Saturday, February 13, 2010

Early Valentine's Day And Carnaval

Arrgh, I am reading one of the most stupid spy novels ever, "The Bourne Legacy." It is a spy fiction thriller written by Eric Van Lustbader and based on the character of Jason Bourne who was created by author Robert Ludlum.

How dumb is it? Well consider the part where a gun is discovered at the scene of a double homicide, wiped clean of fingerprints, but registered to David Webb, aka Jason Bourne. Upen observing that the gun has been wiped clean of fingerprints the CIA decides the murders are obviously the work of a highly trained professional. Huh, you wipe the gun clean but then leave it so they can trace the ownership, and nobody suspects something strange is going on?

Then, of course, Jason Bourne has to run because he is being hunted. It never occurs to him to send a letter to his superiors explaining the circumstances that brought him to the crime scene and telling him of where they can find evidence (the bullet holes in the tree on the campus where he was shot at and intentionally missed).

Then, when he is running he sees a roadblock and, to avoid detection, checks into a nearby motel. The CIA is setting up roadblocks but don't think about checking out motels within the perimeter?

This book reminds me of all of the hundreds of movies you see where someone with a machine gun is shooting behind the running target and can never hit them. First thing you learn in the military is shoot in front of the target and sweep back at it.

But enough, I will finish the book gnashing my teeth all the way.

A bunch of us went to Cafe Bohemia for a pre-Valentine's Day dinner accompanied by live music and cocktails.

The Hard To See Sign

The Dinner Crowd

Being very careful to make sure that Peter is given his due:

I Give You Peter

And, of course, without whom none of this would be possible:

Bar Man And The Mysterious Chinese Woman

After dinner we hung around to watch the Carnaval Parade, soon to rival New Orlean's Mardi Gras and Rio's Carnaval. Of course it first has to get big enough to where they block the parade route to regular traffic. It got to be quite a mess at times.

There isn't really much to say about the parade other than it was fun and it did draw quite a crowd on the streets. It kind of reminded me of both the Halloween parade in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island before they got really big.

Without further adieu, I give you Puerto Vallarta's Carnaval Parade.

You may have noticed that my pictures down here aren't up to my usual quality, which isn't that high to start with. I forgot to load my Photoshop software so I have to rely on Hotshots, which only has limited editing capabilities. Consider this the equivalent of viewing a movie shot with a hand-held camera. It gives it more versimilitude.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tamale Party

The other day a few of us headed out to my friends Tom and Elba's (but everyone calls her Baya) house to make tamales. Well, in my case it was to watch tamales being made.

They live out on the way to Pitillal. When I first started coming to Puerto Vallarta Pitillal was almost like a distant village and the first thing you saw on the way into town was a cockfight ring. The ring is long gone and Pitillal is now more of a suburb.

We took the bus to Walmart where Tom picked us up for the ride to his house. We could have taken the bus right to the entrance to his complex, only we wouldn't have known where to get off. That was where we caught the bus to go home, though.

I have kind of a running dialogue going with one of the columnists in the PVMirror, a weekly English language paper here. She is always complaining about the number of largely unoccupied buses here in Puerto Vallarta. Again, as usual, the bus that I took, both coming and going, was standing room only.

I have gained a whole new respect for the making of tamales. It is a long and labor intensive process. Baya said that Mexicans typically devote a whole day to making them and then make enough to last a long time.

The process started by cutting up chickens for the fillings.

Mysterious Chinese Woman And Marcie At Work

Then the real work begins, kneading and pounding the dough. I think it is just corn flour with freshly made stock from the chickens added along with melted lard.

Takes Some Muscle

That is Marisol, Baya's daughter doing most of the work, but she was soon joined by Baya who, like all mothers, offered advice.

The More The Merrier

And before you knew it there was a whole gaggle of onlookers. That is Tom, Baya's husband, and Marisol's daughter Belinda joining the crowd.

One Day, Belinda, You Will Be Doing This

I think Belinda was less than enthusiastic about that proposition and decided to retreat to her little hide-away for a snack.

I Want To Be Alone

Then more prep work cutting up and cooking the vegetables that would also be used in the filling.

Told You It Was A Long Process

After hours of pounding and kneading the dough to a creamy texture it was time to actually wrap the dough around the filling and then wrap that all in the corn husks.

Finally, Getting To The End

Once everything is wrapped up the tamales are steamed and then ready for eating.

The Finished Product

The stuff in the mug is a warm drink made out of cornmeal that has a taste and consistency of a warm vanilla malted milk. It was quite good, much better than I expected. Tom, who spends part of the year with Baya in Wisconsin (nothing will be said about Brett Favre) says it is particularly good on a cold winter morning along with tamales. Tamales seem to be a pretty standard Mexican breakfast.

And, of course, the Mysterious Chinese Woman had to display here handiwork.

So Much Better When You Make Them Yourself

A Naked Tamale, Unwrapped And Ready For Eating

And here are the spot the differences pictures. We really need to hire a full time photographer so we can all be in the same picture one day.

Picture Number One

Picture Number Two

Pay particular attention to the gentleman on the right. That is Peter, Tom's brother. He has been complaining that his friends want to know why he is never in any of my pictures so I am trying to make it up to him.

If you ever order tamales in a Mexican restaurant I hope this gives you some appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making them. It really does take a long time and a lot of muscle to pound that dough into the creamy texture required. But, in my opinion, the effort is well worth it. Particularly when none of the effort is mine.

Yesterday a bunch of us went out for an early Valentine's Day dinner and then afterwards took in the Carnaval Parade. I will post pictures tomorrow. Tonight we are going out for a real Valentine's Day dinner, but I don't know where yet. I don't get this, the Mysterious Chinese Woman gets both a pre and actual birthday dinner and Valentine's day dinner.

Oh, almost forgot, today is also Chinese New Year. It is the year of the Tiger. The year of the Tiger is a very likely to be a volatile year, everything is taken to its limit. It can also be a year of war, disasters and all kinds of disputes. It is a year for massive change, but this can also bring out the best. Hold on to your hats.

What Are Friends For?

My buddy Chris showed up to spend a week down here in lovely Puerto Vallarta. His first few days were a bit of a bust because of the unusually cool and rainy weather, but things have turned around a bit and it has now turned sunny and warm. We even saw a whale frolicking in the bay. First one of the year.

Like all "good" friends he brought me a little gift. Something appropriate knowing my feelings toward Brett "maybe I will retire" Favre. And, believe me, Chris did know my feelings.

Oooh, Just What I Have Always Wanted

The only thing worse would have been a Knicks Stephon Marbury jersey. I will probably get that next year.

And yet I still took him to one of my favorite little restaurants for lunch. Well, actually, I didn't take him to lunch. But I did let him come along with us.

El Brujo

Still one of my favorite restaurants after all these years. Largely unchanged except for a repainted exterior and new signage.

The Happy Crew

I really like the cerviche here but because it has been so chilly and damp I had been thinking about their seafood soup. Even though it was a bright sunny day I still had it on my mind, so that is what I had.


I also got to try out a new Spanish word that I learned from a Joe Jack's Fish Shack menu - "Joven" which is pronounced HO Ben and means either waiter or waitress. I am so proud of myself. In less than two weeks I have already learned my new word for the year.

Puerto Vallarta seems to think that it can someday compete with New Orleans and Rio for Mardi Gras and Carnaval tourists. I think they have a ways to go, but at least they are trying.

Come Party In Puerto Vallarta

I suspect the beach parties are a bit more, shall we say, rambunctious in Rio.

Hey, You Got To Start Somewhere

Speaking of tourists, I went to a friend's house for a tamale party the other day (I will post about this in a day or so) and we met him at the Walmart so he could drive us to his place. We got there just as a cruise ship was disembarking right across the way. It was an amazing sight to see, like lemmings all of the people streaming off the cruise ship and heading into the Walmart. Apparently this is an everyday event. Can you imagine, taking a cruise, landing in beautiful Puerto Vallarta with so many interesting places to see and things to do and the first thing on your agenda is to head to a Walmart?

For the tourists who do eventually make it into downtown Puerto Vallarta via one of the large buses that pick them up at the ship, the large, over-priced jewelry stores that nobody but cruise ship tourists ever frequent is the first stop. Then they head to the least authentic Mexican place in town, Senor Frog's, to complete their Mexican experience. Comparatively speaking, the Bubba Gump's here is like going to someone's house for a home-cooked meal and a bout of tequila sampling.

There is a Senor Frog's, or two, in just about every cruise ship and tourist destination you can think of, Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Rico, San Juan, Aruba..., and the list goes on. How some of these people who take these cruises can go home and tell their friends that they have actually "visited" Puerto Vallarta is beyond me.

I think it is just a matter of time until a cruise line outfits a ship with a Walmarts, an over-priced jewelry store (I think they have these already) and a Senor Frog's. That way it could just load up, move offshore a bit, and park there for a week. The tourists would be happy. Hell, they probably wouldn't know the difference, and the savings in fuel would be enormous.

Tomorrow night is the Carnaval parade here in town, so I will try to get a few pictures of that and let you see what it was like.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Doing The Wave

As promised, some pictures of the unusual surf conditions we are experiencing this year.

Commuters In For A Rough Ride

The surfers were enjoying themselves.

Waiting For The Big One

You can see how high the waves are, and how far out from shore they are breaking. Most unusual.

Fly Little Birdie, Fly Away Home

The local fishermen were not deterred, however.

Here Fishie Fishie Fishie

And their hard work seemed to be paying off.

Proudly Displaying The Morning's Catch

I have never seen them catching fish like this in all the years I have been coming here. I believe these are mojarra tilapia, which would make for some very good eating.

My friend Chris is coming in from Minneapolis today and I expect he will be ready for some warm weather. I have been watching the storm system sweeping the eastern seaboard and it looks like New York City is getting hit this time around. Several airlines including Jet Blue and Continental have cancelled all of their flights and, of course, there are major delays with the flights that are still operating. They are running extra trains out of Manhattan starting at noon to allow people to get out of town with a minimum of fuss. I think this might last for several days.

I am glad I am here.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Too Much Information

I must be one of the only gringos to ever have to buy a laxative here in Mexico. But after a three day stoppage I had no choice. Now, five major morning dumps later or, more precisely, five major dumps this morning, I feel fine. The strong Mexican coffee also helped, I am sure.

Sorry, no pictures.

The weather here is still overcast in the mornings and late afternoons with a smattering of light showers. I just read where the storm we had here last Tuesday had winds of up to 85 miles an hour out by Punta Mita, the north end of the bay.

We still have high waves and earlier I got some pictures of surfers right here on Los Muertos. Kind of unusual, they are normally further out of town where the waves tend to be higher. The pelicans are still flocking here so the fish must still be blowing in as well. I haven't seen any whales or dolphins, though.

I will try to post some more pictures tomorrow when I have a better connection and can upload them. I can sometimes get a weak wireless connection out on my balcony, like now, but not good enough to upload pictures.

Here is a picture I already uploaded, just to add some color (other than brown) to this post.

The Local Fruit And Veggie Vendor

My brother-in-law Jim thought that the Mysterious Chinese Woman and I maybe thwarted an alien invasion when we killed the little white worms yesterday (too much Godzilla vs Mothra when he was young). A Mexican friend of mine said they were just baby maggots. I would have been happier if they were, indeed, aliens.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Chili And Pasta Contest

Before getting into the chili/pasta thing, let me congratulate all of you Saints fans out there. An unusually exciting Super Bowl for a change, and I was glad to see the Saints win. Not too surprisingly, they are partying like crazy in New Orleans and schools and most businesses are closed for the occasion. And the parade isn't even until tomorrow.

Saturday a bunch of us took a bus up the river to a chili and pasta contest.

On The Bus

It is about a twenty minute bus ride that is worth more than the price of admission, 6.5 pesos or about 50 cents. You get to wind your way through some little neighborhoods you otherwise might not see and marvel at how the bus can navigate its way through the narrow streets.

La Huerta Grill And Bar

La Huerta means something like truck farm in Spanish, and I guess is a reference to the fresh produce they use in their cooking here. Victoriano Huerta was also a general in the Mexican Revolution during which, it seems, most of the revolutionaries spent most of their time fighting each other. Mexican history is really quite fascinating, and I should spend more time studying it.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the ambulance parked at the entrance to the courtyard where the contest was being held. Was this some kind of an omen?

Beware The Chili

No need to worry, though. The contest was to raise money for the Mexican Red Cross so it was there primarily as an advertisement.

They had a nice little bar and my old friend Sweeny of Sweeny's Bar was already parked when I arrived.

Sweeny At The Bar

He was a participant in the chili contest. The contest was a bit, shall we say, disorganized. First, both of the local English weekly papers had the time of the event listed as 2:00 PM. However, when we arrived shortly before then the place was already packed and a lot of the chili and pasta dishes were already gone.

The Opening Crowd

Then, next to each chili and pasta dish were little plastic dishes with a number on the bottom that was supposed to correspond to either the chili or pasta to the left or to the right of them. I never did quite figure it out.

The Serving Area

And, because the instructions weren't too clear, a lot of people just picked up a bunch of the little plastic dishes from the first serving station and used them for everything. Then, of course, those dishes ran out and this was repeated at the next station.

Oh well, it was all in good fun and it wasn't like there were big trophies or cash prizes. I just asked Sweeny what number his chili was and wrote it down. Hey, stuffing the ballot boxes is kind of a tradition.

The restaurant also had pasta dishes available, but they weren't entered.

Restaurant Quality

We all had a great time, as usual. Hey, all you could eat for 100 pesos, 20 peso beers, and round-trip bus fare for another buck. A great and inexpensive way to spend the afternoon.

Okay, here is another one of the spot the differences puzzles. Between the two pictures our entire crew can be seen. Just not all at the same time.

Picture One

Picture Two

And then it was time for our bus ride back home.

Our Ride Awaits

I love to ride the buses here. Just hop on one and see where they go. At the worst you can be stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to wait for a half an hour or so until the bus decides to turn around and head back. Usually you can find a little bodega or someplace to get a beer and sit and wait, though.

A Typical "Bus Stop"

Woke up this morning to find a whole bunch of these little white worms or larva on my kitchen and balcony floor.

Lair Of The White Worm

They are much too small to be fly maggots, and I haven't seen too many flies around here. They are fairly small moving but were spread out pretty much throughout the kitchen floor with a few on the balcony. No real single concentration though and we couldn't find anyplace that they seemed to be coming from.

Luckily they couldn't seem to navigate the steps up to our bedrooms and bathrooms. That would have freaked out the Mysterious Chinese Woman. I claimed a bad back and said I couldn't bend down to squish them in a napkin but gleefully pointed them out to her from a safe distance.