Monthly Archives: March 2014

Primavera en Tlaquepaque

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March 21st arrived last week, announcing the beginning of a new season. Spring is that glorious time when all things dormant come alive again. It brings with it the promise of warmer weather, unless you live in Winnipeg where it still continues to snow.

But here in Mexico blossoms fill the trees.

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New flowers bud and burst into color.

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Walking along the streets, cascades of blooms hang over walls.

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The temperatures here have soared into the mid-nineties in the past week. I am seriously contemplating the purchase of an umbrella to shade myself from the sun as so many people do here.

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The beaches are lined with umbrellas to protect sun-worshippers year round. But as summer approaches, they become even more in demand.

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The other day it rained, a highly unusual phenomenon for this time of year. And in the neighboring state of Michoacan, a tornado touched down

But then the weather has been crazy all over the world this year. There have been blizzards, devastating floods, mudslides, hurricanes and earthquakes.

But it’s spring! And I am excited about my favorite season! Here are some more photos of my world that I’d like to share with you:

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If you live up north where you are still submerged in snow, I hope that my photos have brightened your day. And spring will eventually come your way. There’s just been a slight delay…….

 

 

 

 

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If I Had It to Do Over……………………

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“If I had it to do over”………..how often do we utter these words? As the years go by and we reflect on our lives, these words often become a favored topic of conversation among friends. I find that here in Mexico, where we are all so transient and come from such different backgrounds, we often share our life experiences and compare our hopes and dreams that have yet to materialize.

By no means does this means that our hopes and dreams have been shattered. In fact quite the opposite is true. We learn from our past and we can then make more appropriate choices for our future.

I read an article the other day that involved choosing one past regret for each decade and examining how it has impacted your life. My first thought was, “Wow! Only one?”But the more time I spent contemplating my life, the more sense it made. And as I travelled through time, I noticed a trend. These regrets began with the trivial and evolved into the deeper issues that seriously affected my quality of life. 

I’ll start with the 50’s. I always hated my short hair, but my mother insisted that it was easier to care for and that I looked cute with short hair. I now look back at pictures of me with short hair and I do see the logic in my mother’s philosophy. Short hair takes far less time to dry and is easier to style. And I did look kind of cute.

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It is now 2014 and I have long hair. It does dry quickly here in Mexico and I usually wear it down so there is a minimum of styling involved.

Back in the 60’s music was my passion. Although I myself played mostly classical music on the piano, I was totally taken by the British invasion of rock and roll. I attended concerts frequently in Winnipeg, enjoying the music of Herman’s Hermits, The Who, The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies. And I saw American groups such as The Beach Boys, Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Monkees as well. Other memorable concerts included Simon & Garfunkel and Sonny & Cher. And I grew up in Winnipeg where Neil Young and The Guess Who were legends. My regret for this decade? I didn’t go to Woodstock when I had the opportunity.

The music from this event has influenced not only my taste in music, but also my lifestyle as well. Today I feel more like the free spirit I was back then, and conformity just isn’t a word in my vocabulary.

In the 70’s, the regret I have involved both my personal life as well as my career choice. I married way too young and opted for an abysmal job in our family business instead of obtaining further education and pursuing a more rewarding career. I have since come to the realization that an undergraduate degree is merely a stepping stone and should not signify the end of a formal education. Over the years I have returned to school and earned other degrees, which have enabled me to become financially independent and able to enjoy the lifestyle I now have in Mexico where I teach English part-time.  

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Because I am now single again, I am free to make all decisions as to where to live and travel, as well as with whom to associate. I am rediscovering the “Karen” that was buried throughout all those years of marriage. I have recovered my self-confidence and my self-esteem and am truly living life to the fullest now.

I loved the 80’s. I gave birth to two wonderful children and really enjoyed being at home with them. I was fortunate that I had a home office and I worked while my babies napped. I was there to hear their first words, see their first steps and really revel in all the joys of parenthood. We baked together, did a variety of crafts together and went to library and gym programs together. And of course I was the chauffeur for all the extracurricular activities once they started school. My only regret is that I didn’t have a third child. My two pregnancies had been very difficult, and my doctor strongly advised that I be content with two children. After all, I had a boy and a girl. And they are the loves of my life!

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The 90’s was a decade of family challenges. There were problems within my own family, as well as issues with extended family members. My one regret is that when my battle with depression and anxiety began shortly after my mother’s death, I didn’t listen to my psychiatrist. He suggested on several occasions that pills were not the answer and that I needed to get out of my marriage instead. Had I listened back then, perhaps many of the issues I have struggled with over the years could have been avoided. But more importantly, my children may have had a happier childhood in a more loving and secure environment.

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The first decade of the new millenium brought additional health challenges. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees and surgery was indicated. I was reluctant to have this surgery primarily because my mother had died having this surgery. I was terrified at the aspect of knee surgery, and was determined to delay the inevitable as long as possible. I endured constant pain for years. This affected my career as I could no longer meet the physical demands involved  in working with mentally challenged individuals. It greatly limited my physical activities as walking became more and more difficult. Stairs were sheer torture and I finally convinced my husband that it was time to sell the two level house and move into a bungalow.

Recently I have had two successful knee surgeries, and I only wish that I hadn’t waited so long to have them. Before the surgery, walking into a store from a handicapped parking space was a challenge, and stairs were absolutely taboo. Today I walk for miles on uneven pavement here in Mexico and stairs are no longer an issue. And I do not miss that constant nagging physical pain at all.

And now we are well into the second decade of the 21st century. My regrets have gone from a hairstyle to music to education to having children to divorce to health challenges. While I love my new life here in Mexico, I do have one regret, and it’s a big one. I live thousands of miles away from my children, and I am missing out on so much of their lives right now. I miss the days of being a stay-at-home mom where I was with them constantly and lived life through their eyes as well. I guess I still have a few more years in the decade to ponder this one…………

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Take a Bus Ride in Guadalajara

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In view of what has transpired this week in Guadalajara, I thought it appropriate to relate my experiences in using public transit in this city.

I will begin by stating that I have yet to ride on a bus here that would be deemed roadworthy to travel on the streets in my hometown in Canada. While the executive class buses I use for travel between cities are luxurious with amenities such as WiFi and computer terminals at each seat featuring movies and music, the buses in the city are dilapidated and unsafe.

The other day all the main streets in Centro Guadalajara were closed down due to a huge protest of thousands of people. It would appear that the people here are fed up with the dangers of using public transit. They are demanding changes and improvements. And the government has finally stepped in and is taking action.

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Back in December of 2013, an increase of one peso was approved, resulting in a full fare of seven pesos. Students, seniors and handicapped would now pay three and a half pesos instead of three pesos. In return, the buses were to be maintained regularly to ensure safety and the drivers were to have certifications and wear uniforms. A third stipulation was that the safety record required drastic improvement.

Effective March 10th, the fares were rolled back to 6 pesos and three pesos respectively. Why? None of the conditions had been met. People were outraged last week when a bus careened into a crowd of students outside of a university, resulting in the death of a young woman. Cause of the crash was an intoxicated bus driver.

I have found bus drivers here to be reckless and distracted. They talk and text on cell phones while driving. They also smoke while passengers are not allowed to smoke. They race each other down the streets trying to pick up passengers. The drivers own their bus and routes. The more passengers, the more money. People are crammed into these vehicles, often hanging out of the open doors and merely grasping a railing. This is extremely dangerous as the drivers speed through the streets, disregarding traffic lights and constantly weaving in and out of traffic. And they lean on their horns in order to vent their frustration. Crashes are becoming far too common.

The conditions of the buses themselves are deplorable at best. There are often gaping holes in the floor and you can see the road below you. Cracked windshields and broken passenger windows are the norm. Graffiti decorates the interior, along with any religious paraphernalia that the driver may choose. Plush dice and stuffed animals are another favorite. The seats are hard metal and often sway as they are not sturdy. The floor above the wheels of the bus is raised, barely allowing anyone to fit into those seats. The buses lack proper lighting on the outside and it is difficult to discern the number of the route. Scratches, dents, front bumpers smashed and drooping as well as broken side view mirrors are extremely common. And of course the never ending loud noise from the brakes grinding in an attempt to stop the vehicle are constantly heard throughout the streets.

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Guadalajara implemented a first class bus system a couple of years ago called Tur. These are blue buses and are available on a very limited number of routes. They cost twelve pesos. The seats are quite comfortable and they are air-conditioned. But again the same problem with poorly maintained vehicles including inadequate lighting and grinding brakes.

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The Macrobus is an above ground rapid transit system that runs along one of the main streets in the city. It has a designated corridor and is a great option. There are two buses—one stops at every station and one is an Express that stops at only a few stations. They run constantly every few minutes from 6 am to 10 pm, the same hours as all the regular buses. There are also feeder buses that go through certain neighborhoods and provide an alternative to walking to a station.

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But a dedicated lane does not guarantee safety. Just last week a Macrobus mowed down a cyclist who had strayed into this lane. 

Guadalajara also has a subway system. However I have yet to use this form of transportation, so I know very little about it. I have friends who use it and highly recommend it as a fast way to traverse the city.

Having written at length about the woes of public transport in Guadalajara, there are also features that I enjoy and find amusing.

There are very few designated bus stops here. Basically, I stand on a corner and flag down a bus. They usually stop, although some drivers are impatient and want to get the green light and may speed by. Because there are so few marked bus stops, you merely ask a driver to let you out and they stop and let you off. This may be curbside or in the middle of four lanes of traffic. But it’s usually close to where you want to disembark.

There are no schedules and buses come quite often. This eliminates the necessity of checking online. It’s also quite amusing that when there is too much traffic, the drivers will just dipsy-doodle down side streets deviating from the usual route.

Passengers are also entertained by people who get on and play guitars and sing. Sometimes the antics of a clown are amusing. I feel sad when I see young children come onto a bus and sing, especially at night. These entertainers hopefully expect that passengers will throw a peso or two their way.

There are also vendors who board the buses, selling religious articles, potato chips and candy.

One of the aspects I find quite fascinating is how people board the buses. The drivers are always asking everyone to move to the back of the bus. Many people are reluctant to do so. When the bus stops to pick up people, the driver will often open the back door. I find it amazing that you pass your money up to the front through all these people, and your ticket as well as the correct change is always passed back to you.

When it comes to giving change, drivers are only too happy to give you change if you hand then a five hundred peso note for a six peso fare. Actually, I have seen people board the bus only to get change, and then they get off.

The driver has a tray of money in front of him. Quite often he will leave the bus to grab a taco. The money is there, the keys are in the ignition, and no-one would even think of stealing the money or the bus.

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The drivers themselves do not even know the names of many of the streets on their routes. I also question just how literate they are, as they tend to identify their routes by landmarks. And as I’ve said before, street and traffic signs mean nothing to them.

By nature I am a people watcher. People come onto the bus carrying everything from babies to birds. They are dressed in jeans, suits and long gowns. They are students, professionals and laborers. They speak languages other than Spanish. They talk on cell phones, text, play music and watch movies on their phones. People are very friendly and never too tired to say “Buenos dias.”

So despite the craziness and the dangers involved in riding the buses here, they are still my preferred means of transport. I would never consider attempting to drive here. This is a city where lines on the road and traffic signals have no meaning. The lack of rules makes driving here rather precarious. The volume of traffic is nowhere close to being accommodated here by the infrastructure. Drivers here are aggressive and impatient, and I would much rather be on a large bus than in a car or a taxi if a crash should occur.

One of my housemates just returned from Centro and has informed us that once again the streets are blocked off. Another protest? I hope not. Regardless, I will be back on the buses again tomorrow.

 

 

Every Picture Tells A Story

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About four years ago I discovered a new hobby called photography. When I arrived in Culiacan I bought a Blackberry and discovered how easy it was to take amazing photos without the hassle of adjusting zoom lenses or flashes. I had never had the patience before for perfecting the art of photography with cameras. Now, armed with my Blackberry, I could point and shoot and preserve memories forever.

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The above photo was the patio off of my bedroom in my house in Culiacan.

The photo below was taken at Instituto Senda del Rio, where I taught secundaria.

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Here is the children’s carousel at Forum, the major shopping mall in Culiacan.

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This is an awesome photo I took at the Art Gallery of Sinaloa.

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And of course I also enjoyed taking pictures of people. Here is a pic of my Mexican family back in 2011.

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I spent many wonderful weekends in Mazatlan. I was fascinated by all the vendors who roamed the beach, selling everything from fruit to jewelry.

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I spent two months in Irapuato in the fall of 2011. This was on display at Plaza Cibeles, the main shopping mall.

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I then moved to Tlaquepaque in October of 2011. My students posed in front of a board in the classroom they decorated for Halloween. And yes, we tie-dyed those shirts in class!

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In Centro Guadalajara I encountered this delightful creature on Day of the Dead. 

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Sunrise over the smog in Guadalajara. This photo was taken on the bridge at Alamo.

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These mariachis were performing in the Jardin Hidalgo.

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What a spectacular view of the canyon from Mirador!

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I retired my Blackberry and got an iPhone during the summer of 2013. And I thought my Blackberry took great pictures………the iPhone is even better!!!

This was the view from my hotel room in Rosarito, Baja California.

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Ramon Carona in Centro Guadalajara is home to carriage rides.

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Centro Tlaquepaque boasts this beautiful tree at Christmas.

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A peaceful scene at Lake Chapala.

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Here is a colorful mural from the town of Tequila.

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Last month the Virgin of Zapopan parade was held in Tlaquepaque. The priest, followed by throngs of people, marched through the streets strewn with alfalfa to the church.

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I was in Tonola last month and this doctor was wandering through the streets offering complimentary blood pressure checks.

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Look at what was parked outside my house one day!

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I posed with my students and colleagues at a birthday party yesterday at school.

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And I will close with a magnificent shot of the sky at sunset the other night.

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I hope you have enjoyed viewing these photos as much as I have enjoyed taking them.