Kayaking the Sabana River: Ecotourism in Puerto Rico

I adore kayaking, so I booked a Kayak Tour of the Sabana River, which is at the other end of the playa from our condo in Luquillo. We got so much more than we bargained for! For just $30 apiece, Bob and I found ourselves on a fascinating eco and historical tour offered by Ramon of Sun Capital Paddlesports. Ramon introduced us to the Sabana River Estuary of the Northeast Ecological Corridor, a breathlessly beautiful a protected natural area.

This is Ramon of Sun Capital Paddlesports

After a short but very thorough lesson on how to kayak, Ramon led us and just three other people, he on a stand-up paddleboard and us in two-person kayaks, as we navigated several branches of the river. He pulled out a map before we started and explained the history of the area, what used to be here, what had happened to it.

We learned that Luquillo was the spot where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island of Puerto Rice in the 1400s. The Taino Indians were living here at the time, and he has discovered their petroglyphs upriver, toward El Yunque peak and the rain forest, evidence that they traveled in that direction to avoid the invading Spaniards.

Roman told us about a past sugar cane plantation, a cow farm, and then how this area because a protected corridor in 2013, after the community rose up against developers who wanted to build more resorts on Puerto Rico.

Northeast Ecological Corridor

The Northeast Ecological Corridor consists of almost 3,000 lush acres of land along the Atlantic Coast in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico. It is home to native red bats, which we saw flying around over our heads as we passed under a bridge.

I did a little digging into this protected area, and found this from Sierra Club Puerto Rico:

The Northeast Ecological Corridor is an incredibly biodiverse tract of land covering nearly 3,000 acres of lowland tropical forest, mangroves, wetlands, sandy beaches, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. The Corridor stretches over five miles of undeveloped beach, from Luquillo to Fajardo, and not only serves as a beloved “backyard” for thousands of locals, but also is one of only two sites in the Caribbean where endangered leatherback sea turtles come on land to nest. The largest of all turtles, leatherbacks lay their eggs on the Corridor’s beaches from March until July. A few months later, the babies hatch and crawl back to the sea.

Only a few years ago, the Northeast Ecological Corridor’s status as one of the last remaining tracts of undeveloped coastline in Puerto Rico was under threat. Resort developers wanted to buy up the land and build hotels, a plan that would have both social and environmental consequences.

Here’s a map of the corridor:

Endangered Leatherback Turtles

Perhaps its most important function is to host the nesting grounds of endangered leatherback turtles (tinglars, in Spanish), which grow to be up to seven feet long.

Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region

Ramon explained why the street lights along the coast in Luquillo are red – not just to reduce ambient light, as we had suspected, but to keep the turtles from going in the wrong direction after they lay their eggs. They look for the light of the moon reflected in the ocean, and white streetlights can confuse them. Isn’t that interesting?

The Sierra Club puts on a Leatherback Turtle Festival every spring to promote awareness of the gentle giants, attracting 25,000 people to Luquillo Beach with music, food trucks, activities, and turtle-themed crafts.

There’s also a local nonprofit called Tortugas del Sur that dedicates itself to helping these endangered creatures breed successfully during nesting season.

Other Creatures Along the River

We also passed this humongous iguana on the eco-tour, as well as the largest termite nest I have ever seen.

We also saw an osprey and a great blue heron, two majestic sea birds that I love, Unfortunately, they were in flight and my hands were occupied with paddles, so I couldn’t get their pictures.

Ramon made sure to take plenty of pictures of participants in the tour, the best souvenir imaginable.

Hats off to Ramon, who dedicates his life to taking care of this delicate region, taking groups on these tours to give them a fascinating experience and cultivate carrying about the Corridor and the turtles! Five Stars!

On the Road Again!

After 7 ½ months back in the States, we are back on the road again – this time, bound for Mexico City!

We left Bob’s mother Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg around 8 this morning, with a considerably lighter load than the last trip to Mexico: no Gavin, no Gavin’s luggage, no Ellie the adventure cat, and no bari sax. They have all migrated to Burlington, VT, where Gavin is in their freshman year studying filmmaking. We were also able to leave a few things at Bob’s mother’s house. She passed away three weeks ago, and we will be returning in the summer to fix up the condo and sell it.

Bob in the truck with the cats, ready to go

But till then, we are getting on with our life! And that means driving south.  First stop, Athens, Tennessee, tonight! We are staying at a clean, cheap Motel 8 that accepts cats with no fee and has a number of dining options within walking distance, plus about eight cheap gas stations.

Tomorrow we will hit the road again by 7:30 or 8 AM and drive to New Orleans, where we’ll spend two nights. Then, after another day driving, we’ll spend two nights in San Antonio to break up the 40-hour trip.

The newest addition to our dashboard menagerie, an African wild dog that Aryk gave Bob for Christmas. (He needs a name)

If all goes according to plan, we’ll cross the Mexican border at Laredo, TX, spend a night at the Midway Inn in Matehuala, México, and arrive in Mexico City on Feb. 2, hopefully in plenty of time to find a bar with the Super Bowl on TV. Hasta luego!

Messy Suitcase Video: Why Guadalajara?

Beto (Bob) is developing his video editing skills, and working on putting the many videos he has made over the past year of traveling in Europe and then Mexico up onto the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel! 

After toting his GoPro all over Mexico, and now Vermont, plus the drives back and forth, he’s just learning how to edit the footage, so please be patient, and feel to comment with words of encouragement.  Each video will get better, and they will be packed with fascinating info and our illuminating comments and observations.

We’ll hope you’ll follow our the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel,  and ring the bell to be notified as we put more videos up. We are also open to new ideas!

Enjoy the video Why Guadalajara? 

Why Guadalajara? video

 

Hike up Mount Philo

Bob and I just did our first almost 1-er in Burlington! (As opposed to the multiple 14ers Bob did back in Colorado.)

We hiked up Mt. Philo on a recent Sunday while visiting Burlington for Champlain College Family Weekend. Mt. Philo State Park, which sits atop 968-foot Mt. Philo about 13 miles south of Burlington, was created as Vermont’s first Vermont State Park in 1924. With 237 acres offering breathtaking views of the Lake Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, the park is a favorite of local hikers, picnickers, and even college students.

The hike was short but steep and challenging. The view of the Vermont countryside and Lake Champlain from the top was spectacular. We also found inspirational poetry at the top …

… and we loved the message in the field below.

 

There are several camping sites at the top, as well as a group cabin, and we were surprised to see they were not in use. The best part was the Adirondack chairs that beckoned us to sit and enjoy the beautiful day and the view.

We met a couple of artists on our way down painting the view with watercolors.

Selfie of the day!

 
 

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Car Setbacks (a.k.a. Shit Happens)

All was not completely smooth in our trip across the country
and into Mexico,as we ran into several car-related setbacks.

First, the Car Accident

The first came in late August when Lexie was working on
getting her driver’s license. One Saturday we decided to get some interstate
driving experience in and drive north on I-76, away from the crowded metro Denver
area. We were concentrating on watching cars that were merging onto the highway,
as Denver drivers have a bad habit of expecting cars already on the highway to
yield to them. Driving in the right-hand lane, we came to an entrance ramp
where a car and medium sized U-Haul truck had just gotten on the merge ramp. We
were opposite the truck so we couldn’t speed up, but before we could even slow
down the U-Haul moved right into our lane. Lexie’s immediate reaction was to
shift left to avoid the truck, but unfortunately, another car was there. We hit
that car, bounced off, and Lexie lost control. Suddenly we were heading for the
concrete median at 65 mph. Crash! Airbags deployed. Things didn’t end well for
the truck, or for Lexie’s hand, which was broken and in a cast for 6 weeks. 
The U-Haul
driver just drove on up the road. I assume he never even saw
us.

Chain Reaction

This set off a chain reaction. First, we had to find a new
truck. Unfortunately, we had already ordered a custom topper which only fit
Toyota Tacomas through 2015, and it was black. So we started looking, all over
the country for a low-mileage 2015 Tacoma in a color compatible with black.
This consumed valuable time that we needed for packing and finishing up on the
house, but we eventually found a charcoal one in the Denver area that had about
50,000 miles less than our older 2012 truck.

 License & Registration

The accident also meant that Lexie wouldn’t be able to get
her driver’s license in Colorado, because she could not drive again till she
got her cast off, which would be only a few days before our scheduled
departure. We would have to figure out that later.
And it created some difficulties in getting license plates
and registration for the new car in Colorado since CO had recently switched to
a new computer system which had created a backlog.

Next, the Battery

Our troubles in CO weren’t over yet. On the day before we
were scheduled to leave, the new truck wouldn’t start. We had it jumped and I
took it to NAPA to get the battery tested. The battery was bad, and I changed
it out in the NAPA parking lot.

Then, Rear-Ended

For our last meal in the Denver area, we decided to go to
Woody’s Pizza in Golden, our favorite pizza place. They make a wide variety of delicious
pizzas, and you go to the counter and grab a slice of whatever pizza just came
out of the oven. On the way, we were stopped at a red light on a fairly major
road, 2nd in line. Traffic was stopped behind us. The light turned
green, but the person in front of decided he wanted to change lanes so he
didn’t move until traffic on our left had cleared. As we sat waiting, the woman
in a large truck behind us suddenly rammed into the back of our truck. Our
truck was half packed, but fortunately it was drivable, with only damage to our
tailgate and bumper. Because of our tight travel schedule to make it across the
country and catch a plane to Europe, it would be three months before we could
get the damage repaired.
The new truck with topper, right before the accident
So we had to drive across the country with a badly damaged
bumper held on by a bungee cord.

Our Car Registration Expires

We parked our truck at Lisa’s brother’s house in northern
Virginia and he graciously took us to the airport for our European trip. During
the time away, our temporary Colorado registration expired, so we had to call
the car dealership from Greece to get an extension sent to Lisa’s brother so we
wouldn’t be driving illegally when we got back.

Back to Lexie’s Driver’s License

Back from Europe, our plan was to spend some time in our
Vermont house and get Lexie the driving practice necessary to pass the test. Then
we would both fly back to CO, get the new car registration and take the test.
However, since we own property in Vermont we investigated whether Lexie could
get her license and whether we could register the car there. We found out we
could do both, and now Lexie is a resident of Vermont. We also registered the
car there. Vermont DMV took our CO title and told us it would be a few weeks
before our registration and title would arrive in the mail (to our Colorado
address).
Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally snowy so we didn’t
get as much driving practice in as we expected, still Lexie was ready to take
the test a few days before our scheduled departure. Unfortunately, she didn’t
pass, mostly because the examiner didn’t like the way she parallel-parked the
truck. (Personally, I completely avoid parallel parking the truck because I
can’t do it.) She actually parallel-parked perfectly, but before she had time
to straighten the wheels out, the instructor told her she was finished and to
move on – and then deducted points for not straightening out the truck!
It was frustrating, but we rescheduled the test for the day
before we were scheduled to leave VT. Then, just as we were getting into the
truck to go to the test, the examiner called us and told us that a mistake had
been made and that they rescheduled the new test too early, as Vermont has a three-day
waiting period between tests. That meant that Lexie still doesn’t have her
license, which we will have to take care of this summer.

Cracked Windshield

We embarked on our trip to Mexico in early January, and on
the second day on the road, we took a stone to the windshield which caused a
crack. We didn’t want to go into Mexico with that so, as we were driving, we
scheduled a glass repair while we were staying at our AirBnB in New Orleans the
next day.

Troubles at the Border

We’ve previously documented our problems in getting into
Mexico because we still hadn’t received our permanent registration from Vermont
read that blog. 

Sidetracked by the Gas Crisis

And, follow our problems in getting the whole way to
Guadalajara due to the gas crisis in Mexico here! 

Rising Above

However, even with all of the minor setbacks, we made it to
Mexico and have started our new life — and we certainly have learned how to
handle adversity! And sometimes the setbacks provided unforeseen advantages. Because
of the accident, we have a newer car that is better able to handle rough
Mexican roads. Because of the gas crisis, we discovered a city we never would
have thought to visit, Leon.

We have a new name!

“Life is Short, the World is Big” is our philosophy, our passion, our lifestyle, our motivation, our inspiration.

But as a blog title, it was just TOO LONG!

So we are in the process of changing the name of the blog to Messy Suitcase! After all, we are living out of a few suitcases stuffed into the back of our truck (along with three musical instruments, three cats and our youngest child, Lex, who is on a gap year from college). OK, we let the cats and Lex sit in the back seat, but you get the point!

Every few months, we pack up those suitcases — often with “help” from the cats — and head for our next destination, where we again live out of messy suitcases!

Connect to Messy Suitcase on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube — and watch for our YouTube channel to get a lot busier.

Thanks for supporting Bob and Lisa in our travels … because life is short & the world is big!

Do you recognize Ellie Smoit, the Adventure Cat, in our new logo?

Discovering Mayolica Pottery in Santa Rosa

We recently had the privilege of visiting a pottery workshop called Mayolica Santa Rosa, where a family business turns out breathtaking, intricate, handmade pottery lovingly
created with dedicated fingers and devoted hearts.

The simple two-story cinderblock workshop occupies one side of the street in
the ancient, dusty village of Santa Rosa, high on a mountain about 25 minutes northeast
of Guanajuato. A huge showroom is across the street. (Unfortunately, we were
not allowed to take pictures in the showroom, to prevent any thievery of their
designs.)

It’s not a place many tourists visit, especially Americans, and it’s their loss. Javier Salazar, the wonderful manager of the Casa Estrella, where we are fortunate to be staying, generously drove us and another couple, Carolee and Gilberto, up to
the village to see how pottery is made. The suites and apartments in Casa
Estrella are filled with beautiful pieces from Mayolica Santa Rosa.
The sign over the door of the store

Visiting the Workrooms

The workshop is a high-ceilinged building with two large workrooms.
In the front room is the giant kiln, as well as shelf upon shelf of unfinished
pieces of pottery ready to be transformed into works of art. 

The big white box on the left is the oven

We were amazed as we watched one man hand-draw a stunning, detailed design
onto a large pedestaled bowl. His name was Juan, and he was the only one entrusted
to design the pieces.
The artist at work
Up the stairs and in the large back room, the Area de la Pintura (painting area), several painters painstakingly
painted the colors within the lines of his design, carefully shading the pieces, which appeared
pastel and bleached until after they were fired in the huge oven.

Before firing in the oven
The intensity of colors after firing
Mayolica Santa Rosa was founded in 1963, and is dedicated to
the manufacture of Mayolica Ceramics, a porous type of ceramics that originated in
Spain. It gets its name from Mallorca Island, which was on the trade route to
Italy. All the pieces are turned and decorated by hand. The business is
currently represented by the third generation of eight brothers.
Seen outside the door to the painting room
The sign outside the painting room says (in my bad Spanish translation): “Welcome to the Painting Area. Every piece that you admire and acquire is unique because each one carries part of the artist, since it is delivered with a feeling unique for its creation, with the best quality.”

Visiting the Showroom

The entrance to the showroom

This fresco, outside the family’s home next door,
is a great example of their work.
The sheer volume and quality of the pieces for sale in the
massive, two-level showroom is absolutely breathtaking. There were plates and
bowls, cups and saucers, pitchers and vases, fountains and pots, statues and
urns, tiled frescoes, and more. The intricate designs were derived from life in
Mexico: groups of fruit, flowers, village scenes, chickens and pigs, Frida Kahlos,
and many, many Catrinas, the reverential, skeletal image of death in Mexico.

UPDATE, May 26

I just discovered several beautiful pieces of Mayolica pottery in our apartment, Casa Estrellita, at Casa Estrella. (Watch for a blog about the amazing art in our apartment!)

And I found this beautiful tile wall art by Mayolica Pottery in the fitness center at Casa Estrella. Enjoy!

The Herradura Tequila Express

(Even
though we have moved on to Guanajuato, we still have a few blogs from our life
in Tlaquepaque to post. Enjoy!)
Living
in Tlaquepaque, we were less than 50 miles from the birthplace of tequila, the
town of Tequila. So of course we had to visit and become acquainted with Mexico’s
most famous alcoholic beverage!

What is
Tequila, Anyway?

Tequila,
a type of mescal made from the blue agave plant, was first made in the 16th
century. Mexican law states that tequila can only be produced in the Mexican
state of Jalisco and in limited number in three other states. Tequila must be
40% alcohol (80 proof) in the US, but in Mexico it’s usually 38%.
There
are over 100 distilleries producing over 900 brands of tequila, and many conduct
tours and tastings at their haciendas.
We
decided to splurge and signed up for a day trip on the Herradura Express, a
special train leaving from Guadalajara to the Herradura Hacienda in Amatitan, a
town adjacent to Tequila. There were three classes of seats on the train. We
selected the middle-class ticket which cost $2400 MXN pesos each, or about $125.

 We
Ubered to the train station, checked in and selected our seats. Even though we
had been told the train had been sold out, we had four comfortable seats and
a table to ourselves. There was a bar in our car, which was kept busy the whole
day.

Carlos, our bartender

Tequila on
the Train

We
were immediately served water, juice and a box breakfast. But once the train left
the station, at 10 in the morning, they switched to serving tequila-based
drinks. I can’t even remember what they all were or how many we had, but the
drinks were definitely flowing, including Margaritas, Tequila Sunrises, Horchatas
(a Mexican rice-based vanilla drink), White Russians, a coffee-based drink
called The Bull, and many more.


After
about 90 minutes or so of traveling amid a breathtaking landscape, including fields
upon fields of blue agave, we arrived in the tiny pueblo of Amatitan and
transferred onto buses for the short ride to the Hacienda 
Herradura. We got
into the English-language tour and were off.
The Tequila Volcano
Agave plants

The Tour
First
stop was walking by some blue agave plants, which we learned take 8 years to
mature to the point they could be used for tequila. Next, we watched a Jimador use
a coa (a wooden-handled cutting blade) to strip the leaves from the plant to get to the heart,
also called a pina because it resembles a pineapple, which is used in the
distillation process. 
The Jimador with his coa chopping off
the leaves of the blue agave plant
We saw the row of ovens where the pinas are baked. Next, they are squeezed repeatedly to get the agave juice, which is distilled and then fermented in giant barrels. The pulp is removed and used for other things such as candy and even furniture. 

The ovens

A pile of pinas

Tasting

Next
we walked through an ancient section of the facility that is no
longer used, and led to a tasting cellar. Tasting glasses were neatly laid out on
tables.


A bilingual talk was given on the “correct” way to drink tequila:
Swish the glass in a circle to check out the “legs” of the liquid. Breath in
the scent. Breath in through your nose, hold it, sip tequila onto your tongue.
Swallow. Breath out through your nose. Finally, emit an “Ahhh” and empty your
lungs. We started our tasting. To the best of my recollection, we tried 5. We
could taste the differences, particularly the smoothness, between the various categories
of tequila:
  • “Blanco”
    or “plata” is a white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately
    after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or
    neutral oak barrels. It is used in cocktails.
  • “Reposado” is aged two
    months to a year in oak barrels of any size
  • “Añejo” aged one to  three
    years in small oak barrels
  • “Extra Añejo” is aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels.
 Our favorite was
reposado.

The Barrel Room

After the tasting,
we were led into a huge room in which they kept empty barrels in which tequila
had previously been aged. Herradura has a program where a restaurant or bar can
come to the distillery and purchase an entire barrel for $10,000 USD.
This yields 240 bottles at a per bottle price of $40. The distillery will then
customize bottles of the tequila from  the barrel for the purchaser, and the
purchaser gets to customize the top of the barrel.

Lunch … and more
Tequila

By this time we were
ravenous and finally made it to lunch, where we sat at a long table and they served us even more tequila. I sat next
to a guy from St. Louis who had been doing work in Las Vegas and on a whim
decided to fly down to Guadalajara for a few days. He knew a bit about tequila
and told me to ask for a specific high-quality tequila. I did. It was the good
stuff and very smooth. He was asking for them two glasses at a time. They
served a delicious lunch of chicken, potatoes and vegetables, and we were
entertained by a Mariachi band and some folkloric dancers.

Mariachi

Folkloric dancers

 Of course, we needed
a souvenir, so we went to the tequila stand they had conveniently set up and
purchased 950ml of one of the Reposados for about $25 USD. We had been told
that they would engrave our bottle for us, but unfortunately, the engraver
called in sick that day. That was probably a good thing; otherwise, it would
have been difficult to part with the engraved bottle and we definitely don’t
have room for it in the truck. (Later note: It does fit in the truck and we are
saving it.)

The Trip Home

It was time to go,
and we loaded onto the buses for the trip back to the train. Once on the train, the cocktails continued to flow until we arrived back in Guadalajara at around 8 PM.
To our complete surprise, neither one of us were feeling any effects of the
non-stop day of drinking, although there was one group on our train that was
definitely loud and raucous on the ride back.

Cocktails on the trip home
All in all, we had a
great day. It was pricey but the experience was worth it!

Learning Spanish in Guadalajara, Part 1

Our first priority in starting our life in Mexico was to learn
the Spanish language. If we are going to spend the next few years living in
countries where Spanish is the primary language spoken, we felt we needed to
get a good grasp of the language early on.

And while we had lived in Puerto Rico for a time in the
mid-90s and were not Spanish beginners, we knew that we had a long way to go
before we would feel comfortable with the language. We want to obtain a level
of proficiency so that we can develop friendships and truly feel part of Mexico
(and other Spanish speaking countries we choose to live in or visit).  Knowing the language is also important
logistically, to allow us to navigate daily tasks such as asking where a
bathroom is and understand the answer, being able to order food at a street “puesto”
or in a restaurant, asking for directions, buying groceries, paying for items
at stores, going to the doctor’s office, and more.
Before we left the United States, we both studied Spanish independently,
using books we still had around, a CD series and an app called Duolingo, and we
decided to immerse ourselves in learning the language as soon as we arrived in Mexico.
We chose to attend a language school in Guadalajara (GDL), Mexico’s second
largest city, in the central region of Mexico. Like most Americans, we had
never been to the region, spending our previous trips on Mexican coasts for
beach vacations. This would give us an opportunity to begin our learning
process while exploring a new area.

Guadalajara Language
Center

We chose the Guadalajara Language Center (GLC), which is actually located in Tlaquepaque, a town at the southern edge of
Guadalajara known for its pottery and ceramics. In fact, our apartment is less
than quarter-mile from the city boundary and we routinely run in GDL. The school
offered several language programs, including an advertised CLEP prep class,
Lexie could take and get college credit for. We signed up for the immersion
program, where we would take 4 hours a day of classes for 8 weeks, Monday
through Friday. We took written placement exams and were a bit surprised that
we all tested higher than expected.
Once we arrived in Tlaquepaque, Lisa and I were ready to go
first thing Monday morning, while Lex decided to take a week off to recover
from the long trip from the east coast of the United States before starting.
The location of our apartment was perfect, just a seven-minute walk from the
school. Daily classes ran from 9 -11 AM and then 11:30 AM-1:30 PM, after which
we walked about 3 minutes to the Tlaquepaque main square to choose from the
food trucks and local eateries.

The school, run by an easygoing Dutchman named Wouter Stout
who is married to a Mexican woman, is located in an unassuming two-story blue
building on a street corner just two blocks from the Centro Historico. It
contains five small classrooms, a little kitchen for brewing coffee each day
for grateful students, a large hallway with a couple of computers for students’
use, and a larger gathering room with a couple of couches and chairs, and
Wouter’s desk in a corner.

Wouter and his dog, Estrella
Every week a new group of students arrives from all over the
world, though they seem to be clustered on the California coastline and western
Canada, probably because of easy flights to Guadalajara. Some stay for only a
week or two, some for the winter, so new placements need to be made every week,
and the first thing Wouter does on Mondays is assign students to classes based
on their tests and hope for the best. If it’s not a fit, changes can be made
after the first session on Monday. In the mornings we had one instructor and in
the afternoon a different instructor. Wouter also provides resources for doing
other activities to help discover the area, including organizing a weekly hike
into the Barranca (canyon), and providing students with info about Lucha Libre,
salsa and bachata dance lessons, a walking tour of Tlaquepaque, and more.
Lex with the GLC resident dog, Estrella (Star)

Ay, Caramba!

Our first day was rough. We were placed together, which was
fortunate, but in too high a level for our comprehension skills, and Spanish
words just flew over our heads. Fortunately, during the break adjustments were
made, and we were placed in an appropriate level class and could get down to
the business of learning.

Interesting Classmates

During our eight weeks taking classes, we usually had just
one other person in our class, and at most a total of four. Since we often
shared stories from our lives in Spanish conversations, we got to know some of
those people fairly well. Everyone had an interesting story as to why they were
there. Aaron, from Napa Valley, was our classmate for several weeks. He worked
for a small vineyard and wanted to be able to communicate better with the
Mexican workers when he traveled. He also had financial incentive from his
company, so he immersed himself in and out of class, living in a homestay so he
could speak with his hosts in Spanish and enjoy home-cooked Mexican meals. Shireen,
from Boulder, CO, spent winters in an RV with her partner in a small beach
community called Guayabita on the west coast of Mexico. Jack, a gay librarian
from Vancouver, talked about the drag shows he attended at home and the Mexican
friends he partied with in Tlaquepaque. Eva was a retired English teacher who
spent several weeks in Mexico. David worked on a boat that took people on
National Geographic eco-tours from Alaska to South America. Francine, originally from Iran, was
a scientist-engineer studying Spanish between jobs. We met retirees and
backpackers, and a young Catholic couple with seven kids who were starting life
as missionaries in Ecuador.
Our buddy Eva
Find out more about our Spanish learning experience in Part
2!