Monday, May 28, 2012

One Month in Mexico Part IV

 I returned to Guadalajara with Dolores and Tita. While in Guadalajara I rode in a Calandria, a horse and buggy, and it was frightening because I kept getting spooked with all the traffic. It didn't seem to bother the horse as he trotted along with a clippity-clop, clippity-clop even though cars were honking and whizzing past him. For the first time in my life, I saw grapefruits growing on trees.  I heard different types of music other than Mexican....classical, jazz, and rock in different clubs. I ate delicious food that did not resemble the Mexican food in the States.

Mexico City to visit relatives of Dolores would be my next stop.  They live in a government apartment building because the husband works for the state.  While in Mexico City I visited the Museum of Anthropology and spent three hours wandering the many floors yet there was still so much more to see.  I read where the museum is one of the largest in the world! I met a student from San Francisco and he walked with me to visit Chapultapec Castle and the monument of Los Ninos Heroes. Cadets who wrapped themselves in the flag and committed suicide by jumping from the tower of the castle instead of surrendering!  He warned me about purse snatchers and said that if I see a robbery taking place just to keep quiet. One girl screamed when she saw a robbery and as people were getting off  the bus a man caressed her face and later she realized he had cut her with a razor blade. He told me pick pockets work in to distract you by spilling coffee, ice cream or pop on you and as he tries to help you another will steal your purse or pick your pocket.

As I listened to his warnings, I found it hard to believe because everyone I had met had been helpful, kind, pleasant, congenial and courteous.  On Friday, I had Miguel from a tour agency take me around to visit the Teotihuacan Pyramids and I climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon; the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe where the church is sinking;  a monastery, the floating gardens of Xochimilco, lava gardens, and University City. In the evening Miguel and I attended the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico and loved the many colorful folk dances of the different regions. After the show, he invited me for coffee and he drank coffee loaded with sugar while I drank hot chocolate.  He told me he used to be a pilot flying fish from one port to another but one time his plane crashed and when he awoke, he was buried in fish. He hates the smell of fish and will not eat fish!

Next stop will be Vera Cruz on the eastern coast. An incident at the bus station caused me some anxiety.  Buses were full to Vera Cruz and the only bus available would leave at  9 p.m. When I tried to pay with a Traveler's Check it was not accepted.  Carrying my luggage I stood in front of the busy bus station and wondered how I would find a place to cash the check. I felt frustrated and wanted to cry. About two blocks away I saw an Airway Travel Cargo office and carrying my suitcases I asked if they could cash a traveler's check. They would not cash a check but they did allow me to leave my luggage while I went looking for a place that would cash the "good around the world" traveler's check. Finally, a few more blocks and I entered a Sanborn's restaurant where I was told that if I purchased something, they would cash my check.  I bought a fruit cocktail and a lemonade and was given change in pesos!

Back at the bus station, I purchased a ticket for Vera Cruz and then sat and waited for about six hours. While I waited, a girl from Kansas asked me to watch her suitcase and purse and went  running off. She was gone for a couple of hours while I guarded her belongings.  It is strange that a trusting bond is made between Americans traveling in Mexico. It is as if we instantly become friends. I was happy she returned before my bus left!

The bus ride was entertaining due to a group of artists. Jorge, the leader, told me stories along the way. I heard about a swimming pool full of gardenias, a penitentiary, his home in Puebla, shared his box of candy made from sweet potatoes, and enjoyed a story of a Mexican hairless dog. When he wasn't talking I fell asleep. It was one in the morning when we arrived in Vera Cruz. A taxi took me to the beach front hotel where I thought I would be staying but was told that there were no rooms available. An Electrician's Convention was going on and all the rooms in Vera Cruz were full.  I asked if someone could call other hotels to see if anyone had a room and I was handed a phone and a phone book.  I called three hotels before I found one in town that had two rooms available.  It was on a first come, first serve basis and no matter how much I pleaded they would not reserve a room for me. I went out on the deserted and dark street to wait for a cab. Luckily, a taxi returning with four inebriated men picked me up and took me downtown. I got the room and felt like a hooker as I took the elevator to my room around 2:30 in the morning. The five men on the elevator kept glancing at me and I pretended not to notice.

Sitting in the plaza, marimba music in the background, and the balmy weather perfect, I wrote my daily letter. A man came up to me and asked if I was a writer. He was a small man with a normal upper body but short legs. He politely asked if he could sit on the bench with me. Mexicans are curious about life in the United States. When he left, two young men approached me. They both wanted to show me around Vera Cruz. One was slender, sandy colored hair, green eyes, tall and handsome. His name was Jose Manuel. I would have preferred Jose Manuel but chose Luis. I figured that the handsome one always got what he wanted, so I picked  the short, dark and not good-looking one.  We took a boat ride along the shore and then to a small island with a light house. He seemed to know everyone on the island and for lunch we had a delicious fish smothered in tomato and onion.  When I tried to pay he would not let me. He said he wanted me to have good memories of Vera Cruz.  Luis was friends with the lighthouse keeper so he was able to take me to the top of the tower. He told me that not everyone gets to enter the lighthouse!  Later, he asked if I wanted to go swimming so I was shown to a bedroom with three bunk beds and a hammock where I could change.  On the top bunk, I neatly placed my clothes on the camera bag and my purse. While we were swimming, Jose Manuel joined us.  They warned me about the jelly fish and how it can burn. It looked like Saran Wrap floating in the water. When I returned to the bedroom I found my clothes scattered and my purse on its side  Was this a scam? The guide takes the visitor out for a swim and someone goes through your belongings? I gathered everything up and mentioned how my belongings had been moved around. Luis thought it was just the children playing on the beds. Later, when I checked my purse nothing was missing. My passport, traveler's checks, camera, and money were safe!  We boarded the boat to return to Vera Cruz and made plans to meet at 7 p.m. to see the Danza de Los Voladores where five men in Native garb climb a tall pole and drop and twirl upside down around the pole while one plays a flute and drum.

 I took a nap and woke up with my back burning from being in the sun too long!  A cold shower felt good on my back.  I arrived at the park to find out that the Danza had happened at 6:30 p.m. and Luis was no where in sight. Jose Manuel came strolling by and we sat and talked.  He told me he had a truck and he could take me around Vera Cruz and show me the sights. He asked if I liked to dance and when I told him I did, he took me to a club. Even though I told him I did not drink, Medias de Seda, a rum drink, kept appearing at the table!  He was an excellent dancer, moving his fluid body to the music! The majority of persons dancing were all very good and I felt like a stiff wooden Indian. At midnight I told him I had to return to the room and he asked "Porque?" As I thought about it, I realized it was my mother telling me that no good girl would be out after midnight. We danced and talked and at 3 in the morning, Jose Manuel told me he had to go to work.  One of his jobs was going up on a hill, facing the ocean and giving blasts on a loud air horn to get all the fishermen up and on their way to go fishing.  As we sat in the truck, I could see many small boats, lights bobbing, heading out to the open sea.

He dropped me off at the hotel and promised to pick me up the following day and show me around. People were everywhere in the hotel and it certainly did not seem like 3:30 in the morning.The next day as I sat on my favorite bench writing to my children, Luis showed up and asked if he could take me around and show me Vera Cruz. I told him I had already made plans with Jose Manuel and he said, "He is married, has eight children, so be careful because you don't know his intentions." As he walked away I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing the handsome one to be my guide. When Jose Manuel showed up he told me we were going to see San Juan de Ulua prison. An old deserted fortress made out of four foot stone walls. The rooms had no sanitation and even though the rooms were not very big there would be over forty men in the small rooms.  Three rooms had been named Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. To me all the rooms looked like hell!  The only way in and out of the prison was by using a draw bridge while the moat around the building was filled with alligators to keep prisoners from escaping.

Next stop was Mandingo, a place to eat while musicians played and made up verses about you. Jose Manuel payed for the requests and I paid for lunch which was less than two dollars for both of us.  We had fresh oysters, fish, pop and tortillas. We drove to La Boca del Rio and swam in the river with about fourteen children. The kids loved to jump into the river and splash water on me.  We went to Mocambo beach and swam in the ocean. El Bosque de la Playa del Norte I found interesting because all the trees lean one way because of the constant breeze. Jose Manuel would not allow me to take his picture because of some belief that it would take his soul.

In the morning I had to go purchase my ticket back to Mexico City. My travels were winding down and I had many wonderful memories. As I waited on a corner for a bus, the small man I had met pulled up in a Volkswagen bug.  He offered to take me to the bus station and I figured if he tried anything I was bigger than he was and I would be able to fight him off! There was a long line at the bus station and he said, "I know the director, come with me." I followed him to an office and purchased my ticket without having to wait.  He brought me to the hotel and I could not help thinking that the people of Mexico are beautiful with a capital B! Jose Manuel aka Pepe, picked me up in the morning, put my bags in the back of his truck, and drove me to the bus station. When he got out of the truck to get my luggage, the truck rolled and the open door was torn from its hinges by a large pole.  I felt terrible that all I could do was thank him, say goodbye, and board the bus. 

The Mayan Peninsula would have to wait for another time because I had run out of time and money.  I have wonderful and beautiful memories of Mexico and the thoughtfulness and generosity of the people. Everyone I came in contact with had been helpful and gone out of their way to help me enjoy my stay in Mexico.

Below are some of the people I met and who helped form my impressions of Mexico! Some who were important in my travels like Jesus, Miguel, Jose Manuel, and Luis I was unable to photograph but I will always remember them!

                                                                         The End

One Month in Mexico Part III

In Guadalajara, I stayed with the Yanez family. I was amazed at how I seemed to become one of the family as they did everything to make me feel at home. They showed me their beloved city by taking me to visit the Expiatory Temple that every hour a door opens in a tower and moving figures march around to signify the time, Chapultepec Gardens, Governor's Palace, Teatro Delgollado, the Plaza de Mariachi, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Mercado.  A highlight was the October Fiestas with an amazing parade of color, music, charros, dancers and floats!

The following day Dolores, Tita and I drove to Tepic to pick up another friend, Evelia. We spent the night in Tepic and in the morning drove to San Blas in Evelia's blue Datsun. We ate a twelve inch fish at a road side stand. Trying to find a place to spend the night was not easy because San Blas did not cater to tourists.  One place had two lizards in the room, another did not have glass or screens on the windows, and some places did not appear to be clean. We finally chose a small place called the  Belmar with a bunk bed and a double size bed. We visited some ruins on top of a hill and were attacked by large mosquitoes! One slap would kill about six of the hungry mosquitoes!

                                                          Dolores at the ruins.

Later, we swam in the warm, calm ocean and then returned to the room to shower and go eat dinner. Suddenly, we heard Dolores yell, "Me pico un alacran!" Since no one seemed upset and I did not know what an alacran was, we continued getting ready. Dolores suggested checking the beds to make sure that there were no uninvited guests! I lifted the mattress of the bottom bunk and a four inch pinkish-grayish lizard slithered off. We got the giggles until Dolores said her foot was beginning to tingle and her tongue felt numb.  Evelia rushed Dolores to a medical emergency office in town but returned shortly because the doctor was asking for the alacran that had stung her. We found pieces of the squashed alacran and gathered them up so she could show the doctor.  Evidently, there are different kinds of alacrans with different kinds of poison and in order to give Dolores the proper medicine the doctor had to know what kind of alacran had stung her.

Dinner was in a small restaurant and when a bug fell into Tita's plate no one could finish eating. We walked around the square and ran into a group of Americans. They were full of news and told me that an alacran is a scorpion and poisonous. Also, that the Mayor of the town had been killed in an auto accident and the dance scheduled for the evening had been canceled.  We returned to the room and Tita and I had the big bed and Dolores took the top bunk and Eve took the bottom bunk.   As the lights were turned off we heard a whirrrring of wings and Dolores ended up in bed with me and Tita. It turned out to be a large moth.

The following morning we drove about five miles to rent a small fishing boat to take us through a dense, swampy jungle to the Tovara. The boat slowly made its way down the narrow river and we had to watch out for vines that hung above our heads.  The Tovara was a magical paradise. A scenic jungle type grass hut and a blue-green lagoon surrounded by green trees and plants. We swam in the fresh and clear water along with fish that we could see below us. Some kids from San Diego lent us their snorkel kits so we could spy on the fish.  A trapeze hanging from a large tree was used as a swing.  A young man jumped out and swung over the lagoon and when he was in the middle of the water, he let go of the bar and landed in the water. I tried it, but but when I was out over the lagoon my fingers froze on the bar. Everyone was yelling, "let go, let go!" and when I let go I was very close to the edge of the water.  I was told that if I had waited a few seconds more I might have landed on the ground and possible broken my legs! Four men arrived from a hunting trip and told us they had caught a tiger the day before. I did not believe their story but they insisted it was a "tigre." They invited us to join them as they were headed back into the jungle but we declined. The sky had clouded over, it was misty, there was a slight wind and we were cold.

Even though it was raining, we went to a beach called The Islitas. A beautiful cove where the water was warm and the waves gently lifted us up and smoothly let us down. The rain continued to fall while we ate dinner and when we returned to our room there were four men in the room next to ours. We stood outside and talked for awhile, mostly about the weather.  Around midnight I woke up and the wind was blowing.  All the trees were bent low, about four feet from the ground. The rain fell in torrents. I could hear the wind, tree limbs breaking with loud cracks, and rain hitting the window. I was scared  and when Dolores asked, "Are you awake?"  Three voices said, "Yes." I knew we were all praying silently.   Electricity was out and the whole area was dark. We looked out the front door and in front of the motel a palm tree was uprooted and a large tree had fallen and barely missed the cars. We heard our neighbors as they were going to their car to get a flashlight.  The wind was so strong we all made a chain by holding hands.  It seemed as if we let go we would get blown away! A small dog was wandering in the storm and when we brought him into the room he was trembling.  Somehow, with a flashlight and knowing there were four guys next door made us feel a little bit better. I had a fear that a large wave would wash us all out to sea! I cried at the thought of never seeing my children again. I prayed like I had never prayed before.

In the morning it was still raining but the wind had ceased.  Many trees had fallen and soft mud seemed to cover everything. We later learned that San Blas had been on an alert and everyone had been told to go to the school gym to wait out the storm.  We never got the message! We kept hearing the roads were closed due to trees across the road and flash flooding.  Chances were that we might not get out of San Blas for a few days. When a car drove in we inquired about the roads to Tepic and were told it was slow but passable.

We decided to risk it and began our trip back to Tepic. We had been in what is called La Cola del Ciclon (Tail of a Cyclone) but to me it felt as if we were in the middle of a hurricane! We managed to get to a paved road and then happened to see a sign about a waterfall.  Eve and I decided to hike and go see it.  Dolores and Tita did not want to go and they warned us to be careful.  We followed a large pipe and walked down steps that were only about six inches long and eight inches wide.  Some were slippery with mud and we counted 300 steps before we decided to return to the car. We could hear the waterfall but we never saw it. I slipped once and had visions of rolling all the way down the mountain. It was worse going up and when we reached the top my legs were trembling uncontrollably and we were muddy and tired. Yet, thankful we were safe.

                                                             to be continued......

Sunday, May 27, 2012

One Month In Mexico, Part II

Can someone be nice without expecting something in return? I wondered why the bus driver, Jesus, had been so nice to me.  Maybe this was a house of ill repute and he would return. After all, he knew where I was staying and my room number. Maybe he was in cahoots with the hotel people.  Traveling alone, I had to be careful. I placed a glass bottle in front of the door and propped a chair up against the door.  If anyone tried to enter I would hear the glass bottle as it toppled on to the tile floor.

In the morning, I entered the dining area and was relieved to see families with children enjoying breakfast. I had a pang of guilt for my evil thoughts but it didn't last long because I would have two whole days in a tropical paradise.  Palm trees, pleasant weather, blue skies, mountains, and the peaceful greenish-blue ocean greeted me. As I walked along the malecon I fell in love with Puerto Vallarta.  On the opposite side of the walk-way I saw restaurants, stores with swim suits and beach towels, souvenir shops, restaurants and travel agencies. The cobble stone streets gave the area a quaint appearance. I walked through town, across a bridge, and ended up at La Playa del los Muertos. (Beach of the Dead)  I drank a lot of pop since the water was not safe to drink. I was told that the name of the beach will be changed to Playa del Sol. (Beach of the Sun)

My first dip in the ocean came in the evening as I walked along the beach near the hotel.  A young man who looked about twenty years old was sitting on a stump and overheard me ask a family if it was safe to go into the ocean.  He asked me if I wanted to go in and that he would go in with me.  His name was David and he took my hand, to help me step over the rocky shoreline, until we reached the sandy bottom. The water was warm, it gently moved lulling my body to its rhythm. I swam, floated and enjoyed my very first time in an ocean. Letting the waves lift me and gently put me down was fun! It was beginning to get dark and the moon looked white as it came over the mountain. I thanked David for giving me the courage to get into the water. He told me he came every evening and while sitting at the edge of the sea, he meditated. He asked if I would meet him again for another swim the following evening.  I told him I didn't know but if I could I would see him again.

The following day I sat on a bench near the water and wrote my daily letter to my children.  Two young boys approached me and wanted to know if I was a writer.  I told them I was writing to my children and they asked if I could teach them English.  We talked for giving them English words and they telling me words in Spanish.  After awhile they asked if I wanted to go for a hike into the mountains because they knew some beautiful spots.  They looked harmless so I agreed.  We walked along a path through wooded areas and I felt like Jane of Tarzan fame.  The higher we went the more natural pools I saw. A few of the pools had families playing in the

A fresh water pool

fresh water. We came across many small waterfalls and luckily, I had my swim suit beneath my clothing so when we found an empty pool we decided to get in and cool off. The boys got in with their street shorts but removed their shirts.  The water was cool and refreshing and as we enjoyed the clear water we continued our English/Spanish lessons.  I made sure to keep my hands above water just in case the two boys had other ideas for I did not want my nails to be soft in case I had to defend myself! After returning to town, we said good bye because they were on their way to their afternoon classes.

Walking back to the hotel I was approached by six or seven persistent travel agents who sprang out of buildings or kiosks wanting to sell either a time share or a trip.  One fellow did not seem as desperate as the rest so I stopped and listened to him.  He would take me on a jeep tour into the mountains and along the coast for four American dollars. He told me he would pick me up at the Rosita at 2 p.m. When he arrived,  I was surprised I was his only passenger. He drove along the coast and I enjoyed the spectacular views of Mismaloya, where the film Night of the Iguana had been filmed; the private beach of the Camino Real; the huge rock formations known as Los Arcos;  Liz Taylor and Richard Burton's homes; the Mercado; Our Lady of Guadalupe church; the river Cuale where I saw women washing clothes; and a hike into the jungle. We stopped to watch a man throw rocks at a tree trying to knock down small nuts. The tour guide and I joined in but could not hit anything. When a small, orange colored, round ball fell it had an orangey, sweet taste. It looked like a tiny pumpkin but when the orange part was cracked away, I was surprised to see a Brazilian nut.

As we hiked up the mountain the vegetation made it feel damp and cool.  Every once in awhile I would hear a bird call or hear tree limbs crashing down. Crossing a river we got all wet and sat in the sun on a huge rock to dry.  Our hike back was more difficult because I had sun glasses and because it was getting dark I could not see.  He had to lead me down the mountain as if I were a blind person! By the time we reached the jeep it had started to rain.  "Since I can't show you the whole tour, let me buy you a drink."  He ordered two margaritas but mine seemed to be pure tequila so I took a few sips. The rain stopped and he decided to finish the tour of the northern part of Puerto Vallarta in the dark. Even at night, the city was beautiful with the twinkling lights of the boats in the bay and the night lights of the city. I realized that the amazing area would soon become commercialized because there were many high rise condominiums and hotels going up. Construction, farming, fishing and tourism seem to be the four ways to make a living.

In the morning I was packed and waiting for Jesus to come pick me up.  The hotel workers told me I had misunderstood because the bus never stopped at the hotel.  They advised me to go to the bus station. I kept insisting that the bus was to pick me up in front of the hotel. After I had waited for over twenty minutes I began to believe that maybe I had misunderstood.  As I prepared to call a taxi to take me to the bus depot, the large bus came barreling down the street in a swirl of dust.

We picked up passengers at the bus station and my journey to Guadalajara began. I had my fare out ready to pay for my ticket but he said, "Despues."  When we stopped to eat I ordered carne asada, refried beans, eggs, potatoes and orange pop. Jesus picked up the bill and would not tell me how much he had paid.  He said, "Te cobro mas tarde."  He told me stories and pointed out places of interest all the way to Guadalajara.  At the Central de Autobuses, it looked to me as if there were hundreds of  buses lined up either arriving or leaving, signs sloppily painted on the windshield letting travelers know where buses were going, people milling around, vendors shouting their wares, the oily smell of exhausts, and the rumble of many engines. I saw state of the art buses and some that seem to be held together with wire!

I again tried to pay and when I asked him how much I owed him, he replied, "Nada." He told me it was a pleasure having me on his bus and that he wanted me to have good memories of traveling in Mexico. I told him I already loved Mexico and I wanted to pay what I owed. He said, "Don't insult me, it is something I wanted to do."  I couldn't argue with his remark and after he helped me with my luggage and finding a phone to call my friend Dolores, he said,  "Well, there is one thing I would like. Send me a post card from Colorado so I can see where you live." He shook my hand and told me to have a nice trip and got on his bus to head back to Puerto Vallarta.  Someone doing something for another without expecting anything in return is an oddity. I wanted to do something for someone so when a crippled man held out his hand, I handed him some money.  I am finding out that everyone I have come into contact with has been kind, generous, and helpful.

Dolores was at work and would pick me up around seven in the evening.  I put my luggage in a locker and found a park a few blocks away. I sat to watch a couple of young men playing fronton (handball.) One of the men came over and invited me to play.  I told him I was just watching but he kept insisting so I decided to play.  I placed my camera, purse and a sweater on a bench. The two young men showed me how to hit the ball with the palm of my hand.  It was fun except that my hand began to hurt. Later, I noticed that my palm had turned a bluish-black.  We said good bye, I picked up my bags and sweater and returned to the station to wait for Dolores.  When I mentioned to Dolores what I had done she scolded me and told me I was lucky that no one ran off with my stuff.  "You have to be careful because there are crooks all over Mexico!"

                                                              to be continued.......

One Month In Mexico! Part I

I hugged my children goodbye.  They were so little but they would be with my parents who loved them as much as I did, so I wasn't worried.  It was hard leaving them while I traveled to Mexico to learn more about the country of my heritage.  After tearful goodbyes, I boarded a Greyhound bus that would take me to Juarez, Mexico.  I had been given some contacts in Mexico by friends who now lived in the United States. Chihuahua was my first stop and a cousin of a friend picked me up at the bus depot and took me to a hotel. After checking in and leaving my luggage, she showed me the city.  I felt excitement and fear at seeing the difference of how we lived in the States and how they lived. Cars were older models, drivers seemed reckless and used their horns a lot, vendors sold food and fruit along the street, rotisserie chickens slowly turned in windows, stores were small and carried few items not like our large grocery stores, parks were filled with people, and music seemed to come out of every car, building, or overhead speaker!  My first night I looked down from the large hotel window and saw creeping red lights of traffic, pulsating neon signs, and tiny people walking far below me. 

In the morning I took a train to Los Mochis and traveled through Copper Canyon. Winding in and out of the 80 plus tunnels gave me time to take photos of the beautiful scenery. This is where the Tarahumara runners are from and I have read they can run extraordinary distances without getting tired. Women and children sit along paths weaving straw baskets. Children learn to work at a very young age! The Vista car for travelers to enjoy the scenery was always full of older tourists who were fast asleep.  I felt happy to be doing my traveling while I was still young!


On the other side of the Canyon was Los Mochis where I would stay with a family recommended by a friend.  I was impressed with the wonderful interaction between parents and children. Such respect and kindness. The following day took I took  a rickety and ancient homemade-like bus. It was like riding a bucking bronco because when it hit bumps in the road, I bounced and almost hit the ceiling! Topolobampo, a cove and port, has a beach and it seemed it was just for locals!.

Leaving Los Mochis I traveled to Culiacan where I saw a friend.  We had dinner together and talked about when he lived in Colorado. He now owns the Aztec Cafe and he told me he worked from 4:30 in the morning until ten o'clock at night. The following day, three girls about thirteen years old, offered to show me around.  They took me to San Miguel's Church, and told me that they see ghosts. "Las animas que andan apenando," and one girl said she fainted when she saw the white, shadowy object floating around. We visited a tiny zoo with maybe five animals, a museum, and the local park. A meteorite in the park was a big attraction!
                                                    My tour guides in Culiacan

A bride dressed in gown and veil was crossing the street and the girls said, "La novia, la loca." (The crazy bride)  The story they told was of a pregnant woman who was to get married. Before the wedding, her intended was shot.  She lost her mind and began wearing her bridal gown daily. It is said she has several gowns and always dresses as a bride!

Mazatlan was my next stop. The bus drivers wear white shirts but it seems that grease stains always mar their clean look.  I learned that they not only drive the bus, but they are also the mechanics that have to fix the bus if something goes wrong. The ride between Culiacan and Mazatlan was beautiful with cactus the size of trees amidst jungle greenery. Deep pink and red flowers sprinkled with orange and yellow blooms hang from the trees, roofs, walls, or fences.  I am staying at the Siesta Hotel and was told it is famous for the well-known restaurant, the Shrimp Bucket. From my room I could hear the loud, fast moving Mexican music and I danced to the irresistible music in the privacy of my room! Sitting on the veranda I could see the ocean slapping the large rocks and spitting up white foam.  I walked along the malecon and watched young men dive off of a tower.

A diver

The young divers, with water beaded on their dark skin, mix with the tourists and are given money for their dive. Vendors selling souvenirs are lined up, each ready to bargain to make a sale. Speaking to a student who studied in the United States I found out he was very anti-United States. He was upset with religion, politics and economics of both countries! He sounded just like students in the USA. It upset him that rich Bishops in their Mercedes Benz' parade among the poor and stick out their jeweled fingers to be kissed by believers. He told me that even though Communism is bad, the poor can not have it any worse.  I found out that a derogatory word I can be called is "Pocha." It refers to a woman born in the United States but of Mexican descent. He complained that "gringos" come to Mexico to flaunt their riches. I explained that not all Americans are rich. The conversation came to an end when he asked me if I wanted to join him at the top of the tower to smoke pot.  I told him I couldn't because my family was waiting for me. I figured it doesn't pay to let anyone know I am traveling alone!

Tepic, with a large Eye of God monument at the entrance, seemed to be a typical Mexican town. Walls have painted advertisements, lots of hustle and bustle on the sidewalks, streets narrow and dusty, and everyone appeared to have dark hair and dark skin. As I boarded the bus headed to Puerto Vallarta, the bus driver told me his name was Jesus and if I sat in the seat behind him he would point out interesting sights. Every stop we made, the driver would buy me a soft drink and put money in the jukebox so I would know what music was popular. As he put it, "Muscia que esta de moda." In Compestella, his home town, he introduced me to his pregnant wife and four small children. They were all over him, hugging and kissing and yelling "Poppi, Poppi." She handed him a paper bag with his lunch, gave him a kiss and we continued on to Puerto Vallarta.

The road from Tepic to Puerto Vallarta seemed to be through mountains, lots of snaky curves and what I could see in the darkness, looked like a jungle. When I asked Jesus about a hotel in Puerto Vallarta he told me the Hotel Rosita was a good family hotel. We entered a town with cobble stone streets and Jesus asked me when I would be leaving.  I told him in two days.  He told me he would pick me up at the door of the hotel and drive me to my next stop of Guadalajara. He entered the hotel with me and made sure there was a room for me and then, with a wave, he continued to the bus station with the remainder of his passengers.

                                                               To be continued......

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Do You Believe in Raffles?

"I never win a thing," is heard when people buy raffle tickets.  I have also said those very same words but I can no longer say them.  I don't know if it is luck, if God decides to reward the winner, if it is the attitude of the player or if there is some mystery connected to winning.

A friend of mine called in sick to work so that we could leave early Friday morning to travel to Mesa Verde National Park. On our way, we arrived in Ouray, Colorado where we saw flyers announcing an Octoberfest celebration to be held the following evening. There would be music, food and dancing so we decided to spend the night to attend the festivities. Mesa Verde would be saved for another time.

The next day we drove to Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway and visited Telluride and Ridgeway. The scenery, the mountain peaks, the whole area was beautiful which made for a perfect day. We saw a cafe with a large sign in front:  Mexican Night Tonight!  My friend kiddingly said, "Hey, how about that, it will be your night tonight!" Little did we know how much truth there would be in his words.

That evening we entered the large hall where a band attempted to play polka music.  A table was covered with items for a raffle.  Squash blossom necklaces, leather vests, cowboy boots, western wear, turqoise jewelry, and lots of knick-knacks to be raffled off.  The main item was a red Jeep Wrangler with a canvas top.  My friend left for a few moments and when he returned he had four tickets for the raffle and he had put my name on all of them. "Why didn't you put your name?" I asked.  His reply was that since he was playing hooky from work he didn't want his name on anything, "Besides, you probably have more luck than I do."

The Ouray Chamber of Commerce sells raffle tickets all year round and then in October they raffle off the jeep plus other donated items. Imagine my surprise when I heard the announcer say, "Is there anybody here from Arvay-da?"

I didn't know if he was mispronouncing my city of Arvada on purpose but when he said my name it didn't matter.  I went up and he handed me a small, egg shaped candy dish. I was thrilled with the candy dish, because I never win anything.

More items were raffled off and then again I heard, "Is there anybody here from Arvay-da?" Again, my name was called and I won a clock in the shape of Texas with turquoise stones where the numbers should be. I picked up my clock and felt so lucky to have won two things.  My friend said, "See, I told you you were lucky!"

We danced a few polkas, video taped the dancers and the band, and then I said, "Let's go, I have my candy dish and clock and the jeep will probably go to someone from Ouray.  I don't think they would let it go to someone not from here."  I had the camera and the prizes and he had our jackets.  Right before we reached the door, I heard, "Is there someone here from Avay-da?" I stopped and looked at the announcer. We made eye contact, I shook my head and he nodded as he said my name. I dropped the camera, candy dish, and clock and began jumping up and down.

From then on it was a flurry of excitement.  I continued jumping and cheering while everyone applauded.  The announcer called me to go to the front and as I made my way people congratulated me. The announcer asked me why I was in Ouray and I stammered something about being on our way to Mesa Verde but decided to stay in Ouray and attend their Octoberfest.  I was handed the keys to the jeep, the local reporter interviewed me and pictures were taken. I was told I could pick up the jeep the next morning. Strangers were hugging me and slapping me on the back. Luckily, my friend had picked up the camera I had dropped and videotaped me being handed the keys!

The next morning I picked up my jeep and drove it home.  To this day I wonder if it was one ticket that kept getting thrown into the large screen barrel with thousands of other tickets or if three separate tickets were drawn.  I will never know, but I do know that I will never be able to say "I never win anything!"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mother's Day Blessings

On Sunday, May  13, 2012, I was at mass and at the end, the priest had all the mother's remain standing for a blessing.  I know this is a yearly occurrence and I like that a special blessing is given to all the mothers on their day.  After the priest prayed for us and gave us a blessing, he then asked all the family members to place a hand on their mother for another prayer.  I thought that was a nice touch and as I looked around I saw about five women standing alone, including me.  I felt a bit sad but accepted the fact that we did not have anyone to place a hand on us.

If it had just ended at this point, I would not have thought much about what was happening.  But, the priest continued  with, "Now, every member of the family, give your Mom a blessing by using your thumb and making a cross on her forehead."  There was a flurry of movement, kids jumping up on the pew, and some shoving and pushing to be the first to place a cross on Mom's forehead. The rest of us just stood there, waiting for those Moms with family present to get a blessing from everyone in the family. 

I remembered a priest saying that the only one that can actually bless anyone is a priest. Made me wonder about my grandmother, Dad's Mom, who when someone was leaving would have them kneel in front of her and she would make the sign of the cross over them and give them a blessing.  Did that blessing count? Did any of the blessings going on around me count?  One of the ladies standing alone took out a handkerchief and blew her nose and wiped her eyes. It's tough standing without a family on Mother's Day, especially when there are so many different blessings! I even felt like wiping a tear as I waited for all the blessings to end.

Maybe the priest should have said something about those women who no longer had their Mothers, or something about children living out of state, or something to make the lone women feel part of the group, but he didn't.  I am sending this note to our pastor to make him aware that all Mothers, whether with family present or not, should be included or mentioned if more than one blessing will be done on Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dudley Stables

Last night I had a dream about a horse.  I could feel its course black mane and when it ran I loved seeing the muscles ripple below the tan skin. Waking up, I began thinking about why I have always liked horses.  As a little girl, I remember reading books about horses. Then, when I was around thirteen years old, I would go to Dudley Stables in Greeley, Colorado and stand on the split rail fence to pet their solid necks and long noses. To me, their oval shaped eyes and long eyelashes were beautiful. One day the owner asked me if I wanted to help around the stable and he would let me ride the horses for free. I agreed because I did not have five dollars to ride a horse for one hour. Working during my summer vacation, I  enjoyed the smell of leather, manure and straw.

My job was cleaning out the stables, hanging up the bridles, and sometimes feeding the horses. There were about six horses and my favorite was a large, bigger than the rest, buckskin by the name of Buck. The other horses were heavy looking, wide-backed horses.  If Buck was not available, I would ride the other horses and felt every step they took. Even though it was a bouncy ride, I used to like to get the horses to gallop. All of the horses did pretty much what they wanted to do.  They would decide when it was time to return to the stable and no matter how hard I tried to get them to continue, I could not turn them because their thick neck was like steel. All the horses sensed when the hour was up and would return to the stable whether I wanted to or not!

One day, a man wearing Levi jeans, a white western shirt, boots and a cowboy hat, was speaking with Mr. Dudley.  As I cleaned the stalls I could hear parts of their conversation.  It sounded as if the  cowboy (which if I had known then was a typical Marlboro type) had two thoroughbred horses and wanted to board them with Mr. Dudley.

The next morning I found two reddish-brown horses at the stable.  The man stood beside one and seemed to be talking to it.  He smiled and asked, "How would you like to help me out with my horses after you are done with your chores?" I asked what I would have to do and he replied, "Just ride. They need exercise and I can only ride one!" By 10:30 I finished cleaning the stables and told him I was ready.  He asked if I had ever ridden before.  I told him I rode all the time on Mr. Dudley's horses. He said, "My horses are very sensitive.  You just need to touch them with your knee and they respond." I pretended to understand what he meant and he helped me up on one of the horses. I followed him out and he headed to Island Grove park where there was a race track. I followed and right away I realized that the horse was different. I felt as if I was sitting on a rocking chair, smoothly moving along. There were no bumps or jerks, no bouncing,just a gentle movement. Once when I thought I was slipping, I pressed my right knee against the horse and he automatically turned.

At the track we ran, walked, and trotted the horses. I loved hearing the rythmic thudding of the hoofs as I galloped around the track. The difference between Mr. Dudley's horses and the cowboy's horses was like night and day! We then walked the horses back to the stable.  Every day I would help the cowboy exercise his horses.  He would give me advise on riding like if a horse bolts, move reins back and forth causing horse to go in a circle and stop his forward motion. Always wear boots and never raise your voice but speak softly to the horse. Don't come up behind a horse because it could scare him. Talk to the horse, they enjoy hearing a confident voice.

Years later, I was on a bridle path that went through an old river bed.  A piece of paper flew up and spooked my horse.  The horse took off and all I could do was hold on to the saddle horn.  Weeds were smacking me on the legs, sand was being kicked up, and I was scared but I remembered that I needed to begin trying to turn the horse.  Gently I moved the rein left and then right and the horse began to slow down.  When I finally had him going in a large circle he had calmed down but my heart hadn't!

Once, a horse decided to return to the stables and turned while I thought we were still going forward.  I went flying off and skidded in the gravel, enbedding my hands and knees with tiny rocks. I was crying and and picking out the rocks from my knees when my riding partner said, "Get back on."  "No," I replied. "Get back or you will never ride again." I got on and the horse walked back to the stable. It was as if he knew he had done something wrong.

The cowboy and I parted ways when my mother, hearing unpleasant rumors from my aunt, decided I was too young to be seen riding with a grown man.  I was forbidden to return to the stable and I stopped helping Mr. Dudley.  I had enjoyed the time I helped with the horses and even now I like seeing horses and all that they can do.

Riding in Estes Park

I satisfy the part in me that loves horses by watching movies like Black Beauty, Flicka, Seabiscuit, War Horse, Ruffian, or Secretariat.  Or, like last night, I'll dream about horses!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Crowning of Our Blessed Mother

The statue of Our Blessed Mother was moved from its niche in the church and placed in front of the altar. Flowers of all different types and colors surrounded her.  As is the custom in Catholic churches, Our Blessed Mother is honored in May by placing a crown of flowers on her head and the choir sings,  "Oh Mary, we crown you today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May."

Instantly, I remembered being a young child in Greeley, Colorado and watching girls crowning our Blessed Mother.  I had no idea how the girls had been picked or why they were so lucky to be able to place the flowers on Mary's head. As the years went by and I became a teenager, I joined the Sodality of Our Lady.  In 1955 when I was sixteen years old I was picked to crown Mary, Our Mother.  My mother bought me a white gown and the nuns brought out the blue satin cape with a high collar.  I wore a white sparkly crown on my head and picked two small girls to be my flower girls. One of the little girls was my cousin, Dolores Garcia.  I do not remember who the other girl was or why she was picked.

The ceremony took place on May 20, which also was my birthday, so it was extra special for me. I remember walking up the aisle and wondering if anyone would notice that my legs were shaking.  In my white dress and cape, I felt like a bride with all eyes on me. As I went up the few steps, a crown of flowers was placed in my hands and I gently placed the flowers on the statue of Mary's head. I had practiced the crowning but I still had a fear that the crown of flowers might slip and fall to the floor. The choir and the congregation sang hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary while I silently prayed that everything would go as rehearsed.

The coronation was perfect and as I took my seat in the place of honor I felt proud that I had been chosen to crown Our Blessed Mother. It must have been a big day for my parents also, because the photo was taken by a professional photographer and in those days only wedding and graduation pictures were taken by professionals.

From Dark to Light

I attended a Chocolate Festival on May 11, 2012, and not only did my eyes bulge out, so did my stomach! Every kind of chocolate was on display....from candy, cakes, cookies, and drinks! The artists decorating cakes work magic with their ideas and their steady hands. The cocoa bean is where it all begins and I was surprised to see the many different types of sweets derived from the bean.  Organic dark chocolate is supposedly the best health wise but I liked a rolled up tiny cookie in three different flavors...chocolate, vanilla and anise.

Tickets were purchased for tasting the variety of the chocolate wares but since I know that where my waist used to be, I did not need to add any more rolls, I did not purchase any tasting tickets.  It did not matter because I was still offered a taste of the goodies.  When I told vendors I did not have a ticket, they would say, "That's all right, here taste this."  So I did!

One of my favorite cakes and cupcakes!

I don't know why one booth made me uncomfortable. The chocolate was displayed just like in the other booths but the subject matter I did not like.  Guns, hand grenades, rifles and bullets  made out of chocolate. The chocolate may have been tasty but I refused a taste of the violent looking display.

A wine frappe was beautiful to look at plus very tasty and fun to slurp.  It reminded me of a 7-11 Slurpee! (Yes, I know the vino had nothing to do with chocolate but it was still good!) I tasted a hot chili fudge and it tasted like chocolate except for the burning of my tongue when I had finished the tiny piece. I went from booth to booth, looking, tasting and enjoying the many ways chocolate can be prepared and displayed. For awhile, my sweet tooth was satisfied!

Not only were there chocolate booths but also jewelry, Miche purses, paintings, coffee, metal art work, and tiny marbles that expand to keep moisture around your plants. I enjoyed the afternoon looking at the different booths and tasting delicious candy. At the entrance stood a giant slice of chocolate cake with a glob of whipped cream topped with a red cherry to get people into the mood of what was in store for them inside the Chocolate Festival.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Memories of World War II

I just finished reading Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.  I have read, have seen movies and heard stories about this era but this book brought a fresh look to me on how soldiers fought and what soldiers suffered when they were captured.  I was shocked that there is so much I do not know of what happened when we were fighting Germany and Japan.  As I read the story of Louis Zamperini and the atrocities he and his fellow soldiers suffered while in prison camps in Japan, I was astounded.  I tried to recall what I was doing during World War II.

After all, at three years old there are only bits and pieces that I remember.  "Do not pick up any candy or gum that you find on the ground, because it could be a bomb," my parents warned me and my brother.  My father had read an article that the enemy was dropping bombs disguised as candy or gum and unsuspecting children would pick up the "goodie" and be killed by an explosion.  This was enough to scare us and make us aware that we were at war.

We lived about three blocks from the railroad station and I remember standing waiting for a train to go through Greeley and watching car after car loaded with olive green tanks, jeeps, cannons, and trucks. Lots of military looking stuff!

Our home had dark green shades which we would pull down if there was a blackout warning. Usually, when we heard sirens go off, everyone turned off all the lights and we would go sit on the porch and listen to planes flying overhead.  I remember feeling scared and sitting close to my mother.  One time I asked, "What if they bomb us?"  My Dad laughed and said, "Don't be silly, we live in the center of the United States and the enemy could never reach us because they would be stopped before they got here." I still did not feel safe but I was glad my mother and father were there to protect me.

Max and Johnnie were two cousins in the Army and fought in the Philippines. They looked so tall and attractive in their uniforms but when they returned from their stint they suffered from malaria and talked about mud, mosquitoes and thick jungles.  They had a green metal trunk filled with army items. I remember a canteen, a rubber poncho, and a sword.

One day, my mother told my brother and me that she was Japanese.  We tied her up and began hitting her with a small tree branch.  She kept up the farce until she saw that we were both crying and pleading with her that she wasn't Japanese. She used to laugh and say that she could have gotten loose at any time, that she did it to see how far we would go, but when she saw how upset we were she gave up the ruse.  I have never understood why she would scare us in such a way but we must have known and understood that the Japanese were our enemy. My brother has always said he knew she was pretending but I really believed she was Japanese and what I couldn't understand was how could she be my mother and also an enemy.

Some of the houses had a small banner with a star displayed in windows.  Mom told me that it meant that someone in the house was in the service fighting in the war. (I later learned that a blue star meant someone fighting overseas, but a gold star meant that the soldier had died.)

I figure I was around three years old when the war started with Germany and Japan and by the time the war ended in 1945 I must have been around six or seven. After reading Unbroken, I realized that there was so much about those years that I never knew. I do not remember the atomic bomb falling on Hiroshima or anything about Hitler. Pearl Harbor was never spoken about in our house, or if it was I was too young to remember. I do remember my father praising President Roosevelt for actions taken. "He had no choice," my father would say. What I learned about WWII came from reading and hearing about it in school.  As I read the book I found myself crying at all the destruction, the pain that must have been suffered by not only the soldiers but the families left behind, the capacity to forget and to forgive, and knowing the importance of peace in the world!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Doing My Civic Duty

When I received the 7 x 5 pink and blue notice from the State of Colorado, County of Jefferson,  informing me that I was being called to jury duty, I was not happy.  I know it is my civic duty and I should be glad that by serving I protect everybodies' rights and especially my rights. Of course, in small print is the threat that if I fail to respond there may be a $750 fine or six months in jail or both. So, my guess is that I am not the only one that does not like to report to jury duty! I believe we understand how important it is to serve on a jury, yet, it seems as if we all balk when we are called.

I enjoyed the early morning drive to Golden, Colorado.The hills were different shades of green, the sun gave the mountains a warm glow and the morning air was cool and crisp. Arriving at the Taj Majal (as the Jefferson County Courthouse is called,) I marveled at the semi-round building that I had read is no longer large enough to house all the government agencies. It looked pretty big to me!

After going through security I followed a curving hallway to a jury room.  The room had over 300 chairs but there were only about 75 persons scattered about the large room. At 8 a.m. three large screens came on and Ed Sardella, a retired Channel 9 newscaster, began an explanation of why we were on jury duty.  The whole process of our judicial system was explained and we were told that there are three types of cases we might be called to serve on: civil, misdemeanors, or criminal. We were warned that if we did get on a case, we could not speak to anyone about the case, use any electronic device for information, or talk to each other while the case was pending.  The presentation ended with a statement that we, the jurors, were more important than the lawyers, the judges and even the President! Without us, our judicial system would not work. This made me feel a little bit better about serving!

The court clerk let us know that there were three cases on the docket and someone would come and take us to the courtroom where we would go into the voir dire stage (asked questions to see if we were what the lawyers were looking for) and some of us would be picked to serve. She told us that prospective jurors are picked randomly, the jury system is a one day or a one trial system and to wait until someone came to get us.

For two and half hours we sat and waited.  As I waited I heard coughing and clearing of throats.  Some of the potential jurors were on lap tops, many were reading, one was taking a nap with his chin resting on his chest, some were talking on the phone, a few were texting, some stared into space, two women talked to each other while others looked around the room. Two vending machines with junk food and pop were in constant use.

At 10:25, the clerk came and said that all the cases had settled and we were free to go. I was surprised to hear an instantaneous cheer from the majority of persons and then everyone began gathering up their belongings. We marched down the curved hallway, this time going in the opposite direction.  We had all been prepared to serve but most seemed thrilled that none of us  would be on a jury.  I was secretly happy and hoped that it would be a few more years before I got another jury summons!

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Friend's 81st Birthday

The most beautiful discovery true friends make
is growing separately without growing apart. Elizabeth Foley

In the early 1970's, at 4:40 in the afternoon I left my post at the Motor Vehicle Department to go to the bathroom to doll myself up.  Blotting my face with ivory makeup, brushing blush on my cheeks, eye shadow above my eyes, eye liner followed by mascara, smoothing down my eyebrows and combing my hair was my ritual.  Before I was finished the door opened and my friend entered carrying her makeup bag.  We grinned at each other because we knew we were going to have fun after we left work.  She began to apply her makeup and I returned to finish out the last fifteen minutes of the day!

By 5:45 we joined other revelers at the old Auditorium Hotel in the bar area.  There were lawyers, judges, advertising, printing, sales, and newspaper men and women who called themselves the Evil Companions. Talk, drink, some dancing, and lots of discussions whirled around the happy people. This was how we spent every TGIF evening.

Today, May 6, 2012, I am going to see my friend of long ago. I haven't seen or talked with her for over 30 years.  Our lives had gone separate ways and the last Christmas card I had sent her had come back with addressee unknown.  We got back in touch when she told me that watching the Coloado Rockies play she saw a pitcher with my name on the back of his jersey and that prompted her to call me.

Speaking on the phone she told me she had many medical problems..., arthritis, needed oxygen, kidney problems, used a walker, bruised wrist, and a hump on her back.  I did not believe her because her voice sounded just like I remembered...full, vibrant and witty! I also knew that, for the sake of a story, she tended to exaggerate!

In our youth, my friend and I were sometimes mistaken for sisters and I felt flattered because she was a strikingly beautiful woman.  We were about the same height and probably fifty pounds lighter than now. When I picked her up to go to her birthday celebration, I was shocked because she didn't reach my shoulder. I had to admit that all her ailments were true and they were not exaggerations. I felt saddened to see my friend with breathing problems and hearing her moan in pain as she moved along pushing her walker.  I have to give her credit because she gets around though as she said, "I just have to start getting ready five hours in advance!" She will not allow her ailments to win and a quote by Fried Nietzche reminds me of my friend:  "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

After a lovely lunch, she opened her presents, and when she opened paints, brushes and miniature frames I learned something new about her....she is an artist! I gave her a photo book with pictures of when we worked together and looking at the photos we remembered our youth.  Someone made a comment that in the photos we looked like models. I even had to admit that we did look good!

Her sense of humor is intact and laughing comes easy to us. Her memory is better than mine and she remembered many more things than I did. It made me wonder which is lose your memory but have a healthy body or to have a body riddled with agonizing problems but with a strong mind?  I do not know the answer to that question.  Her daughter, who I remembered as a teenager, is now a woman with a wonderful husband, three grown children, and grand kids. I could see that my friend is surrounded by love and, aside from her aches and pains, enjoys life. She lives by herself with help from persons who come in to assist her.  I enjoyed the afternoon spent with my friend, her family and helping her celebrate her 81st birthday!
Even if many years had gone by, when I heard from my friend it was as if no time had passed.  Our minds, our voices, our sense of humor are the same, yet, our bodies may need some repair!

A friend is one of the nicest things you can have,
and one of the best things you can be. Douglas Pagels

Friday, May 4, 2012

In Another Life Was I Greek?

Kiddingly, I have always said that I must have been Greek in another life.  In my youth, Greek mythology fascinated me.  I delved into the reading about the gods and goddesses as if I was working on genealogy and they were my very own relatives.   I happened to meet a Greek man and he introduced me to his family.  His sisters taught me how to make a grape dessert that was extremely sweet but so good. I like Feta cheese on top of everything. The famous Ouzo drink tasted like the smell of moldy clothes and this is one drink I do not enjoy! Greek dishes, bouzouki music, songs in Greek that I do not understand but like the rhythm, are all things I like.  It was fun watching the men dance in a line while the leader hung on to a handkerchief. The showing of appreciation, after a musical show, startled me because everyone threw plates and money to the center of the room. Instead of hearing clapping all I could hear were plates breaking as they shattered on the floor.  Every Sunday it seemed as if all the Greeks in Denver met in the mountains at Genesis Park to have a large picnic with good food, lots of music, games, dancing and singing.  I could see that family was very important and this made me like the culture more. I began learning a few words and enjoyed how the words rolled off my tongue.  Efharisto meant thank you and kahla meant fine.  Neh was yes.  With my dark hair I was mistaken for Greek and I liked fooling people by making them think I was Greek! Many of the men owned steak houses and loved to gamble.  Men enjoyed sitting around a table drinking coffee and talking. My desire was to some day visit Greece and see the place where mythology had begun, where the joyful people came from, to eat authentic Greek food and to see the ancient ruins.

My dream came true a few years ago when I visited Athens and at the Acropolis I was surprised that the theater is in ruins but it is still used for operas and plays. I got to stand next to a uniformed soldier in white knee highs, white leotards, red beret, pom-poms on his shoes and a white skirt.  These soldiers watch over the tomb of the unknown soldier and belong to the elite Evzones unit.

 I wandered through meat markets, sat at outside cafes on plush couches and drank water from blue, wine size bottles, ate sweet pastry and enjoyed looking at all of the ancient ruins. It was difficult to imagine that much of what I was looking at had been around since before 400 AD.  I could buy water, newspapers, souvenirs, candy, cards, exchange money or whatever else struck my fancy at the handy kiosks. I found the men to be flirty and one elderly man waited outside a church, went up to the women and asked for directions and thanked them by accidentally (or not) touching their breasts.  We were told women are caught unaware of his intentions because of his age and his cane.

Traveling through Greece I saw breath taking views in many of the towns.  I fell in love with sea side Kavala with many small boats bouncing on the water.

 Meteora with its gigantic stone walls cradling  monasteries so high above that the only way to reach them is by ropes and pulleys.  Corinth is a religious and historical place where St. Paul walked and preached.  Thessoloniki, Phillippi, Kalambaca and Veria were interesting stops.  Icon artists, sitting in cluttered studios, worked on their craft for tourists to watch.

At the Acropolis, the Porch of Caryatedes has maidens holding up the ceiling and I learned that the original maidens are in a museum and the ones I was looking at were put up for tourists! The surrounding area with the Parthenon, the many columns, stones, carvings and rocks are all part of  history. I was in awe to be in the ruined temples of the Gods!
At the Acropolis overlooking Athens

The older women all seem to wear black, younger people dress modern, men enjoy being in groups at coffee houses, and there seemed to be a lot of energy in Greece. Dinner is eaten late, around ten o'clock.  Whether or not I was Greek in another life doesn't matter.  What matters is that I was able to visit the country of olive trees and grape vineyards, to taste Greek dishes, and to be able to say efharisto to the friendly people!

Enjoying the view!

I will always remember my trip to Greece and recall a quote by Solon, the Athenian, one of the seven sages of Greece:  "I grow old always learning new things."