Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe

It’s been about 2 weeks since I stepped onto the bus to take a tour of Mexico City and surrounding areas, and it certainly was an adventure. The bus ride itself was 14 hours from Comala to Mexico City – or just “Mexico” as they call it here. There was so much to do and see that this will probably be broken up into at least two posts.

When not on the go all day from 5 or 6 in the morning until nighttime, there were 4 of us per bedroom in the hotels, which was probably why the cost was so cheap. We were all adults, but the end of the trip reminded me of traveling with children because something that had nothing to do with the wonders we were visiting was the most talked-about and laughed-about part of the experience.

That “something” was snoring. One of my roommates snored and by the second night, I finally took my pillow and blanket and camped out on the bathroom floor, eventually falling asleep where they found me the next morning. Years ago, I remember one of my Spanish professors saying that in this culture, people have no problem laughing at themselves or others and that turned out to be true. I felt so bad for this woman, but I couldn’t get any sleep at all in the same room. However, the women (including the one who snored) found this hysterical, and talked and laughed about it with just about everyone on the bus. Being brought up as I was, I was amazed at this, but grateful, too. They were laughing at themselves as much as my situation. The final night, we were given a suite, so I had my own bedroom and finally got a good night’s sleep.

So after 14 hours on the bus, we went directly to the Basilica, before even going to the hotel. I already knew that there were two churches, an old one which looks as you would expect a church to look, and a new one which was beautiful inside, but reminded me more of a round stadium on the outside. I was surprised to find that there is actually a third church, older than the other two, and that it was on a tilt due to instability of the ground, causing the second one to be built. Think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and you get the idea.

There was a delegation of us from Colima State, and during one of the several masses at the new basilica, there was a procession of Colimenses bringing food up to the altar to donate to the poor – sacks and sacks of produce from our state. The bishop was also there and before entering the church, as we stood outside, he liberally sprinkled holy water on us and anything we were holding in our hands.

As an aside, our local priest was on the trip with us. During some of our bus stops, vendors would come aboard and go up and down the aisle trying to sell various things, so it became a joke that when our priest would get on the bus, people would start asking him what he was selling.

This is an immense area, and a very busy pilgrimage site. In the plaza were whole families with their tents and sleeping bags set up with barely room to walk between them. Tents were also set up along the walkways. I also noted that some of the faithful would crawl into the church and down the aisles on their knees. I had seen that before while visiting a church in Montreal, where they actually had roped off a pathway up the stairs just for these pilgrims who do that.

As I said in the beginning of this post, there is way too much to tell all at once, so I will leave my commentary right here and add some photos, with more to follow tomorrow. You can click on each picture for more of an explanation.

And so  good night until tomorrow…..


Moon Photographs and more about Village Life

Most of this space tonight will be my recent photographs of the moon, with commentary trailing off onto various other paths. Many years ago, one of my friends from the U.K. remarked that my photography is mainly concerned with composition, and she was definitely correct. Two mornings ago, as I walked out into the common courtyard, I noticed the moon above one of the apartments, along with branches of trees and immediately had a vision of what a beautiful picture it would make. So upstairs I went to retrieve my camera.

Unfortunately, especially at such a distance from a heavenly body, the camera needed to be held very steady and focused exactly right. So I grabbed a chair and dragged it around the floor, sitting down to test the angle three times before I was satisfied that I was in the correct place for a good photo.  Then I sat down, scrunched down in the chair and steadied my arms on the arm rests and fired away with the camera, using one of the special settings.  While not as good as some other people’s photos, it is fun to play with, and is certainly a lot easier than the old days of celluloid film, dark rooms, hanging the negatives up to dry after being bathed in chemicals under a red light and then making pictures out of the negatives.

I definitely give a lot of credit to the good and great photographers of times past who produced extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful photographs the old-fashioned way. And let’s also not forget the radiology people developing patients’  x-rays. This is where the expression “wet reading” comes from – having the radiologist “read” the x-ray film  before the film had dried during a medical crisis.

Having many areas of this residence open to the outside lends itself to many visitors and one decided to rest on my sofa – a beautiful blue butterfly, a type I had not seen here before. I was able to snap a few pretty good pictures of it, including one close enough to see its proboscis curled up under its head.

It then decided, as many winged creatures had before, to try to leave through the skylight windows. Even with the balcony doors open, the stairwell door open, and a large open area below the skylight which would allow it to fly directly downstairs to the open-air kitchen and therefore be literally outside, it continued to try to fly through the glass above us, illustrating the saying “…..continuing to do the same thing while expecting different results.”

Unfortunately, its poor little brain wasn’t powerful enough to change the instinct which was telling it to head up towards the light, even though this happened in broad daylight, so there was light coming through all the paths to the outside.

One comment about village life here, and then I will close to go and re-pack my carry-on suitcase, which I had diligently and proudly packed two days ago and must now empty out and re-pack. I will be going on a 4-day tour of Mexico City, Cholula, Hidalgo and another place whose name I can’t remember. I had packed for the warm weather of Colima State, and was informed tonight that it gets really cold in “Mexico” so I’d better pack socks, sneakers, sweaters, etc. – whatever I would need for cold weather. I had forgotten that Mexico City is of a higher altitude than Denver!

So – back to village life. Every evening I go to my neighbor’s house where she gives me Spanish lessons and I teach her English. Coming out of her house after “class” I saw a little boy on a horse coming down the street. I was told he is 3 or 4 years old, and his grandfather was driving his truck slightly in front of and to the side of the horse.

I had seen them about 2 weeks previously, and at that time, the boy was on the horse and Grandfather was holding the reins through the window of the car while he was driving, so that the horse was trotting very slowly and Grandfather had complete control. Tonight the boy had the reins and was in complete control, even though Grandpa was nearby driving his truck.

That boy was SO CUTE and so confident, it would have made a wonderful photograph. If I do get a chance to take a picture, and have my camera with me at just the right moment,  I might ask permission and give the photo to the boy and his family.

So I will close for now and leave you with my latest photographs, and “see” you again after next Monday, when I will return with more photos, possibly videos, and lots to tell.

¡Adiós!  ¡Hasta luego!




Life in the (Ash) Clouds

Ever since the last eruption recently, I had been planning to write about our volcano, but through my natural inclination to procrastinate, plus other duties in my life, I kept putting it off. Since I will be going to the First Fiesta of Coffee and Chocolate today, I can no longer put this off.

I think my brain was also trying to tell me to get going by having me dream about the volcano in the early morning hours today – a dream in which I was in a hotel looking at the volcano with some other people. Strangely, I have been in this hotel before, but it is in New York overlooking a river. As we stood there, there was a massive explosion from the volcano with immense black ash clouds spewing from its crown, and instead of being afraid, I was annoyed that my camera battery had died, and I needed to find the extra battery. It all seemed so real that I woke up physically exhausted – and was even more exhausted after completing my morning 6-km walk after waking up.

So, without further ado, I will begin my article about our volcano…

No matter where you live on this Earth, you will have to live with imperfect weather. Sometimes you will need to be prepared for dangerous situations, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc., and sometimes just deal with uncomfortable weather, such as heat, cold and humidity.  My geography of choice is a volcano and earthquake zone.

First, a little education about volcanoes, which also touches on earthquakes, here:

There are two volcanoes within sight of Cofradía de Suchitlán, here in Colima State – the Volcano of Fire (active) and Volcano of Snow (inactive). As the article states, there are sensors in the area of the volcanoes to predict/monitor the activity. The civil defense organization here is very active regarding the safety of the people.

A few months ago, we visited some families right here in Cofradía whose lives had been impacted by natural events. I was told that their homes had been endangered by volcanic activity in their villages which were close to the volcano, and so the government had built them new homes in a safer area, and some of those home were built here.

Civil defense has a number of safeguards in potentially endangered villages – among those safeguards is a color-coded warning system – red light for evacuate, yellow for prepare, and green for safe. During one of my trips, I watched paramedics and civil defense personnel conduct educational demonstrations to a small village, teaching them what to do in case of a natural emergency.  They ran practice drills followed by explanations of what went wrong, then repeated the drills so that everyone would learn by experience what would be the safest way to behave. I was very impressed with their teaching techniques and knowledge.

When this latest eruption happened, the police and civil defense sprang into action, evacuating about 300 people and preventing people from going back in before it was safe to do so. The perimeter was set up 12 kilometers on the Colima side and 7.5 kilometers on the Jalisco side (the Colima volcano sits on the border between Jalisco and Colima states, with each state claiming ownership). Here in Cofradía we are safely about 15 kilometers from the volcano, but still experience some of the effects resulting from the ash and sulfur dioxide.

The ash is blown by the wind and covers everything where it lands. You can see it on cars and sweep it up from the floor. Looks like fine gray dust, but when you rub it between your fingers, it is gritty like fine sand, not at all like normal ash from burning paper.

When there is a significant amount of ash in the air, warnings are broadcasted not to go out, and people who must be in those areas, such as emergency workers or the people being evacuated, need to wear masks, otherwise it is like breathing in cement dust.

Does anyone remember talks about acid rain years ago? I am posting some pictures from our garden of damage that I was told was from the acid in the air – leaves turning yellow, damage to foliage. I only hope that the coffee plantation near the volcano did not sustain too much damage to  its coffee plants.

As you can probably tell, the volcano is a major focal point of life – from beautiful paintings and photographs to place names. Here in Cofradía we have the Ferretería los Volcanes (Volcano hardware store), the Panadería los Volcanes (Volcano bakery) and, of course, our Dos Volcanes agave spirits (it’s tequila, but when it’s made in Colima State, we’re not allowed to call it tequila – but that’s a story for another day.).

So please enjoy the following photographs, etc. and click on the link to an article and video below  of our Volcan de Fuego – much beloved and treated with respect…..


Spanish for ADL (activities of daily living) or, My Face-Palm Moment

I am beginning this post with the video above. Being a perfectionist in some areas of my life, I was never happy unless I got straight A’s in school or 100% in everything. The one exception was college algebra, in which I was ecstatic with a grade of B, happy just to have passed the course.

Anyway, I have studied Spanish for many years, and while I can read and write it perfectly well for my needs, my problem is with speaking the language. I despaired of ever being fluent, and then one day I happened upon this video and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I realized that fluency depends on your situation in which you are speaking, and therefore no one is truly 100% fluent, even in their native tongue. I did perfectly well speaking with adults at our clinic – checking their blood pressure and blood sugar, asking about their medications, were they taking their meds, if not – why not, etc., etc.  No major problem at all.

However, when 2 years later I was part of a health fair directed at children to teach them brushing their teeth, washing their hands, healthy eating and exercise, I was at a loss. I was not familiar enough with the vocabulary of dentistry, teeth-brushing, chewing the disclosure tablets, and so on.

And then yesterday I experienced the situation that the speaker in the video referenced – technical vocabulary versus the vocabulary of daily living. I went into Soriana’s and made some purchases. I had already been told by my Mexican bank that if I used my ATM card, I could get cash back without a fee. I handed my card to the cashier and waited to enter my NIP (what Mexicans call the PIN), only it appeared that the machine would be counting it as a credit instead of a debit.

The cashier then said a bunch of words, including the word “efectivo,” which was the only word I recognized. In my mind I was wondering why she was saying the word “cash” when I gave her my card and she had the card and machine, so I could not read what she was referring to.  After a minute or two of me not understanding her – I kept saying something about the NIP and she kept telling me no – she completed my purchase and gave me my receipt.

On the way back home on the bus, it suddenly hit me and I had a strong urge to smack myself really hard on my forehead and call myself stupid. She was asking me if I wanted cash back!!!!  I HAD wanted cash back but wasn’t familiar with how such a conversation was conducted….

I relayed all this to Lourdes, so my Spanish lesson last night consisted of play-acting all possible conversations at a checkout counter. I also learned some differences between Mexico and the U.S.   In the U.S. sometimes customers are asked if they want to donate to a particular cause and have it added onto their bill. Here in Mexico, they simply ask you if you want your bill rounded up. I was told the answer to that is “for whom?” If they say for the store, my answer should be “no,” but if they mention a cause, such as an organization that fights cancer, I can say “yes.” The other thing is that we tip the people bagging our groceries here, a couple of pesos each and also tip the people who work in the parking lot.  In addition, I learned how to get a Soriana store card and get points on purchases.

So that is our lesson for the day – fluency itself is a very fluid concept, and even though I had a smack myself-in-the-head moment, remembering the video calmed me down and let me realize what I had to do to prepare for the future.