Blight Spirit by Jane Casa
Well, I think I should have taken that turn back there; but here I am hunkered down under the truck of a nice Mexican truck driver with my Mexican atlas, asking him the best route to the U.S. border.
"If you want Monterrey, you'll have to go back," he told me hoping I'd go away so he could get back to what he was doing with that wrench. It was hot under there and the interruption by a gringa loca was not going to improve his circumstances.
"Better just go on to Montclova and cross at Piedras Negras," he told me and even in that prone position with splotches of oil on his face he bade me, "Que le vaya bien."
I had no notion of what the roads might be at this juncture somewhere north of Saltillo and Monterrey. To my surprise, I found them well-maintained, nearly empty of traffic and snaking through some of the most dramatic scenery I've seen in Mexico. The mountains rose in front of me appearing impenetrable, then yielding just enough to the highway I was traveling to engulf me into their majesty.
The June rains had kindly decked the sides of the road with new sunflowers and green green fields of grasses and cacti. But something was missing here in this idyllic setting!! There was not a plastic bag, or a coke bottle or an empty oil can to be found!!
"Wait until I get to Piedras Negras," I thought to myself, "I'm sure I'll find polluters there." No, wide clean streets leading me to Pointe Internacional. Crossing the border couldn't have been easier if I had done it online...a cursory inspection, a friendly "adios" and I was in Texas. At least I think it was Texas, the signs read "San Antonio" but what had happened to the Texas I had visited as a college student? It had become one loooooong strip mall from San Antonio to Dallas and up to the Oklahoma border.
I thought culture shock only happened when you left home, but I found my beloved America "in my face" with every consumer opportunity known to man or woman, offering itself unabashedly, blatently trying to woo me to eat, sleep, buy, invest, pre-qualify, insure for very little down and very little per month almost anything my little heart desires.
Maybe I've been in Mexico too long. I have no right to miss the sound of church bells. I have no right to expect America to replicate the peace I feel in Mexico. I have no right to want my country to change. North of the border is light years away from Mexico. Toilets flush right away, road signs warn you if a lane is going to be uneven and even when you can safely pass. You can drive-in to just about everything: registering at a motel, your bank or a gazillian calorie meal.
America, you are a teen-ager, reckless and wild, trying to grip life by the short hairs while your neighbor to the South is aged and sometimes infirm. It all leaves me wondering, "What is blight, anyway?"
How to Handle a Bad Bus Day
By Sareda Milosz
Tourists and political
commentators tend to view
First, the transportation network reaches everywhere, from the large cosmopolitan centers to tiny villages with a few hundred inhabitants, and it’s been this way for a long time, thriving since long before I arrived some 25 years ago. Back then, I never had to wait more than half an hour for a bus in the right direction from anywhere, and the service has only improved.
More important, within the past decade, Mexican bus lines have upgraded their vehicles on most national routes twice. The new Volvos and other motor coaches are clean and climate controlled, much more comfortable (though less interesting) than their fumy, bumpy predecessors. They are also much safer and better-maintained, so we read and hear far fewer accounts of tragic accidents resulting in double-digit casualties. Still, there are thousands of buses on Mexican highways at all times, and the roads, other crazy drivers and weather may present hazards for bus travelers, so it’s wise to remember a rule or two.
Most of the new first class busses have seatbelts along with more luxurious amenities as leg supports, fully reclining seats, pillows and blankets. Rule one is always to fasten your seatbelt. I felt stupid for not having taken this simple precaution prior to my first and only bus accident (knock on wood) in about a thousand rides.
Here’s what happened, although I didn’t find out the full story for about a month afterwards:
I left San Miguel early one morning on
the bus to
Suddenly there was a god-awful,
nightmarish noise and one of the passengers screamed and the bus driver lost
control of the vehicle and we crossed the slow lane and hit the side of the road
and started to roll and that’s when I felt so stupid. We were lucky, though.
There happened to be enough embankment to stop the bus on its side. All 32 of us
were hurt and bleeding, some badly. When we came out of shock enough to look for
the bus driver, he had already vacated via his window. Two teenage boys followed
him out and grabbed him as he was about to leap into the cab of a passing truck.
I yelled at the front passengers to
turn off the ignition, and the boys and the bus driver who were outside broke
the front window and swept the glass aside with their jackets. That’s how we
de-bussed. Across the road, in the rosy-fingered dawn, we saw that the police
lights surrounded another bus accident. Whoops. Anyway, long story short, as we
were able to recuperate our luggage, we boarded other buses to
Ten days later, mellow from much meditation, I returned home and went to work on collecting First World insurance with my bus ticket from that day as evidence (actually, there was a very good computerized passenger list). I went to PROFECO, the national consumer protection organization that has a local office at Gigante. Only one other passenger on the bus had bothered, and she was the only other apparent foreigner on the bus. In the meantime, lawyers from the bus company had also contacted me, and wanted to meet me for a drink in San Miguel, but I said no thank you.
The lawyer at PROFECO, whose job it is to bring these suits, got on it immediately and we decided the best place to meet with bus company lawyers was right there at her office. In the days before the settlement appointment, I went to a doctor and a chiropractor (my knees were bloodied and my arm “swole” up) and got notes and bills from them. I made copies of everything including my ticket. I also put a public service announcement on the radio informing other passengers of the lawyers’ impending visit.
Still, I wasn’t surprised that the other foreigner and I were the only ones who showed up, as my fellow travelers had trouble believing my story that it would be worth their while to take a couple of hours off work. The bus company’s lawyer was a nice guy with many, many, many envelopes full of cash. Too bad for the rest of the folks. He explained the cause of our accident (a huge piece of concrete in the road as a result of the other bus accident had broken our axle) and let us ask questions. I saw that my fellow foreigner in litigation was playing it silly with the insurance guy, and I decided to be nicer. When I saw him offer her either US$1,000 or free treatment until her injuries were resolved at Hospital de Los Angeles in Querétaro, I figured her insistence on chauffeurs and rental cars was not brilliant and I decided to go for the one K. I had doctors’ receipts for about $200 pesos and two letters saying I required future treatment.
The insurance lawyer didn’t want to give me so much, but I said, “Hey, I’ll shake hands with a smile and sign off, and you’ll never have to see me again. Give me the thousand bucks and I’ll go, now, not like that other lady.” So, he did. And the PROFECO lawyer provided a sign-off form and I went home with a fat pocket and now I always buckle up.
5/4/04 Ancient Maya city, artifacts are research treasure-trove, by D. Vergano, USA Today
of royal tombs, jade offerings and the mask of a forgotten god is providing
valuable clues about the life and times of the ancient Maya. A spate of
archaeological findings has been reported this month about the Maya, the ancient
rulers of a land that included parts of
talking about one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world,"
says epigrapher Simon Martin of the
The Maya had a complex society centered on the Dynasties ruled city-states that traded in exotic items such as jade and collected water in urban reservoirs for use in the dry season. Astronomical readings of the seasons, important for planting crops, were vital to the Maya. While scientists still don't know exactly what happened to the Maya, the latest findings shed light on their rise and fall:
Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt suggests that the city's ruler, Taj Chan Ahk,
skillfully maneuvered for power even as the Maya headed for collapse.
The rescue of a similar stone last year publicized the widespread problem of
looting at archaeological sites.
from the latest digs have underscored efforts at local involvement and
eco-tourism in projects, notes archaeologist Lisa Lucero of
millions of Maya descendants live in
4/29/04 As others see us - article in The Oregonian by Margie Boulé
San Miguel de Allende,
If you lived here, you'd be home forever. At least, that's what the locals say. Not the locals with dark eyes and black hair and childhood memories of the place. No, it's the more recent residents of SMA (as the Americans call it) who've fallen in love with their new hometown.
Americans are everywhere in this 450-year-old colonial silver mining town, as ubiquitous as the glittering Jesus statuettes in the dollar-fifty-a-ride taxicabs and the gentle vines that reach over high walls to brush your hair as you walk to the Jardin at the city's center.
Single American women run small businesses that grow fast bed and breakfast inns, dress shops, sophisticated restaurants.
There are American poets and composers and writers and many, many painters.
Retired couples walk along the narrow
cobblestone streets, past elegant Spanish-style buildings, holding hands.
They're headed to cocktails with new friends who've recently arrived from
Why have so many Americans left home for
You don't even have to ask. This small city of 70,000 (or 55,000, or 75,000 -- even the tourist bureau is shaky on the numbers) is crowded with 5,000 (or 3,000, or 14,000) expatriate Americans who are eager to tell you that moving to Mexico is the smartest thing they ever did, and they think you should move there as soon as possible, too.
A surprising number came for a vacation
and bought a home or property before the first week was out. "It's a cliche,
but we did it, too," a retired physician from
American ex-pats have restored crumbling city-center colonial homes, or they've built new ones on lots that were strewn with rocks and bottles a few years ago. They've observed local architectural traditions, constructing high walls along the streets, walls that hide lush courtyards surrounded by rooms heated by gas fireplaces. Everywhere there are trees, fountains, good paintings, Mexican pottery and antiques. Buildings are washed with paints colored by mineral powders in mango or banana or a soft sage green.
Everywhere you hear music. And it's not just the church bells that go into a frenzy of ringing each morning at about the time the roosters sing. It's the music festivals that are almost continuous. Or the religious celebrations. Or the running of the bulls. Or the Easter preparations that had young children laughing as they cracked eggshells over the heads of adults who walked through the Jardin last week, showering adult heads with confetti or powder.
Everyone seems to give a different reason
for having made the escape from the States. Some were drawn by the crystalline
skies and year-round outdoor living, others by the artistic community. Many talk
about the economics of moving to a place where a $200,000 home comes with a
property tax bill of only $60 a year, and that includes garbage service.
"We paid more than $60 on garbage alone in
Some were tired of the concrete jungle,
life in the fast lane. There is no fast lane in a place where the streets are
cobblestone. Some admit they left to dodge
Some were simply drawn to the friendliness of the people and the beauty and cleanliness of this historic city.
And why not? Travel is faster and less
expensive than ever before. The breaking down of trade barriers and the requests
of recent immigrants have filled the shelves of local stores with sports drinks
and Atkins diet products and fine French wines. Americans here watch U.S. cable
TV, have high-speed Internet connections and get their mail delivered daily from
They've left what used to be the
People still come to the
And the Americans playing backgammon on the square in San Miguel de Allende last week, wearing colorful Mexican shirts and sipping Gatorade, who haven't driven a car in weeks and haven't seen a franchise American fast food place in years, feel right at home.
The Oregonian, http//www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/margie_boule/index.ssf?/base/living/1078232591227530.xml
4/14/04 How we found San Miguel de Allende, by accident by Marianne Koerner
were actually going to Ajijiic for the winter. We had brought an old VW Vanagon
and hit the road in
We knew one person who lived in San Miguel: Susan Porter Smith. She had come to
The next day we serendiptously found a house rental; a lovely home, gardens, a perfect housekeeper who was also a Cordon Blue cook ( I remember it costing $400 per month; those were the days.)
For the next nine years. we rented a house every winter. Last May, we bought.
(We're slow movers). San Miguel never fails to surprise, stimulate and embrace us in its warm friendships. Clearly, it was not our original destination, but we were destined to be here.
It's very dark up here on my mountain in
I thought that we would go out to the San
Miguel airport, but no, the leaders of the group, experienced in the ways of
Senor Wind, knew ahead of time that that was not the place to take off from
today. No, today, we had to head out towards
A word or two about my hosts. Bill Munro (interests in computers, tennis, women) is a licensed pilot of both hot-air and fixed wing aircraft. Keith Keller is a well-known artist and teacher (used his own girl friend - an accomplished artist in her own right - as a model) (pictures are mostly of prostitutes and tarts - apparently this does not impact poorly on his relationship with her), and has lived in SMA for many years. Robert DeGast is a world renowned writer and photographer, who also has his ballooning license. Peter Woods is going for his ballooning license and will pilot today's ride for credit towards his license. Peter is a silversmith and local artist specializing in jewelry. Evelyn Chisholm is a southern-accented woman who was on her second day of ballooning. And then came Michael, non-artist, non-balloonist, capitalist tool, waiting to join this ecletic group.
We found a suitable site and stopped the truck. The cloud cover still hid the sun, but it was apparently just attempting to break through. We were way out of town and we were surrounded by mountains (purple mountain's majesty, a hardly original thought, came to mind). But, it was lovely, even inspiring, to observe the quiet, the serene, the sheer loveliness of the surrounding scenery. However, this was not to be an easy watch for me. I was expected to dirty my soft, lily-white, hands. And I did as ordered. First, we unloaded the truck (luckily it had hydraulic lifts to aid us). We unloaded the balloon, the basket, and all of the equipment. The work then first started. The envelope (hell, I thought it was a balloon) was laid out, and the blowers were positioned to blow air into the envelope. Two people were stationed at the entrance to the envelope, holding it open to aid the life-giving wind fill it up, the envelope gulping each time sustenance came its way. Another person held the top of the envelope (hell, it apparently IS a balloon) using a long, taut, cord so that the outside wind would not whip the balloon out of our control. The other people (apparently only 4 were absolutely necessary) did little somethings to aid the inflating of the balloon and readying it for launch. This balloon, already big in my estimation at this point, became even more obviously bigger when one of the crew entered the inside of the balloon checking for who-knows-what and I observed how tiny he looked inside.
The balloon was filled with air and then the air was heated, and my science teachers turned out to be right, the balloon rose a bit. Hot air DOES rise. At this time the crew (at least the experienced ones) tested the lines, the gauges, the propane tanks, the tethers to the basket, and went through an impressive countdown to launch. I must admit that I thought that we were going to "just park the truck and take off". Sometimes my own ignorance amazes even me.
Now the balloon was ready. Offered a chance to go for a ride, I said "no", not out of fear, although later I heard that there were reasons to fear flying, but rather as a first-timer, I thought that I should observe. And so I did.
Peter piloted, with Keith and Robert as passengers. Evelyn, Bob, Keith's dog "Fanny" and I manned the "chase car" (the now nearly empty truck). And off they went, And off we went. The gas was fired periodically to give more lift to the balloon, but when that was NOT happening, the landscape became very quiet. The balloon rose quietly and softly and slowly and unwaveringly. Finally, we, somewhat more noisily, lumbered after it in the chase car.
Now you have to realize that the balloon is a captive of the air currents that it flies in. Yes, the pilot can maneuver up and down and thereby catch different wind currents, but, until in them, the pilot does not know which way the wind blows (with apologies to Bob Dylan). So, even less knowledgeable us, on the ground, knew even less which way the balloon was headed. There was radio contact, but I'm sure that you have all listened to those two-way radios pictured in the movies. They are just like that in real life. Straining for information, the chase car, chased. Now, it should be remembered that this balloon is huge, and it is bright yellow, and it is the only thing IN the sky, absent birds, and an occasional leaf. So, except for moving the car near some tall trees, the balloon was always easy to trace. And of course, there was always that static-y radio.
The problem, such as it was, was that the
balloon went wherever the wind took it through the unfettered skies, but the car
had to follow on roads. Roads, in the mountains of
After going around and around, we found the balloon, down in a field of corn and asparagus (early in the growing season - so, easy to spy), and proceeded to "as close as we could get". The flying crew, waiting for us, had already started the process of putting the balloon back in its bag awaiting out pickup. When we finally arrived, we found a coterie of small boys, sitting on their bicycles, watching our crew with great amusement. It is a sign of how much work is entailed in putting the balloon back into its bag to say, even after the long wait for us to show up, there was still much work to do to complete the "bagging, boxing, and boarding" of the balloon to the truck. Then, even after that was completed, my generous and polite and politically correct teachers mandated that we attempt to repair the cornstalks and asparagus patches where we trampled on the growing vegetables. And so we did that, too.
Now, all finished, and all back in the truck, the constructive criticism of the individuals was to commence. The pilot explained why he set the craft down in the field that we found it in, and why he did it before we got close enough to spy it while it was still in the air. It seems as if this balloon ride is not a piece of cake, more like tres leches cake, if anything. There were times when the balloon tangled with winds that did not do what was expected of them, and there was the tail-end of the trip when the balloon, having set itself down rather unceremoniously, decided to tip over and continue to move along the ground with everything, basket, contents, ropes, following the balloon to wherever the balloon decided to set out for by itself.
3/14/04 TRAVEL ALERT-Theft by military personnel at military checkpoints - by Lou VogtCare must be taken not to be robbed when stopped at military checkpoints. Single travelers are at particular risk because when at the back of the vehicle things can be stolen from the front. I suggest that if traveling alone to tell them that you insist on only ONE inspector ("uno persona solo para inspecion" will get across what you want) , lock the doors and open only one area at a time as it is inspected, and then closely observe everything the inspector does and relock the area when you move on to another. This way it is less likely they can take anything. If there are two or more in your vehicle have one person for each inspector. You can even say you don't want to be robbed and that is the reason you are careful...I have. They might act as though they can't understand what you are saying but you will be suprised how rapidly the inspection is completed
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