Sunday, February 26, 2017

snowshoeing in the mist

If you happen to have lost your yellow enamel cooking pot, I can tell you where it is.

The forecast was rain but we decided to go snowshoeing because that was what we'd planned to do. Rented a car, booked a room in a B&B, packed an overnight bag.

R asked why I was snowshoeing in a dress but that's not a dress. It's one of those jumper thingies that adds a layer of warmth and gets pulled over leggings.

We were lucky. It didn't start raining till 2 pm when we'd already been scraping along on the crusty snow for hours and were ready for a cup of hot tea and a thick-cut sandwich. The fog was so heavy that if I lagged too far behind, I lost R lost among the trees.

There was a constant patter like rain but it was only the ice on the branches melting: a syncopated water percussion through the hush of the fog.

The tender colours of birch bark in the winter break my heart every time. Strip the bark away, and yes, you are peeling skin.

The morning among the snow and the mist was magical.

You can't always listen to the forecast. Just go.

Monday, February 20, 2017

sierra norte de oaxaca/ cuajimoloyas/ Jan 2017

There were lots of things I didn't expect to be doing in Mexico.
Sampling dried grasshoppers. (Only one, thank you.)
Happening upon an impromptu jitterbug contest.
Meeting a woman on the side of the road whose husband had worked on a farm in Ontario.
Explaining to men digging a grave with pickaxe and shovel--the proverbial six feet down--that we were visiting the graveyard out of professional curiosity. R works in a cemetery. They wanted to know if he wasn't frightened of los muertos.
Sitting by a fireplace at an altitude of 10,400 feet which is almost three times higher than the Alpine village where the Zorns were born.

Do you see that nice fire we've got going there?

Outside, the sun had set over the peaks and valleys of the Sierra Norte mountains and the village of Cuajimoloyas below. The sheep, goats, turkeys, dogs, and roosters that had been bleating, baaing, crowing, barking, complaining, and gobbling throughout the afternoon quieted with the waning light. The crescent moon wasn't upright as I had always known it but sideways: smiling.

Our cabin was one in a row at the upper perimeter of the village of 1,000 inhabitants--small enough that when the afternoon community announcements were broadcast on the loudspeakers, I think everyone heard them, including us. (Ditto the next morning at seven a.m. as the sun rose, waking the sleepy roosters.) Behind us were pine trees. We were already more or less at the top of the mountain.

We were driven from Oaxaca up a winding road via Tlacolula. I still can't say that without seeing it written, though I can say Cuajimoloyas unaided. At slow speed. A guide was waiting for us at the Ecotourism Office to take us on a 3-hr hike. R found walking at that altitude hard, although at home he jogs and cycles. Strangely, I didn't. I'm the one with the health issues.

This isn't an elegant picture (me in red, the guide in blue), but I was very proud of myself to be doing anything like this at all. The drop behind us was steep, I'm not physically courageous, and I did have heart surgery five years ago. There were no footholds, only toeholds. I wished I were wearing proper hiking boots, but we didn't know that we would be hiking in Mexico.
At one point I asked the guide what would happen if we had an accident. She crossed herself and asked me not to say that. Then she patted her bag where she had a radio. Oh, I said, you can call for a helicopter. No, she said, I can call for men to carry you out. So... it was better to be careful.

I was having a hard time understanding how high we were because there were still trees, and I'm a northerner, expecting the trees to stop growing at a certain altitude, but in an arid climate there's more vegetation as you climb.

When we got back to the village, we were very hungry and happy to have lunch. The woman and her daughter who cooked it gestured for us to approach her wood-fired, brick stove and show her what we wanted.

We had potatoes cooked with a leafy green, champignons, for which the region is known, cactus and tomatoes, chili rellenos stuffed with cheese. (There was meat. We chose not to have any.) And avocados. Of course, avocados. I begged her for a large cup of any kind of tea that was available. She stepped outside and returned with a handful of leaves and made me an excellent tisane. The next morning when we returned for breakfast, I asked if she could make that tea for me again.

We had another hike the next morning with a new guide. I asked both guides, and in fact all the people with whom we had dealings through the Ecotourism office, what they did when they weren't taking tourists into the mountains or ferrying them from Oaxaca to the mountains. The guides both worked on the land. A truck took them to wherever farm work needed to be done--potatoes, corn, cactus, and other vegetables with names I didn't recognize. One said she also had a small herd of goats. Another that she knit. She must knit more quickly and efficiently than I do because I could never earn enough to feed me. One man who drove us worked on an agave farm.

Agave, also known as a century plant, only blooms once, then it dies. It's a fierce plant that can be used as a fence. In Mexico it's farmed to make mescal. BIG business.

These agave plants look decorative, but each is taller than I am and has the circumference of a small room. And no, you would not want to walk into it.

Here we are, me in my floppy hat that looks funny but it keeps the sun off my face. We're on the path back to the village where we spent a couple of hours strolling and eating tangerines under the pine trees.

Our stay in Cuajimoloyas was a fortuitous coincidence. R saw a sandwich board outside a shop in Oaxaca. We discovered we could be driven there, stay in a cabin, go for hikes with a guide. The guide was necessary since we would be hiking on indigenous land and the trails aren't marked. This adventure was offered by  We highly recommend it. Not only was it an unforgettable experience, but profits are given to the indigenous villages who host these trips. Cuajimoloyas is one of several tiny mountain villages working to sustain itself with agriculture and ecotourism.

Monday, February 13, 2017

random pics Oaxaca, Mexico Jan 2017

The first thing when you leave Canada in January and land in Oaxaca in southern Mexico is to feel sunshine and warmth on your skin. You can shed the hat, the scarf, the mitts, the jacket, the sweaters. And that in itself is sheer animal happiness...

The jacaranda trees were just coming out in bloom when we got there.  

Colours! Why don't we paint our houses in Canada different colours??? 

Or decorate our ceilings with little men?  

Here's a simple cafe menu. And oh, a fresco that happens to be a few hundred years old. 

Grasshoppers are a local delicacy served as snacks, so pay attention to what you pop in your mouth. No little legs on this plate, so probably there were only peanuts. 

You can always grab a taxi. 

Read a book if you're feeling contemplative.

This is the land where skeletons get dressed up in fancy clothes and skulls are encrusted with precious stones.

Here's R getting into the spirit.

Here, no building yet, but when there will be one, they've planned where to put the balcony.

In this one building, you can get so many different medical procedures, I'm wondering why we have whole hospital complexes in Canada.

Or a whole store for selling lamp oil which makes me wonder... does everyone have electricity?

Please note that I asked if she minded if I took a picture. Many people refused when I asked, so I don't have too many pics of people.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Evergreen Forest of Reading / Five Roses / Zaachila

This owl marks the pre-Hispanic tomb of Lord Nine Flower who was buried in Zaachila, Mexico somewhere between 1200-1500 AD.  

Was it a flowery fluke that I visited Lord Nine Flower's tomb and then got the news that my novel, Five Roses, was nominated for the Ontario Library Association Evergreen Reading Program? 

Of course, not! Librarians are behind that. Librarians promote books and reading. Yay, librarians! I'm very happy about this. Grateful to be chosen and honoured to be among this fine crowd of writers.

We travelled to Zaachila by communal taxi. The car would have accommodated five comfortably, but was packed with seven adults and three children. I sat half-propped against R, half-sitting on a piece of foam over the emergency brake. The driver and I were jowl to jowl--which was handy since he kept dozing off and I had to nudge him. I think he was stoned because the car was leaking gas. Fumes were heady. 

And did I mention? The car had a stick shift. Every time he smashed into fourth gear, I got stabbed in the thigh. I have no idea why he even wanted to get into fourth since the road we were on was blocked every half kilometre by speed bumps that were the size of cows lying in the road. I gather this obstacle course was designed to keep reckless drivers in check. In reality, the same drivers gunned their cars from speed bump to speed bump. In our case, the car stalled every time the driver braked, so he had to grab at the key and start the car again. The key, my knee... all the same to him. He was trying to stay awake. Or maybe not. 

We wanted to go to Zaachila because it was market day. Farmers had come from the surrounding hills and fields to sell their produce. Potatoes, eggs, limes, onions, peanuts... 

I've  never before seen peanuts with earth still on them. 


When the church bells sounded at noon, the gongs segued into -- we couldn't believe it! -- the American marketing jingle about the Frito Bandito, a commercial for corn chips that aired in the late 60s/early 70s.  

I've since discovered that the jingle was based on a traditional Mexican song called Cielito Lindo. Pretty sweetheart. Which is what the church bells were ringing, not "Ay, ay, ay, ay! I am the Frito Bandito..." 

snail mail from southern Mexico

I especially like to write snail mail when I'm away from home. However, I never know--depending on the country I'm in, which sometimes includes Canada--whether the recipients will get the mail.

These were my options last trip. Brass and marble. Looks impressive, eh? (Don't look too closely. A coupla letters missing.)

Outside this Oficina de Correos people were--over a period of a few days--protesting lack of work; parading statues/dolls representing baby Jesus; selling belts, wooden spoons, woven knapsacks; dancing in each others' arms; demanding the resignation of the Minister of Education.

If you get a letter from me, would you let me know? Just curious.