Thursday, November 22, 2018

El Día de Revolución

Revolution Day has come again in Mexico. I love being in Banámichi for this Mexican holiday because of the parade and celebrations that are held each year in remembrance of the beginning of the Mexican revolution on November 20th, 1910.

Back in 1910,  Porfirio Díaz had held the presidency of Mexico for some 36 years. In an election in 1910, Franciso I. Madero challenged Díaz and lost. Because the election was rigged, Madero led a revolt and eventually toppled Díaz and was named the new president.His position didn't last long, however, as he was also ousted in 1911. After that, the revolution continued  for about 10 years with many warring factions.

The period of the revolution led to fundamental changes that are still some of the foundations of modern Mexico. Some f the changes included term limits on the presidency and local leadership, and land reform. One of the great things about the Mexican political scene is the strict term limits: each Presidente (local mayor) may only hold office for 3 years and then he/she is out! No holding on to the position forever! Generally the whole administrative staff changes along with the presidente, which leads to a steep learning curve for the local government every 3 years. On the other hand,  lots of people get a chance to participate in local governance which can only be good..

History aside, on to the parade! It is mostly a children's event, with many school groups from Banámichi and other neighboring villages participating. Many of the children dress in costumes from the early 1900's, depicting people and events from that period. There are marching bands, police sirens, horses, and school floats, all led by the local administration, which is new this year, having taken office in the summer.

I love seeing the kids - little "revolutionaries" - there is such a purity and innocence about them, unspoiled by rampant US consumerism and the sense of entitlement that seems to go with it. It is also heartening to witness their pride and loyalty to Mexico. It is a sharp reminder that the US is not the center of the universe, and that is a good thing! Cultural and national diversity is positive and is to be celebrated. Viva Mexico! And Viva Banámichi!

School group
School marching band
Revolutionary era costumes
Revolutionary era scene on float
Little "revolutionary"
The littlest cowboy on the tiniest pony
 Tracy and June meet the new
Banámichi Presidente

Video of High School Folklorico  Dance Group 
at post-parade celebrations

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lunch in Nogales, Sonora

The best thing about leaving Banámichi and driving back to Tucson is stopping for lunch at Asadero Las Ranas (The Frogs Grill) in downtown Nogales, Sonora. We always seem to arrive there around noon time, ready for a bite to eat, and it is just a short distance before the SENTRI lane and the border crossing. A perfect stopping point!
Not much to look at...the sign is actually yellow
We used to wait until we had crossed the border to go to the Golden Arches or Burger King, but after a while, this became less and less appealing. There is only so much processed food one can eat in a lifetime. We wanted Mexican food, something real and fresh. Right on our way to the De Concini border crossing downtown we spotted the cheerful yellow sign with the happy green frogs. It is not much to look at, but we thought it might be what we were looking for and decided to give it a try. We have been dedicated patrons of the place ever since.

Come to find out, this was a happy accident, since the place is highly rated online, with 4 out of 5 stars on its google rating.

Ongoing promotion!
 We really like the Tacos al Pastor, which seem to run as a never-ending special promotion, at 40 pesos (about $2) for 4. You can't beat the price! The meat is cut from a conical pile, roasting vertically on a spit. It looks similar to Greek gyros as it is roasting.
Cone of roasting pork...that's our favorite waiter in the background!

The special...4 tacos al pastor
The pork is nicely seasoned, savory and crispy, served on warm corn tortillas with chopped onion, cilantro and bits of pineapple. The combination of savory and sweet is just perfect. Las Ranas also provides a salsa/condiment tray for each table. We like sampling all the different salsas on cucumber slices while we wait for out order. Watch out for the orange one! HooHah! Very hot!
Salsas and codiments
This isn't some boring old chain with pre-fab food. It serves real food that real Mexicans eat, with a fairly extensive menu, including some items like Caramelos, Gringas and Vampiras.  These might seem exotic to some Americans, but in reality are just various combinations of meat, cheese, beans and tortillas. All are freshly made and very tasty.

Meanwhile, the cooks behind the grill might be singing, serenading the diners.Vendors of all kinds wander through, and outside, entrepreneurial window washers clean the windshields of the cars, hoping for tips. The wait staff is very pleasant and helpful and service is prompt. We can be in and out in about 40 minutes if we are in a hurry. But actually, it is fun to linger a bit and just take in the passing scene.

Asadero Las Ranas is a slice of real life in Nogale,s Sonora. We recommend you give it a try if you find yourself there at lunch time. Actually, I see online that they are open until 2 AM should you crave a taco later in the day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Too Many Cats!

We had one part-time cat at our place in Banámichi, known as "Mama." She is an orange and gray feral cat that is given to raiding garbage cans in the neighborhood,  dragging stuff out of the cans and generally making a mess. She is also the culprit that keeps having her yearly clutch of kittens in our yard.

Our friends Dan and Tracy started out giving her the leftovers from their two pampered pets because she was so skinny. She seems to get by just fine when we are not there, but she did appreciate the handouts. Then she began hounding me for goodies with her pathetic yowl whenever I was out in the yard. It made me crazy. It broke my heart. I can't stand to see an animal so hungry and desperate.  I felt so sorry for her that I actually went to San Antonio's grocery store in Aconchi and bought her some cat food.

When I told my daughter  I was feeding a feral cat in Mexico, she said:  "No, you mean you ADOPTED a cat!" Well, ahem, I guess that is true. But we are only there for a week or so a month! She really is only a part time cat.

Now, when we arrive at the house, she somehow knows we are there, and hops the wall to start begging within half an hour of our arrival. It is uncanny how quickly she arrives. Maybe she has figured out that our truck near her favorite garbage can means food!

As she has become more comfortable with us, she has started to bring her whole clan over the wall with her. Near as we can tell, she brings at least two litters of kittens with her now. There are some little bitty ones, some medium sized ones, and herself. Three generations of cats! And then there is the back and white adult cat that seems to come with telling where that one fits into the familial mix. At one point I counted 8 cats around the food bowl!

The little pouches of Whiskas cat food that I got in Aconchi aren't nearly enough now. The littlest ones crowd in and literally snap the food out of the pouch before it hits the paper plate. I have to guard my fingers! Mama hangs back and lets her children eat first. A noble creature! I have started bringing dry cat crunchies in larger bags from Tucson.

Two little darlings
The two littlest ones are obviously from the same litter. One is a perfect little Siamese, with pretty blue eyes...probably a descendant of the infamous No-No, who was Vicky and Beto's cat before it ran away. The other  little one is orange colored and also very cute, climbing trees and stretching its body like a dog. One of the adolescent kittens is an orange one with a fluffy coat. It looks like it got its tail caught in a is only 2/3 the length it should be and has a right angle in what remains. Another medium sized one  is an orange short-hair with large blotchy markings, and beautiful big green eyes. Each one has some particular charming quality. We haven't named them yet, but I suppose that is coming.

A chaos of cats

The whole fam-damily now sits by our back door and waits for me to set foot outside in the morning before swirling and meowing around my feet. It is a chaotic sea of cats! Some of the bolder ones actually come and sit on our kitchen windowsill, peering in, curious about what we are doing inside. And with all of this, they are still very twitchy and run away if I step too close to them. They won't let me touch them yet.

Beautiful green eyes
Dan and Tracy occasionally let their two cats out in the yard on a leash. This last time, Bodhi, the gray cat was out when Mama and one of the small kittens came into the yard. I anticipated hissing and spitting, followed by a vicious brawl as cats are wont to do. But it was quite remarkable...Bodhi and Mama came face to face, sniffed each other's noses and then more or less ignored each other with one solitary growl passing between them. What was that about? So unusual!

One of the adolescent kittens got into my chicken wire garden enclosure in spite of my careful attempts to make it cat proof. I ran over to it clapping my hands and yelling: "Get outta there!" The poor thing freaked out, and could not find its way out. It ran back and forth from the wall to the chicken wire fence, literally launching itself at the obstacles. I was afraid it was going to knock itself out or get hurt. Finally, it managed to climb the cement wall and find its way out under the chicken wire.

We probably never should have started feeding them, but they were so cute and pathetic. And Mama will probably continue to pump out litters as time goes on. How many cats can we feed, even if it is just part time? If there were a competent, compassionate veterinarian in the area, I would gladly pay to get Mama spayed, but from what I hear that is not the case. I am not taking a cat all the way to Hermosillo to get it fixed. For now, the situation is interesting and fun to watch, but I don't know what is will happen as time goes on. Cats and more cats!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Banámichi November 2017

Insect Wars:
A month ago, tender green shoots were beginning to emerge from the soil. All was well in garden-land. Yes, I decided to hang in with the vegetables for one more year. 

But when we arrived in Banámichi a few days ago, only a few carrots, and some cilantro and dill were in evidence. What happened to the beets, spinach, chard, 3 kinds of lettuce and the other herbs? Had it been too hot? Did the grasshoppers get them? It was a mysterious disappearance. All the work to dig the plots and plant the seeds, not to mention the cash layout for seeds, soil amendments and drip tape. Those would be some damn expensive carrots! What a waste, and what a pain in the tushie!

Then we noticed that all the rose leaves were stripped off and the peach trees were  also stripped halfway down from the top. It became apparent that the culprit was "mochomos," aka leaf cutter ants. We've had them before, but never like this. 
Rose bush stripped of its leaves

Mochomo mound

We found several mounds that were obviously nest entrances. I saw online where some artists pour molten aluminum down ant holes and create amazing tree-root like sculptures. Not having any molten aluminum lying about, Dan W. got a Mexican product called "Trompa," little brown sticks that the ants carry down into their food supply in the nest that is supposed to get rid of them. It did slow them down, but the coup de grâce was when he poured a bunch of termite poison down the holes. Gone. I replanted the garden.
Aluminum Anthill Casting from anthillart,com

Then, we noticed termite tubes in our kitchen. One of them was actually free-standing between the floor and the bottom of the cabinet. We looked around and found that in places, the wood around the cabinets was gone and only the paint remained. One of the shelf supports actually disintegrated when Dan  picked up the shelf. Even the cotton rug in front of the sink was chewed up.
Some of the termite damage

So we had to take everything out of the cabinets, cut and drill holes in the sides and floor. The two Dans were lying on their bellies, half inside the cabinets, injecting termite poison into the cracks where they were coming in from outside. I am not a fan of pesticides, but thank God for termite poison. Gone. We put everything back into cabinets.

I have read online that the biomass of insects on the planet is actually much greater than the human biomass. That is scary!  They certainly have made a grab for our little corner of the world!

Our Banámich Cat:
Most cats in Banámichi are feral. They kill whatever they can and raid garbage cans to survive. Over time there are more and more cats, although the survival rate is low. For the last couple of years, a scrawny little brown and gray tortoise shell has consistently found hidey-holes in our back yard to have her kittens.

Mama Cat
Dan and Tracy always bring their two pampered pets down with them. They felt sorry for the skinny mama cat, and so when their cats left food over, they began putting it out for the stray. Gradually the cat became accustomed to the handouts and now she hangs out in the yard and shows up a couple times of day with her pitiful and piercing meows. She seems to know when one of our cars arrives, and within a few minutes is yowling in the back yard for something to eat. We always feel sorry for her and succumb to her wiles. Of course we are only here for a week or so a month, so this is intermittent reinforcement which is the most potent reward system.

Last time we were here, it was impossible to work in the garden because she literally followed me everywhere, meowing piteously. We actually went to Aconchi to buy some cat food so she would leave me alone. So now she has become a fixture of our visits. She gets nose to nose through the screen door with Dan and Tracy's cats. Remarkably, there is no spitting and hissing, just curiosity on both sides of the door. 

 Kitten With Hincky Tail
Now, Mama Cat has started to bring some of her older kittens with her, so we are beginning to feed the whole famdamily! The kittens are very afraid of us, hurling themselves at the garden wall in an attempt to get away if one of us comes near them. But Mama is letting us get closer and closer. Dan W. says she actually rubs up against his legs now when he feeds her. So we have us a part-time cat!

It's Papaya Time:
 Last spring, our friend Vicky gave me and friend Lynn a plastic bucket with a bunch of small papaya trees growing in it. I carefully cut them apart, and we each planted some. So now, I have a cluster of 4 fairly tall papaya trees, loaded with green papayas! One of them was ripe, and I have been eating it over the last few days. It is sweet and delicious...way better than any commercial papaya! Life is good!
Trya Papaya...they're delish!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 2017 Banamichi Update

The days seem to fly by now, each new one chasing the tail of the previous one. It is hard to believe that 8 months have passed since I last wrote about Banámichi. Despite the tone of my last post, we are indeed alive and well, and still enjoying our home away from home on the Rio Sonora. In fact, we just returned to Tucson from a short visit.

Mexico still holds surprises and continues to delight.. Some surprises are fun, and others...well, not so much! As we entered Mexico through the Mariposa border crossing a week ago, a monstrous piece of machinery was parked right where we needed to go to get on Route 15 south. It took up nearly two lanes and there was no way to get around it. The only choice was to hang a right and go through the customs booth for Nogales Centro.

The left two lanes were completely blocked (Photo from

We did our best to convey to the border official that we needed to be on Route 15, and asked how to get back there. He mumbled something really fast about the periférico (ring road) and waved his arms around in a random direction. Neither of us had a clue what he said, so off we went into the black hole of Nogales Centro.

If it really had been the center of town it would have been OK; we would have recognized the streets. But it was just some random road on the outskirts of town with road construction going on. I turned on my cell phone and asked Google to navigate to Hermosillo. Google in its infinite stupidity took us to Calle Hermosillo. Who even knew there was a Hermosillo Street? Now we were really an impoverished neighborhood water ran in rivers down the streets from the recent monsoons.

OK, Google, try again. Navigate to Hermosillo, Sonora. Long story short, after several more ridiculous  directions and about half an hour, we finally stumbled upon Route 15. Phew! Surprising, but really stressful.

It was really good to arrive, but with all the rain, the backyard was full of weeds that needed pulling. That was lots of hot, sweaty work between 6:30 and 9:30 AM each day we were there, and necessitated two major dump runs. Finally the yard looked like its gorgeous self again just as we had to leave for Tucson.

backyard looking all spiffy after days of work*

About a year ago, our friend Vicky gave me a 5 gallon bucket with a bunch of small papaya trees. I planted several of them in the yard, and now there are a number of nice looking papayas waiting to ripen. A lovely surprise!
Try a Papaya! (when they are ripe)*

When we left the last time the avocado tree had one lonely avocado. We looked everywhere for it, but it was gone...victim to some unknown fate. While we were staring at the tree, Dan W. saw another avocado that was still there....coolio! It might even be ready by the next time we go down.

One lonely avocado*

One evening, the two Dans, Tracy and I decided to go out for dinner, but without a real destination in mind. There is not too much to choose from in Banámichi. We drove south down  the road to the town of Huepac, where we found the remnants of a festival in honor of San Ignacio. There were pop-up restaurants, bouncy-castles for the kids, shooting galleries, and booths selling all the plastic stuff made in China. Very colorful!

We decide on food from Dany's Restaurant, which seemed just right since we had our own two Dannys along. We ordered Sopes Al Pastor..thick corn tortillas with spicy cooked pork. Then the flies descended.  Hordes! Millions! Must be due to the season and all the rain. The food was tasty, but we gobbled it up  quickly while flailing our arms about to fan away the flies and praying that we wouldn't wake up with Montezuma's revenge. (A pleasant surprise...we didn't.)

Two Dannys (and me) at Dany's*

Afterwards, we wandered about the carnival and were just in time to see a gigantic Sponge Bob Square Pants bouncy castle arise from a heap of rubber in the road as it was inflated.  Hilarious! Tracy wondered how Saint Ignacio would feel about Sponge Bob making an appearance at his festival!

Sponge Bob rising from the dead*

Next was the mechanical gorilla. It was so grotesque that a picture was in order. Then, as we turned to walk away, someone activated it, and it roared and shook the cage. The sound was so earsplitting that we all jumped in surprise!

We left just in time, because as we drove back into Banámichi, there was lightning and thunder all around us . The sky was magnificent, with the red and orange sunset and the black clouds...a beautiful end to another interesting day in Mexico. Overall, an interesting adventure.

And one last update..Tracy seems to have hired herself a older woman (look who's talking!) named Maria Jesus.This almost guarantees more interesting surprises in the future. Hooray for Banámichi!

*Photos courtesy of Dan and Tracy Williams


Friday, December 16, 2016

Time and Change

 "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Ecclesiastes 3:1

"Everything changes, nothing remains without change."

It is impossible to believe that it is 8 years since we bought our house in Banámichi. So little has changed and yet everything has changed.

Beautiful Banámichi backyard

They say time speeds up as you get older. Our time here has passed in a flash. Things that were once easy and even fun have become more challenging.  With time, not only have we aged, but the house has weathered and aged a bit too. Entropy is a basic law of physics. Everything tends toward disorder and every house will require a certain amount of upkeep. And, after 8 years, it was time to re-surface the roof.

It would have been easy to throw money at the task and hire someone. Except that our buddy Ramón (whose crew renovated the house 8 years ago) is now busy administering public works for the town government. And then, pretty  much anyone else who is competent and physically able is working for the Santa Elena mine. There is literally no one to hire to do the work.

This left us to fall back on good old Mexican-style self-reliance.  We have found the Mexican people to be great at improvising alternatives for things they don't have and repairing broken items themselves in unconventional ways.   Unfortunately, there is not much improvisation when it comes to a roof. Either you do it or you don't, and it definitely needed doing. So it was up to us to get'er done.
Pressure washing the roof (or is it the sky?)

Our house partner Dan prefers to use the very best materials. We can see the logic of that. But at our age, we see the changes which are coming, and we know that it is likely that we have maybe 5 more years here at most, so the roof only needs to last that long until we sell the place. Priorities do change. We bought our paint from the local ferreteria ( hardware store) in Banámichi.

This past year I have been watching with sadness as various friends and acquaintances about my age have increasing health problems or even pass on. I never used to dwell on this stuff, but now aging and death are forcing their way into my awareness. Limitations are becoming inescapable as I feel myself having less energy for activities that have been important to me over the years.

One of my great pleasures here in Banámichi has been keeping the vegetable garden. Each year though, digging it over and moving bags of soil amendments and raking and kneeling become a bit harder. Afterwards, the body protests for several days with aches and exhaustion. This year I found myself thinking that this might be the last time I am able to do this.

Veggie garden ready for the winter

I have always valued self-reliance. As a child I had fantasies about growing my own food and not needing anything from anyone. I would have made a great homesteader back in the day.  I have enjoyed  fermenting vegetables, making homemade sourdough bread, and general do-it-myselfing.
But nowadays, even firing up the adobe oven and making pizza feels like more of an all day challenge and less fun than it once was.

So the guys bit the bullet and re-surfaced the roof. It was 4 days of hard work. My Dan detests that kind of project and hated every minute of it. And now, after the fact, it seems that carrying the 60 pound buckets of elastomeric paint up to the roof may have given him a herniated disc. We can no longer assume that it is OK to push our bodies the way we once did.

Those buckets are bone-crunchers!

Then, right after the last of the paint went on the roof, it started to rain. It rained quite hard for several hours and so it took the paint a very long time to dry. Some of the roof needs repair already where walking on it pulled up the still-wet paint. Oh, and now the tinaco (water tank on the roof) has developed a leak and needs to be repaired. It is a never-ending do-it-yourself project having this house. We are not ready to give up just yet, but time is like a thief in the night, and I when I wake in the wee hours of the morning, I can hear him sneaking around.

I feel very sad about the thought of leaving Banámichi and our little house that I love so much. There is so much that I love here...the people, the town, the sunshine, the peace and quiet, the nearby hot springs. This had been such a rich and fulfilling experience.I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but I can see coming just over the horizon. Everything is subject to change and nothing remains static.  Such is the poignancy of life.

Everything ends in its time
The only antidote I know for this sadness is to be as fully alive, present and conscious as possible in every moment. Live well, love greatly and laugh a lot. Then when the thief finally strikes, greet him with recognition and cooperation.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Opossum Karma

What goes around comes around, right? That appears to apply in the world of possums as well as humans.

Peels and poop
When we arrived in Banámichi recently, we found our back porch littered with poop and orange peels. At first, I suspected the hordes of neighborhood feral cats, but they don't tend to eat oranges. Then the memory popped up...when we first started developing the property, the two Dans routed a toothy snarling opossum from its burrow in the shed with a broomstick. Then, I found an orange with telltale tooth marks. This was no cat! Googling images of possum poop, (You've gotta love the internet!) we quickly identified the present culprit.  It was the revenge of the possum!

Check out those teeth!!
Although it was a fun thought, it was unlikely the original possum was exacting revenge now, as the typical lifespan is only a couple of years. It was more of a collective species revenge...perhaps the descendants of that first individual were coming back to eat our oranges and relieve themselves. Actually, I didn't begrudge them a few oranges, it was their toilet habits that were totally unacceptable.
They really clean out those oranges!

Another annoying behavior was taking the oranges up into the space between the porch ceiling and the sheet metal roof to eat them. We now had orange peels hanging from the ocotillo ceiling that randomly dropped from their roost. Yuck!

Peels hanging from the ceiling

As opportunistic omnivores, possums actually have a valuable place in the ecosystem, eating snails, cockroaches, mice and addition to garbage and fruit. They are the only marsupial in North America, meaning that the babies live in the mother's pouch until they are capable of living on their own. According to the Opossum Society of the United States (Who would have thought it?), opossums roamed the earth at the time of the dinosaurs. Maybe that is why they have a scaly, rat-like tail. These days, they apparently have adapted to thrive in urban and residential areas. In northern Mexico they are known as "tlacuache."

Ultimately we didn't want to harm the possum, just move it along. Aha! Our friend Rafael is known as the "Walmart" of Banamichi, because he has a warehouse full of one of everything anyone could possibly want. I remembered that he had a have-a-heart trap, which we promptly borrowed.

Baiting it with oranges and a few nuts, the first night we didn't catch anything, but there was more poop and hollowed out oranges everywhere. The second night we baited the trap with cat food and chicken scraps. The next morning I was trying to slip quietly out of the bedroom without waking Dan, when, out of a seemingly deep sleep he clearly said, "We got a coon!" Well, not so much a  coon, but after all, the man was asleep! I ran outside to find a cute little guy curled up in the trap, also sound asleep. There was poop on top of the trap.
Isn't it cute?
Starting to "play possum"
Thinking the little guy might be cold, we put the cage out in the sun. The possum responded by "playing possum," the origin of the term. They roll onto one side, open their mouths, close their eyes, and drool. Sometimes they even exude a foul smell. After a while it sat up, and as a parting shot, peed on the patio.

We took it for a 5 mile ride out to the hinterlands in the desert to the east of Las Delicias, a tiny community that is not even on the main road. Only a small sign on the road even signals its existence. When one of the Dans opened the cage, it just stood there for a moment and then very cautiously stuck out its long pointy snout and peered around as if thinking, "Where the heck am I?"  It sniffed a few times and then very slowly emerged from the trap. Once out, it picked up speed and ran with its odd rollicking gait into the brush. Bye, baby!
Venturing out of the trap

For the rest of the day I worried about it...had it found a new burrow? After the easy pickings of the oranges, would it find enough to eat? Poor little thing! It had seemed to be a fairly young possum. When it snarled, we could see its healthy pink gums and 50+ sharp new teeth.

Bye, baby!
Dan and Tracy believed there was more than one midnight marauder. I myself didn't believe the multiple possum hypothesis. They are largely solitary creatures. Anyway, the trap got set again the next night.

After trapping and releasing a feral cat around 10PM, we woke up to find another much larger possum in the trap. But it didn't go into the trap before leaving a large turd right outside our back door. When they have the whole backyard, why do they have to do this on the porch? Revenge?  This one showed more signs of wear and tear... a torn ear, gum problems. Of course it showed us its fully open mouth...snarling and growling. It must have been a full grown adult. Theories were floated that it was the mother of the previous one. Who knows? Could be.

The same scenario ensued...we again drove it out behind Las Delicias. When the cage was opened, it acted in exactly the same manner as the first one, extreme caution, followed by a bolt for the bushes. Good riddance! Neither of them are coming back from that distance.
Hinterlands east of Las Delicias...their new home
The trap was set again last night, but all we caught was a black kitten which must have been hungry. The chicken scraps and cat food were gone. The orange was untouched.

Hopefully we have relocated all the culprits at this point. But we have also changed the ecosystem of the neighborhood. Sooner or later, the possum population will redistribute itself and new ones will come back to exact revenge. What goes around comes around.