Home-Grown Coffee

The first thing I fell in love with, in what is now my house, was the garden. As soon as I walked through the gate for my first visit to Richard and Magda’s house, I thought to myself, “This is the garden of Paradise.”  For so many years before retirement, I had not had a garden and on top of that, I had worked nights and was sleeping during daylight hours, so I was ecstatic to learn that my friends were selling their house. I now would not only have a garden, but the garden would be in a place that would never see snow nor the freezing temperatures of the north and plants and flowers would grow all year long.

Although I am such a bad “farmer” that I would starve to death if I had to make a living from this, I enjoy the small amount of edibles that I grow and when I have excess, I share it with my neighbors.  Since I love coffee and there were three coffee trees on my property when I moved in, I decided to try my hand at harvesting and preparing my own coffee.

The coffee bean is actually at the center of a berry, called the coffee cherry. The skin is initially green, and when it turns red, it is ripe for picking. The pulp is very sweet and is full of caffeine. I have searched for quite some time to find any kind of recipe to make use of the pulp, but the resulting food or drink would contain so much caffeine, that I resigned myself to the fact that it is better used as compost.

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unripe green coffee cherries

 

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coffee cherries turning red as they ripen

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Coffee cherries being rinsed after harvesting. 

     Once the coffee cherries are harvested from the trees, they need to be de-pulped. I don’t know how commercial coffee plantations do this, but for my personal operation, I went to my neighbor Gloria’s house and used her hand-cranked de-pulper.

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Gloria helping with the de-pulping of the coffee cherries

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Taking my turn at the grinder. Note the container of water which helps with the process.

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Top of the machine where we put the coffee cherries and water.

     It reminded me of the meat grinder my parents used to use to make their own hamburger meat. The only difference is that I did not want to grind the cherries, only to de-pulp them. So we put the cherries into the top, and would grind them a little bit in one direction, then reverse direction, and then repeat the process so as to strip the pulp but not crush the beans themselves.

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separating the remaining pulp and debris from the beans

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We would add water to the grinder to help with the process.  The grinding process did not eliminate all the pulp, so after taking it home, I still had to remove a lot of the pulp by hand. There would also be bits of pebbles, leaves and other matter that needed to be removed, and it was quite a time-consuming process.

Once the beans were separated from the pulp, it was time to dry the beans in the sun. I wanted half to be caffeinated and half to be decaf, so the ones to be decaffeinated were left to soak in water for 24 hours. Both were then dried in the sun for 5 days. To tell which were which, I spread them on different colored materials and then put them in labeled baggies once they were dried.

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Drying in the sun after the pulp is removed. 

     My neighbor Lourdes obtained a roaster to roast large quantities of the beans, and she said they would be happy to roast my coffee also. What I didn’t realize was that even after the pulp was removed, the beans still had a thin skin on them, called the cascara, and that the cascara also had to be removed before roasting.

Fortunately for me, they also had a machine to do that work. Honestly, I don’t know how the coffee growers managed all this labor-intensive work before electricity.

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Beans falling into the bucket after the cascara is removed.

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Lourdes’ husband Alfonso and her son Pedro removing the cascara and collecting the beans.

Cascara shooting out the side of the machine.

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Bags of coffee beans minus the cascara

    So Lourdes’ husband Alfonso and her son Pedro helped me with removing the cascara, and I am sure that what flew out of the machine was adding nutrients to their soil.  The beans were dropped into the machine, the cascara was ejected forcefully from the side, and the beans dropped into a waiting bucket.

Now it was time to do the roasting, after any debris was once again removed. Just as with dried beans, there might always be tiny pebbles or other debris that need to be picked out.

The following photos and videos are of them processing large quantities of beans. With quantities that large, it takes about 40 minutes per batch to roast. I was too tired to show up when it came time for them to roast my paltry amount of beans, and my batch would take a lot less time. IMG_1372

beans ready for roasting

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Pedro operating the roaster

First, the beans were dropped into the roaster, which rotated to roast them evenly. Then a valve was opened and they were stirred mechanically until they were cooled.

You can see the rotating drum above the flames where the coffee is roasted and the pan where they are mechanically stirred as they cool down. 

     Now that my coffee had been roasted, it was time to grind it. I did this at Lourdes’ house, then divided up the coffee into bags – one bag of decaf for Gloria, one bag each of decaf and caffeinated for Lourdes and one bag of caffeinated for me.

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grinding the roasted beans

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the finished product

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bagged and ready to take to our respective homes

I thought it was delicious, but was wondering if I was biased, but Lourdes and Gloria assured me that my coffee was, in fact, delicious.

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Getting ready to make some homemade coffee.

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Mmmmmm!  Heavenly caffeine!

     Because it takes 8 lbs. of coffee cherries to make one pound of the finished product, I have planted 5 more trees, so I will have 8 coffee trees total. Currently, the five new ones are just saplings, so I don’t know how long it will be before they produce the cherries, but it will certainly be worth the wait.

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my newest coffee saplings

     And so, I wish you all a good weekend and hope you have enjoyed learning about all the work that goes into providing you with your morning cup of caffeine. Until next time – ¡ Adiós !

New York Again

After a fun-filled week in Colima, Mexico, it was time for my world-traveling granddaughter to return to her family in New York State. But before that happened, I decided we would make one more stop in Mexico in the state of Jalisco.

We went by bus from Colima to the town of Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara.

The town of Tlaquepaque is a very nice town full of artisans. You can find many shops with pottery and fine clothing, paintings, sculptures, museums and many very good restaurants. During the day the streets are lined with people selling homemade wares – jewelry, pocketbooks, etc.  I felt it was a good way for Brenna to see another aspect of Mexico before returning home.

     Street scenes in Tlaquepaque

Statues are everywhere…

        Fortunately, all this activity was just a few blocks from our hotel, so we could spend the day walking around, go back for a rest and then go back out again. I have absolutely no sense of direction, even when using paper maps and a GPS, but I had been in this hotel many times before, so I knew my way around.

     That night we went to a restaurant on Avenida de Independencia, and while we were eating, a man asked if he could draw our caricatures, so I said ok.  It took him a while, since he was drawing both of us on the same canvas, and when he was finished, my face was pretty accurate, although I wasn’t drinking as the drawing indicated, but with Brenna’s face, I think she looks more like Ashley Judd – though maybe in a few years she WILL resemble the picture. IMG_1163 the finished drawing

IMG_1160What Brenna actually looked like

     After a good night’s rest, we headed to the airport by taxi. Once we were in the airport, we were about to have a problem regarding luggage. I had bought 4 pieces of pottery in Tlaquepaque, and was not about to put it in my checked luggage. When we got to the security line, I was told that I could not take the pottery on the plane, that I would have to check it.

After arguing for a few minutes, the man on line behind me stepped in – turns out he was a pilot. He asked what airline I was flying, and when I said Interjet, he rolled his eyes. He told me that if I could fit the pottery into one luggage bag, then I could take it by hand onto the plane.

Fortunately, one of the shops in the airport sold luggage, and I was able to buy one cloth bag in which all the pottery fit. And so with everything in ONE carry-on bag, we passed through security and were on our way.

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my new carry-on bag

It was an overnight flight and we arrived the following morning, around 6am, at JFK Airport, were picked up by her father Jake and headed to Upstate New York.

     IMG_1168 (1)View of a family of deer on Brenna’s road in New York

Yes, we have deer.  And grass. And trees. Manhattan is only a small part of New York. 

     Family came to visit and gifts were given out. Brenna’s mother Kathy even made me Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, because she knows it is my comfort food when I am sick and I can’t get it in Mexico.

Brenna was very fortunate that her boss at her new job allowed her to take a whole month off for our trip, and so she had to go back to work the day after we returned.  As a result,  I  spent the day with her father’s mother and visited a former co-worker of mine, Carol, and delivered two of the pieces of pottery that I had bought for her – one as a housewarming gift and one stayed wrapped to be opened on Christmas.  The other two pieces went home with me.

It was nice to see everyone again, especially since I don’t anticipate returning for another two years. It was well worth the cost of the trip, but now it is time to start saving up and replenish my bank account.

Since time wasn’t an issue to return home, I decided to save the family from  having to go down to New York City again and I flew out of Stewart Airport in Newburgh, a small airport nearby.  Being a small local airport, direct long-distance flights aren’t their thing, so my itinerary was:

Stewart to Detroit

Detroit to Los Angeles

Los Angeles to Guadalajara

followed by a 3-hour bus ride from Guadalajara to the Colima bus station, followed by a taxi ride home.  And so ended the Great European Adventure. I am sure over time Brenna will find that she learned more than she might realize now, and while there were certainly stress and homesickness for parts of the trip, it will still be fondly remembered for years to come.

 

Brenna’s Mexican Adventure

In 2011, after many years of volunteering in Cameroon, I was searching for a new place to volunteer. Since I was still working full time, it had to be short-term and within my budget. Being in Rotary International, that year I attended the Rotary International Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, and in the House of Friendship I met Ted Rose and Susan Hill, who were promoting their organization, Project Amigo, a literacy program based in Mexico.

Well, I was learning Spanish, Mexico was closer to home than Africa, it was affordable and the volunteer commitment was only one week, so I took a chance and volunteered. After the first week, I was hooked and continued to volunteer my time.

As retirement drew closer, I kept thinking that I might want to retire there. I lived my whole life in New York and hated the cold, snow and ice. I had vowed for years that when I retired I would move to a place where I would never have to see snow again. With the volunteer work weeks, I was getting to know the residents of the village as well as the staff of Project Amigo, the weather was great and life was much simpler there.

After being warned by one of the board members not to jump into it, but to stay there for 6 months and then make a decision, I moved into one of the volunteer residences in January 2016, but after 3 months realized that Cofradía de Suchitlán would be my home.

I met a nurse named Magda during my first volunteer week, and we had remained friends over the years. She and her husband Richard were selling their house – and since I had always loved their house from the first time I saw it,  I bought it.  And so, when planning this trip, I let Brenna and her mother know that I wanted her to see my village and my home before she returned to New York.

So after our 12-hour flight to Mexico City, a connecting flight to Colima Airport and then a taxi ride, I was home!

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The itinerary here had been carefully arranged, as I assumed that Brenna would like to interact not only with SOME English-speakers, but would also like to spend time with someone her own age.

There are just three of us living in the village who are native English-speakers – myself, and Ted and Susan, who just happen to live around the corner from me. So we had lunch at Ted and Susan’s house along with my Canadian friends from Colima – Stephanie, Steve and their son Matt, with whom Brenna was very happy to have a long conversation, and in the process learn many words that are not taught in school, if you catch my drift.

We also visited the Casita del Café for refreshments.

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In my absence, the owner (and my friend and neighbor) had been making apple pies from my recipe, but the customers could tell the difference and were clamoring for pies made by hand by “Paty,” and so one day was spent with Brenna helping me make my famous pies to keep the customers happy.

Meanwhile, the first thing I noticed when we returned to my home was the bananas on my tree needed to be harvested. From their weight, the tree had bent over, so the bananas were now resting on the ground. Knowing how heavy they were, I enlisted Brenna to help me bring them to my porch. Armed with my machete, I began to cut the branch away and after a few seconds, dropped the machete and ran away shouting.

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Unbeknownst to me, there was a large wasp’s nest under one of the leaves. You can see part of it as a white, round ball on the right middle side of the photo. Well, the buggers got me on my arms and face. Fortunately, they did not sting Brenna.

First things first, I ran into the house and took 50 mg of Benadryl. Then I sprayed Raid on it.  Next day, there were still some left alive, and I had heard that mixing laundry detergent with water would do the trick, so I not only did that, but got out the Raid again.  A while later, there was nothing left alive from that nest and we were free to carry the bananas to the porch.

We tried to string them up, but they were so heavy that the two of us couldn’t do it. Fortunately, when my gardener Angel arrived, they were strung up and would ripen just fine where we left them.

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with my trusty machete examining the bananas

     While planning the trip, Brenna was asked what she would like to do and what were her interests. She mentioned art, castles and the beach. The first two requests were taken care of in Europe, but we still had to go to the beach.  Brenna told me she had never been to the ocean, and fortunately the Pacific Ocean was only a 90 minute drive away. Coincidentally, there is also a turtle sanctuary near that beach, so a big outing was planned for us, my friend Lourdes and her family, including her two young grandsons who had also never been to the sanctuary.

But before this happened, Brenna was about to become familiar with another medical facility – this time in Mexico.  One day I decided we would go to Colima for lunch and invited another neighbor to go along. Unfortunately, the neighbor decided to vomit all over the inside of my car while we were on the road. My first instinct was to turn the car around, but realizing we were halfway to a clinic, I headed in that direction, only stopping in the parking lot of a shopping center to run in and buy a shift dress, towels, wipes and a bottle of water.

When we arrived at the clinic, they directed us to a bathroom where I changed my neighbor’s clothes after cleaning her up as much as possible.  She was examined, medication given, then we went to a pharmacy to fill her prescriptions and headed home.  Then I cleaned up the car as much as I could, and sprayed tons of deodorizer on it.

By the next day, there were so many people to accompany us to the beach that I had no choice but to use my car.  One of the guys drove and I sat on towels in the front passenger seat where the baptism of my car had taken place.  The day after the outing, my car spent the day at the automotive place where they had to take the seats out to do a proper cleaning, but 10 hours and 900 pesos (about $45)  later, it was like new.  God bless those guys – it had to be a real nasty and smelly job and to top it off, it was a brutally hot day.

And PS – I always have a bucket and towels in my car now in case of another emergency, and still am nervous when this particular neighbor is my passenger.

Anyway, back to the outing.  El Tortugario Ecologico is a national reserve in Cuyutlán, Mexico.  Sea turtle eggs are collected, then buried in the sand in a protected area. When the eggs hatch there is a “turtle release” where the babies, called hatchlings,  are placed in the sand near the shore and allowed to make their way into the sea.  Without humans around them, most would surely be picked off by birds or the eggs would be dug up by animals.

There are also turtles of various ages and species protected in tanks for breeding or for protection if for some reason they would not survive if released.

Classes are held for school groups and the general public. There is also an area which houses two crocodiles and there is a boat tour of the lagoon. We were very fortunate that there was to be a turtle release the day we visited, but it was not to happen for several hours.  However, when talking to the staff, they took pity on us and arranged to release a few of the babies just for us before the actual stated time.

We were told that we must handle the hatchlings with clean hands – no smells such as perfume, hand cream or sunscreen, so as not to confuse their sensitivity to Earth’s magnetic field, which is how they navigate and are able to return to lay their eggs to the exact location where they hatched.

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Staff member talking about the hatchlings and explaining the process of returning them to the sea

 

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Brenna with her hatchling

     And so it was time to release the hatchlings. A line was placed in the sand and we had to stand behind the line and put them down in front of the line. Once we let go, we were not allowed to touch them again. Even if the waves knocked them upside down, or tossed them back onto the sand, we could not touch them, as it would interfere with the imprinting onto their brains of the magnetic field location of their “home” beach to which they would return as adults.

If you wish to learn more about this wonderful turtle sanctuary, you can find it on Trip Advisor in English and you can Google it for information in Spanish.  If you are visiting Mexico, especially with children, it is well worth the trip, though turtle releases are not guaranteed with your visit.

After the sanctuary, we headed to Tecoman for a nice lunch. At this restaurant there was a swimming pool, so we all cooled off with a swim and had a delicious lunch. The restaurant sits on the beach, but the current is too dangerous for regular swimming activities. However, Brenna did get to go into the Pacific Ocean, where we waded and splashed around a bit.

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And so we returned home after a day of fun and sun.

Our final day in Cofradía was spent at Project Amigo. Each of the work weeks has a specific theme, and this was “Swim Week.” We walked the few blocks to the Project Amigo office and had breakfast with the other volunteers.  The day before, the volunteers had packed backpacks for the students and we helped them to distribute the packs to the students in Quesería, the migrant camp, where Project Amigo had built additions to their school.

We had a regular ceremony where each volunteer would take a pack and the student and a parent would come up to receive it. The parent would then give words of wisdom to their son or daughter.

The other half of the day was spent at the pool, where our students were taught how to swim and various games were played in the pool. One of the girls spent a lot of time hanging onto Brenna, and I assisted with the weaker swimmers, supporting their bodies as they swam.

That evening we had dinner with the volunteers and the two students I support were there also. So Brenna was able to get to know the volunteers that day, including some close to her age, and also to meet my students and give them gifts from our European trip.

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Well, seems I have written quite a lot for today and I imagine you all must be getting tired. So, I will end here for now and finish our tale with my next post.  So have a good night and see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Glasgow by Train, then Flying Home

For three weeks, we had been traveling from place to place by air – large planes, tiny planes, connections which we barely made, and so on and so forth. Since our next stop after London was on the same island, I decided to give us a nice experience by taking the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Glasgow.

We arrived at London’s Euston Station around 10:30pm and found our train. I had reserved two private berths which was a good thing. Each berth, even if reserved privately, had two beds, one above the other. There was a sink and enough space for my two suitcases. It would have been uncomfortably crowded if we had been in the same compartment.

Unlike the long-distance Amtrak trains, there was one bathroom and one shower per train car, not located in the berths.  I don’t remember exactly, but I believe there might have been 6 berths per car, which would be up to 12 passengers total, or maybe 7 berths and 14 passengers.  Since we would be arriving in Glasgow around 7am, I decided that my shower could wait until we reached our Air BnB.

For me, it was a luxury not to have to worry about arriving at an airport, going through security, and all the other things involved in air travel for a change. For me, the room was cozy and comfortable. I love looking out the windows, whether on a bus, train or hotel, and so I lifted the shade. It was around midnight when the train began its journey, so of course I would have to wait until sunrise to see the landscape, but I read a little and then went to sleep.  Before going to sleep, an attendant came around to take our orders for breakfast.

Waking up at sunrise, I could enjoy the landscape outside and before arriving at our destination, we enjoyed breakfast delivered to our berths.

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view from the window of my Caledonian Sleeper berth

     Once at the station, we took a taxi to our Air BnB accommodations. This time we were in a lovely house where our hosts Fiona and Alex lived. Brenna and I each had our own bedroom, which was nice. And – they also had a washing machine, so we would be able to do our laundry! Yaaaayyyy!!!!

Fiona showed us around the house and we had a nice chat. After a while we walked into town and found a supermarket where we could buy some groceries. There were little Scottish meat pies, cookies, scallops still in their shell and the fish fillets were died a yellow color. An explanation was given when I asked about the yellow color, but unfortunately I didn’t write it down in my diary, and since it’s been over 2 months since that time, I am at a loss to explain it.

The following day was our appointment with Refuweegee, the organization that cares for the Syrian refugees who arrive in Glasgow. For those who follow my blog, you know that I have already published a post about them. For those new to my Facebook page, I will post the article after publishing this one

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Selina and Sarah of Refuweegee, with me and Brenna

I was so impressed with the spirit of the Glasweegians, particularly their care for the refugees among them who had lost everything.  If I was in my 20’s or 30’s again and had to pick another place to live, it would definitely be Glasgow. 

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copy of one of the welcome letters included in the welcome pack, given to the refugees when they arrive in Glasgow

     The train station was only two blocks from Fiona’s and Alex’s house. We waited and waited and several other people arrived and were waiting also. Finally one of the dads called somewhere on his cell phone and found that there was construction work being done, and so the train would not be arriving for several hours.

So we went back up to the street and hailed a taxi, arriving to our appointment at Refuweegee just in time.

That evening, after arriving at the house, we had long chats with Fiona and Alex. We also received directions on how to get around Glasgow by bus and the subway, and also the number for a taxi service.

I had read of a museum called the Hunterian on the grounds of Glasgow University, so we took the bus and subway, then walked around for what seemed like forever before finding the museum, due to construction and confusing directions that we received from the locals.

In one section, there were loads of ancient artifacts, but what interested me the most was the medical section of the museum. Glasgow was the seat of advances in neurosurgery, and I had been using the Glasgow Coma Scale for evaluating my patients for decades, not making the connection until I saw this exhibit, and then saying to myself, “So this is where it all started.”  I was awestruck, standing in this place in front of the actual instruments and papers from so long ago.

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Another interesting exhibit was the Blackstone chair, still in use at times. Students having their oral exams would sit in the chair. An hour glass would be turned over, and when the sand had all gone to the bottom of the glass, the student’s time was up and it was then the next student’s turn.

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There was also a plaque in honor of James McGill, founder of McGill University in Montreal, Canada

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After the museum, we continued exploring Glasgow.  With fewer and fewer stationery and book stores, at least in the U.S., we were thrilled to come upon an immense store named the Paper Chase, two floors of every type of paper, stationery and writing implements you could think of, and Brenna discovered pen/brushes that looked like thin markers but painted like paintbrushes.  We also walked around a nearby mall, and of course there were shops with all kinds of Scottish clothing and wares.

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After a while, we went to the bus stop, but it took a while to realize the bus we wanted had stopped running for the day about 1/2 hour before we arrived there, so once again we hailed a taxi to go back to the house.

I also have to comment on the Scottish accent and pronounciation. The people of Glasgow call themselves Glasweegians and Edinburgh is pronounced Edin-boro.  Although they are speaking English, when speaking with someone with a heavy Glasweegian accent, it was extremely difficult for me to understand them. If you want to hear more about this, you can check out You Tube for some videos. One video blogger is Wee Scottish Lass, but there are many others where you can learn the vernacular.

That Saturday I had booked an overnight flight from Glasgow to Mexico City via Amsterdam. In the past I had flown to Sydney, Australia from New York for a Rotary International convention, in coach. It was so uncomfortable and the risk of blood clots so severe that I swore I would never fly coach for such a distance again (total time was about 20 hours or so). Therefore, in addition to spending extra money for the hotel in Paris and the Caledonian Sleeper, I purchased business class tickets for the flight to Mexico City.

First stop after Glasgow was Amsterdam, where we had a layover of about 3 hours. Along with our tickets, we could go to the lounge in the airport, where a meal and coffee were complementary.  And then it was time to board the Aeromexico flight.

The seats were in the front row and 4 across – two in the middle and one on either side of the bulkhead. Brenna and I had the bulkhead seats. So comfortable, and the seats actually flattened into a bed. As the flight was 12 hours, it was nice to be able to stretch out and not be cramped with my joints folded for all that time, so we landed in Mexico City refreshed.

Unfortunately, our flight from Mexico City to Colima had been changed, so there was a wait of over 7 hours, during which time we ate in the airport, read and walked around. After landing in Colima, we took a taxi to Cofradía de Suchitlán and I was finally home – and Brenna was about to experience The Real México !!!

Adiós and Hasta Luego !!!!