon the bus came. So, we figured we ought to head out at about 2:00. However, before that we had something else we needed to do.

Mike on the boat next to us (s/v Narwhal, a sweet little Falmouth Cutter) had told me about a little place right here "on campus" that served a nice lunch for 55 pesos. It was originally started for the guys who worked on the hotel/marina site. But, of course, the cruisers discovered it so the clientele was about 50:50. It's called Yolanda's. Dave and I walked up there about 11:30 just to see what was cooking. Yolanda was cooking "pollo en crema" and it would be ready in about a half an hour.

We wandered back up to Yolanda's at 1:30. There was one table with 4 cruisers and another with 2 Mexicans. We were directed by Yolanda to take a seat. We placed our orders for two lunches (Lulu and Marj decided they weren't hungry enough for lunch. Now I ask you, what's hunger got to do with eating?). The beverages were either Coke, Sprite, or agua fresca. Today's agua fresca was tamarino. Tamarind fruit steeped in water, a little sugar, chilled and there you go. Dave had Coke and I had agua fresca. After a short wait, Yolanda brought us our plates. Each one had a couple of chicken thighs smothered in a lightly seasoned cream sauce. White rice with a few vegetables in it on the side. "¿Frijoles?" she asked. "Sí, por favor." I answered. She brought us each a small bowl of refried beans and a stack of corn tortillas. It was delicious. Apparently every day, lunes a viernes (Mon-Fri), Yolanda cooks something for lunch. The price is fixed at 55 pesos (about 4 bucks). Sometimes she has a choice of 2 entrees and sometimes she also offers sandwiches. Going to have to go back until I've tried everything she knows how to cook.

After lunch, we caught the Sabalo-Centro bus and headed downtown. It was standing room only for awhile but we got on well before that point so we had seats. We got off at Juarez y Constitución and headed down the street.

I love the downtown architecture and the mix of viable living spaces and decay.

The Artwalk led us from one store or studio or café to the next. We saw some very impressive work of all kinds as well as some stuff that makes you wonder what made this person decide to identify themselves as an artist. For Lulu and I, the coolest part was being able to peek behind the walls that run along the street. Some of the interiors were amazing.

Eventually, though, all this art and architecture became very thirsty work. And this is where the title of this blog comes in.

We happened on this little thirst-slaking spot:

Right in the heart of old town Mazatlán, a Polish Pub. We went inside and took 4 stools at the bar. Their imported beer selection was truly awe-inspiring. The vast majority of the beers I had never heard of. The menu had them arranged by country. We took the path of least resistance and ordered a mug of Indio draft. Turns out that a draft is a full liter unless you specifically order una cerveza chica, which we didn't. While we sat at the bar, drinking our beer, we watched the television up on the wall. There were actually two TVs but only one caught my interest. It was showing vintage early 1980's MTV rock videos. Sheena Easton, Prince, Genesis, John Mellenkamp, Pointer Sisters, Tears for Fears, Al Stewart, etc. Guys with very fancy hairdos and suits and women with jackets with big shoulders that made them look like they were from the future. I couldn't tear my eyes away. It was just like being in Lewiston, Idaho back in 1981. "Just one more video and then we'll go." It was very weird to be sitting in a dark European bar watching old American videos in and old town in Mexico. Very weird.

Eventually, though, it was time to go. We wandered back to the central Mercado, stopping only to look at some handicrafts and to buy myself a mellow brim.

When we got back to the marina, we realized we hadn't had dinner so we stopped at La Mona for a pizza. Got back to the boat in time to watch another episode of "Tales of the Gold Monkey" as well as our first episode of "Walking Dead" (we finished "The Wire" yesterday).

So, a nearly perfect day: lots to eat, lots to drink, good friends to share it with, interesting sights to see, TV shows and a new hat. What could be better?