Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A white Christmas!

I arrived safe and sound here in Canada several days ago. It was a huge shock to the system as it was -25 degrees Celcius when I arrived and there was a significant amount of snow on the ground! Camelia picked me up from the airport with a winter jacket and many warm clothes for me to wear. My suitcase was pretty much empty on the way here as my sandals and tank tops would hardly suffice! Luckily, my friends have lent me sweaters, winter boots, etc so that I do not freeze my butt off!

It has been wonderful to see everyone and I have been very busy since I arrived trying to meet up with all my friends. My first night back, my friends had a welcome home party for me with lots of lovely food (including my favorite Crave cupcakes) and wine. We had a great time and had many laughs reminiscing about old times. A big thanks to Camelia again for organizing the party and making sure I was all set with warm clothes and all my favorite things! I also want to thank Lenise for letting me crash at her house! It is so surreal to be back here in my old place.

Since I have arrived, we have been going out to different restaurants and enjoying all those culinary delights that I have not had in quite some time. My first morning back, we went out for one of my faves - Dim Sum. Since then, we have gone out for Vietnamese food, Ramen noodle bowls, and last night we had some friends over and Camelia and I cooked an organic turkey with yams, potatoes and then enjoyed Saskatoon Berry Pie for dessert from the farmer's market. Next on the list is Thai food, Indian food and of course, Alberta beef! We are planning on doing a prime rib roast for New Years Eve. Hmmmmm........

I have been taking lots of photos of all the food and all my friends but unfortunately, I forgot the cable to transfer them to my computer. Oops! I will definitely post all the photos when I get back to Mexico.

Today, I am back on the road and am taking the bus to Edmonton to spend Christmas with some family. I am really looking forward to seeing them and catching up. Then, I will be back in Calgary for the rest of my stay. I feel so fortunate to be here and definitely have many things to be thankful for this holiday season. A big shout out to Camelia and all my wonderful friends who made this trip possible! I love you guys.

I also want to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. I hope you enjoy every moment with friends and family.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making a list....checking it twice

I am so excited to be going back to Canada for Christmas. I have been busy unpacking from my month in La Manzanilla, making lists of things to buy in Canada, and most importantly, making lists of things to eat while I am there. Don't get me wrong, the food here in Mexico is delicious and I am loving every bite! And the seafood here is to die for. However, there are some things that I do miss. First and foremost is the utterly divine Alberta steak. I have sampled many a steak in my travels around the world and none of them have held up to good 'ole Alberta beef. Obviously, that was first on my list. Even with the crazy cold temperatures in Calgary right now, I am more than willing to man the grill in my toque (a hat for all you non-Canadians) and scarf for a barbecued rib-eye. I have also been missing Thai, Indian and Vietnamese food which are all within a few minutes drive of where I am staying in Calgary..........I am salivating at the very thought! Oh and let's not forget Dim Sum! Apparently, the first morning after I arrive, Camelia has us set to go for Dim Sum in China Town. The anticipation is killing me! We also have an organic turkey on order from the market for Christmas dinner.

The irony of all this food talk is that I am sitting here writing this whilst eating a toasted tomato and cheese sandwich! I know, I know......but, I just had this craving and it is such a good fall back when you have absolutely nothing in your fridge and do not feel like going out. I remember when my mom lived with me for a while in Calgary, we would both return from work and look at each other and say.......what do you feel like eating? On those days when we (or shall I say I) did not feel like cooking, we would look at each other and say in unison....."toasted tomato and cheese". Ahhhhhh, comfort food. Or, if we were not in the mood for that, we would go for our usual "29A" from the Vietnamese restaurant just a hop, skip and a jump away. Hmmmm...........Good eats...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Going home for Christmas!!!!

I just found out a few days ago that I am going back to Canada for Christmas! When my friend Camelia found out my brother and family were not coming here to Mexico for Christmas, she started canvassing my friends and family to try and collect money to purchase my ticket home. As a result, a significant chunk of my plane ticket has been covered. What an amazing Christmas present! I am so touched....words cannot express what this means to me. So, a BIG thanks to Camelia and everyone who contributed to my plane ticket. I have the best, most thoughtful friends in the world!

I am so excited to see everyone and visit the mountains. Here is a shot from Sulphur Mountain in Banff

I am a little nervous though as the temperature in Calgary right now is -24 degrees Celcius. It is going to be a huge shock to my system after spending almost 5 months here in Mexico. For Calgary, this temperature is very cold and they only get extreme temperatures like this one or two weeks of the winter. And it looks like it is there to stay for a while. So, it would appear that I am heading back to the coldest temperatures of the winter!!!! But, my girlfiends are going to lend me sweaters and boots and I have my winter coats, scarves, mitts, etc packed in a box there that I can use.

I will be staying at my old house - the one I sold to my good friend Lenise. Oh, and I am very excited to build a fire in the fireplace.

Here in Manzanillo, it does not feel like Christmas to me. There are lots of Christmas decorations and things in the malls, but it is a disconnect for me because of the warm weather, I think. I know once I step off that plane in Calgary and see all the snow and Christmas lights, it will feel like Christmas very quickly!

And I will not be able to make snow angels like this here in Mexico!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Last day in La Manzanilla

Today is my last day in La Manzanilla. It is hard to believe that I have been here for 4 weeks! My Spanish has improved considerably and I have a solid base to improve upon. I will have to make a concerted effort to continue practicing on a daily basis once I am back in Manzanillo.

I have become quite attached to my host family here in La Manzanilla and I will miss them dearly. The family and I have developed a strong connection and Rosaura and I have become good friends. They are a very special family and I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to stay with them and get to know them. I know that we will be life long friends. They have asked me to come back and visit which I will do often. Natalia, the 3 year old, and I have also developed quite a bond. Every day, when I come home from school, she yells out my name and comes running to me and gives me a huge hug. She likes to crawl into the hammock with me and always ask me to sing the same lullaby every day - Rock a Bye Baby. I sang it to her one day and since then, she demands that I sing it to her daily!

Isn't she precious?

Rosaura wanted to learn how to make lasagna, so earlier in the week, we gathered all the necessary ingredients and I taught her how to make my favorite lasagna recipe. The whole family loved it and thinks that Rosaura and I should open a restaurant here! She has also asked that next time I visit, I teach her how to make risotto.

Ketzali and Gina

It is going to be an emotional goodbye for me this evening. It will also be a big adjustment for the dogs to have to go back to my small apartment after being free to roam and play outside all day. They absolutely love it out here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More on La Manzanilla and weekend fun

Last week, here in La Manzanilla, the family I am staying with had a lobster night. They invited many of their friends over and we had a huge lobster feast. What a feast! It was delicious and a big treat.

The father, Hugo preparing the lobsters.

Rosaura cooking the lobsters. She is am amazing cook!!

Elizabeth, the other student in my Spanish class had her last day of class on Friday before returning back to the US. Here she is with one of our teachers Miguel on her last day.

The sunset was stunning that night.

This is my last week here in La Manzanilla. I would love to continue and take more classes but finances and the current situation in the financial markets will not allow it at this time. I have a solid base and will continue to work hard in Manzanillo and practice as much as I can.

On the weekend, I went back to my apartment in Manzanillo and went to a retro costume party for my friend's husband's birthday party. The ony requirement for the party was that you had to dress retro but were not restricted to any one era. Given that I was in La Manzanilla all week, I was not able to organize a costume. Luckily, friend Chelsea let me raid her closet and I was able to put together a disco outfit for the night. There were some great costumes and the creativity was fantastic! My friend Nuly, the organizer, had hired a DJ who played great retro music all night and even had laser/light shows and dry ice! Definitely retro! We danced into the wee hours of the morning.

Chelsea and I in our costumes. Her outfit cracked me up!

Organizer Nuly and birthday boy Nick

Rob and Sandra

Monday, December 1, 2008

I never thought I would say this....

...but I am cold! I am actually wearing a bunny hug right now (hoodie for all the non-Canadians) and have goosebumps. I am being completely serious. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining or anything and fully realize that it is ridiculously cold back in Canada, but I just never thought I would feel cold here. I guess after living here for several months, my body has acclimatized. It is such a strange sensation to feel cold after several months of sweating bullets! When I arrived in class, our teacher was talking about how cold he was today and I was thinking, what???? When class finished at 7pm and I was walking home, I was wishing I had a sweater!

As for the weekend, I went back to Manzanillo. I went out salsa dancing with some girlfriends on Friday. I had not salsa danced in quite some time - it was so much fun. We also went out dancing again on Saturday night. Dancing is good for the soul - I was feeling kind of low and after all that dancing, my spirits are definitely lifted and I feel so much better. I spent alot of time with my girlfriends and was just thinking today about how lucky I am to have made such wonderful friends here. I also got in some beach time with friends which always makes me feel better!

A girl riding her horse on the beach and rode right up to the beach bar we were hanging out at

Here she is with my friend's husband Rob and their little girl Olivia

On Sunday, I helped out with a one day PATA spay/neuter clinic for stray animals in a poor part of Manzanillo. Similar to my experience last week in Melaque, it was very rewarding.

Well, I am on week 3 of my Spanish classes and they are going really well. There is only one other student in my class (there are other students in the school but they only put you with people at a similar level).

The other student Elizabeth (from the US) and one of our 4 teachers - Valentin (he is also a teacher in the local high school).

Here is Rosaura and children Ketzali and Natalia after returning from church tonight.

Friday, November 28, 2008

La Manzanilla

Overall, my homestay experience has been amazing and has been a huge part of my learning experience. The family I am staying with are wonderful and try to encourage me every day and help me with my speaking. In addition, the mother Rosaura, is an incredible cook and I have been eating new and interesting things every day. Breakfast is served around 10am and the biggest meal of the day is lunch around 2:30 - 3:00pm. A lighter dinner is served around 9pm. One of the more adventurous things I have tried was menudo soup for breakfast. This is soup with tripe and some vegetables. For those of you unfamiliar with tripe, this is made from the stomach of a cow. The soup and tripe was very flavourful but the texture of the tripe might give some people some issues! We eat alot of fresh fish on a daily basis also including red snapper, mahi mahi, etc which I love. Some of my favorite dishes are her chicken enchiladas and her shrimp al diablo (devil). Her pozole is really amazing also.

The children are really adorable and I learn so much from them everyday. They absolutely love my dogs and asked if the dogs could stay with them last weekend when I went back to Manzanillo for the weekend. Last night, they asked if Jackson could sleep with them in their bed. He is not going to want to leave here - he is spoiled rotten!

Here are the three of them - Hugo Junior (14) holding Natalia (3) and Ketzali (9). Natalia and Ketzali had just returned from birthday party with face-painting.

Ketzali and her friend Alexis doing crafts

The house seems to be dog central and all the neighbors dogs seem to congregate here on a daily basis. Rosaura is very generous by nature and cannot help but feed them too!

Chato - the neighbor's boxer and his puppy Rocky

Oh, and here is my roommate. I have learned to accept him, albeit begrudgingly.

The critters here are very large! I feel as though I am back in Australia! Hugo Senior and one of the neighbors were clearing out a lot the other day and came across two huge rattlesnakes. They ended up killing them with their machete and brought back the skins for us to see. I kind of lost my appetite for dinner that night!

I like to walk on the beach in the morning with the dogs before I start my daily homework. The beach here is beautiful and a great walking and swimming beach. This is a very dog friendly town and I often see several dogs on my daily walks on the beach.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cisco's Amigos - Spay/Neuter Clinic in Melaque

Yesterday, I took the bus early in the morning to a nearby town called Melaque to help out Cisco's Amigos with their free spay and neuter clinic. This is a local not-for-profit charity organized by La Manzanilla ex-pat, Julie Wagner-Shuetz and has a similar mission to PATA, the organization I volunteer for in Manzanillo. They promote sterilization and offer free spay/neuter clinics for stray animals and animals of low income families to lessen the over population problem and reduce the number of stray animals on the streets. They had three veteranarians come from Mexico City that volunteered their time for this wonderful cause. The rest of the tasks like sterilization of instruments, post-op recovery, cleaning kennels, getting supplies, feeding volunteers, housing the vets, etc were all performed by the amazing group of local volunteers.

I was immediately put to work in the post-operation recovery area where the animals are laid out on mats and covered in warm towels because their body temperature fluctuates as they come out of anethesia. We would watch over them and turn them every 5 minutes or so. In addition, we would make sure they were still breathing, clean their ears, remove ticks, give vaccinations and de-wormers, etc. Once they started moving and coming out of the anethesia, we would move them to a kennel. On average, the three vets were doing 30-42 animals per day! Yesterday morning, it was mostly cats and we could barely keep up with the high number coming out of surgery.

The post-operation area and the small room where all three vets performed the surgeries (through the small window). You can see the 12 or so animals post-surgery recuperating under the warm towels on the mats.

The post-op area and crew

One of the dogs pre-surgery!

One of the volunteers in charge of cleaning surgical instruments

Some small kittens that just came out of surgery. They were so tiny (less than a kilo), I kept checking to make sure they were still breathing.

Overall, it was definitely an inspirational and rewarding experience. I am sure the vets back home would be amazed at what could be accomplished in a matter of a few days and in a bare-bones surgical environment like the one we had to work with. By the time I had to catch the bus to go back to La Manzanilla for my Spanish class at 4pm, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. It was a very rewarding experience and I am glad that I was able to help out. I met the other amazing volunteers - a collection of foreigners and locals that clearly love animals. I was also had the opportunity to practice my Spanish with some of the local volunteers. Both PATA and Cisco's Amigos will be doing another large clinic each in late March - PATA in Manzanillo and Cisco's here in the Melaque area. I will definitely be helping out with the next clinic. If anyone is interested in helping out with the next clinic in Manzanillo, send me a note. We need all kinds of volunteers, we also need kennels to use on the days of the clinic, we need drivers, etc.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dog Jog and general update

Sorry I have not been more diligent on my blogging this past week. The Spanish immersion program is wonderful but alot of work and it was very overwhelming the first week so I was studying and practicing my Spanish most of my free time.

On the weekend, I went back to Manzanillo for the dog jog in support of PATA. The 5km race started at 8am so we all met bright and early Sunday morning at 7:30am to register and hand in the money we had raised.


There ended up being approximately 50+ participants and the total raised was $20,000 pesos (approx $1,830 Cdn dollars)! In addition to us foreigners/ex-pats, there was significant partication from the local community. Overall, the event was a success and the weather was wonderful. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was not too hot since we started so early. For those of you who pledged me on the walk, the total amount I raised was almost $4,700 pesos and I won a prize for the top fundraiser of the event! So a BIG thank you to everyone who supported me - your generosity is greatly appreciated.

The walk/run began at 8am and we did a 5km loop around the Santiago Peninsula. Some people ran with their dogs, whereas others walked the loop.

A photo of one of the views from the 5km loop.

There were prizes for fastest human and fastest canine. Here is a photo of the first place canine - one of the only other beagles in town - Bogart.

Shelley and her dog Aisha - full-time residents here orginally from Calgary. Her and her entire family (including husband Lance and son Dylan) ran the entire race.

Our fearless PATA leader and organizer extraordinaire Renee (in the middle)

Full-time residents Stan and MJ (orignally from the US) who are big PATA supporters/volunteers

The dogs and I

The rest of the weekend was good - I caught up with my friends and went out dancing one night and hung out at the beach with everyone on Sunday. It was great to see everyone. The dogs and I managed to get a ride this morning to La Manzanilla from some workers from Boca de Iguanas (hotel/resort owned by friends Renee and Rob).

Here is a photo of the Bramblia's house where I am staying in La Manzanilla.

Family dog Gina

Here is daughter Natalia (age 3) along with the family dog Gina

More photos to come of the rest of the family!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spanish Immersion program in La Manzanilla

On Monday, I started a new Spanish immersion course in La Manzanilla, a small fishing village one hour north of Manzanillo. It is a very intensive program where I take Spanish classes for 3 hours per day 5 days a week. In addition, I do a homestay with a Mexican family that do not speak any English. I will take this program for the next month to try and improve my Spanish.

I arrived in La Manzanilla Monday morning with the two dogs in tow. The director of the school met me once I arrived and brought me to meet my family and get me set up, show me around town, etc. The family I am staying with are a young family (early 30’s) with 3 children and a Chihuahua. The children are very sweet and the middle child Ketzali (age 9), has taken a keen interest in teaching me various nouns and phrases when I am not in class. The family is wonderful and has accepted me and the dogs with open arms. Today, I had classes for 6 hours instead of the usual 3, so the father Hugo took my dogs to the soccer field to play fetch with them. I have my own room (Ketzali has generously given up her room and is sleeping in her brother Hugo’s room) . Part of my homestay is to have meals with the family and we all sit down together where I have ample opportunty to practice my Spanish. All of the family members are very encouraging and are helping me gain much needed confidence in my speaking abilities, comprehension and pronunciation.

My first day in La Manzanilla was challenging and a little overwhelming at times, but I have learned so much in a short time. One of my two Mexican teachers, named Miguel,is a wonderful teacher. Tomorrow, I will meet the other teacher Valentin. They paired me up with one other woman from the US who is close to the same level as me, so there are only two of us in the class. The class instruction is entirely in Spanish where we listen to the teacher (and each other) and work on comprehension, talk and work on our pronunciation, listen to Spanish songs and translate, watch Spanish movies and work on more comprehension, etc. In addition, we have homework each day, where we must keep a daily journal entirely in Spanish. The following day, we read our journal entry aloud in class. I very much like the intensity of the program and the full immersion will certainly help move my Spanish to the next level.

La Manzanilla is a quaint little Mexican town with a population of approximately 1,500 people . In the tourist season, they also get about 300 foreigners who come to live for the winter. Clearly, they have already started to arrive, as I have noticed many Canadian and American license plates on my walk to school this afternoon.

The beach here is beautiful and I plan on bringing the dogs there each morning for a long walk before I start the day and begin my studying and homework. My Mexican family has warned me to stay away from the lagoon as there is a large crocodile sanctuary where apparently the crocodiles favorite food is dogs!

The dogs have settled in nicely and have made many new friends. In addition to the Chihuahua Gina, there are several other dogs that hang out in the house I am staying. Chato, a very large boxer, pretty much lives here along with one of his puppies named Rocky. The house has a large yard that is not fenced but when I arrived, I let the dogs off the leash to explore and meet the other dogs and I have not put them back on a leash except when I leave the house to take them for a walk. They absolutely love the freedom of a yard and have made many new friends.

There are several places here that have a wireless connection so I will be able to keep up on my blogging and checking e-mails. I will also post some pictures of the family and town very soon. Well, I must get back to my journal en espanol!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Halloween in Mexico!

This post is a little belated as I was waiting for all the pictures from my friend Kris and have been busy with my friend from Canada who just left to go home.

We had a girls day/night (sleepover) at my friend Renee's house in the last week of October and decided that we were all going to dress up and go out for Halloween. I was absolutely thrilled as I love dress up and have thrown a few fundraisers back in Canada that were costume parties. A friend of ours was having a costume party and then we planned on going to our friend's bar Sunset Lounge afterwards.

So, the brainstorming began over sushi, yoga and drinks.....

Friends Chelsea, Rosy, Renee and Kris

Jade, Jackson and Nick watching us brainstorm from the balcony

Chelsea and Kris doing some yoga moves and getting inspired

The views from Renee's balcony

We only had a week to buy materials, make costumes, and get organized for the party on October 31. There were 6 of my girlfriends that decided to dress up with the same theme. One of my friends suggested being fairies but all different kinds with our own unique flair. The brainstorming continued into the next morning at brunch and after alot of caffeine, Chelsea started sketching and came up with the vision! I would be Winter Fairy, Chelsea would be Garden Fairy, Kris would be 80's Fairy and Renee would be Fertility Fairy.

After brunch and caffeine, we went off to the fabric store to purchase the materials and accessories for our costumes. Since I am hopeless at sewing and these sort of domestic duties, I paid Kris's housekeeper to sew my skirt. She did a fabulous job and I am so glad I was able to outsource this part of the costume!

Halloween finally arrived and four our of the 6 fairies gathered at Kris' house to do our makeup and final touches on our costumes.

Chelsea doing Kris' makeup

Renee aka Fertility Fairy

The four fairies ready to go! Fertility Fairy, Garden Fairy, Winter Fairy and 80's Fairy!

Off we went to the costume party and met up with our other fairies

All of the guests from the costume party went to Sunset Lounge to continue to the wee hours of the morning.

There were alot of fabulous costumes - loved this one! Nacho Libre!

It was a fantastic time - we all had a blast. It took weeks before I got all the glitter and pixie dust off!