Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Pepino y lima

Since discovering the lady who makes fresh juices, I've stayed pretty much with juice of oranges + x + y ... the reddish end of the color spectrum generally.

Today guess I was feeling adventurous so I asked about one of the greenish colors -"Y que es este?".  The answer:  "Es pepino y lima."

In a million years it wouldn't occur to me to combine cucumbers and limes as a juice.  So of course I had to try it.  It is delicious!  Light and refreshing.  An excellent drink for a sunny warm day.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Biciruta Minute

The Enterprise
Took the black beach bomber bike -- I think of her now as The Enterprise -- out for a morning ride on the Biciruta Merida route, before the sky opened up with big storm.  Bike rode well, no wheel wobble, tightening the cone washers was the answer.  Could probably use a little bit more air in the tires, but then that goes for most cruisers.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So is a video worth a thousand pictures?  We'll see.  Here is a minute of iPhone video, shot at one end of Biciruta Merida.  Music is courtesy of the freebie bike repair stop near where I was standing.  Click the video, hit the go button, click 'full screen' mode lower right corner.

Tax management

Once upon a time the colonial buildings here had many more doors, and fewer windows.

Then at some point government instituted a tax based on the number of doors in a property.  Kind of makes sense -- bigger properties would have more doors than smaller properties.  Right?

I've been told that local owners responded by leaving one door, and converting their other doors to windows.  Even better, they did the conversions in such a way that, should the tax ever be repealed, with a sledge hammer the windows could easily be converted back to doors.

Thanks to plaster and paint, in many buildings you can't detect the change.  But some buildings leave their tax history out in the open.

Museo de Ferrocarriles de Yucatan

#270 -- built 1903 in Philly
Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours at the Museo de Ferrocarriles (Train Museum) in Merida.  It is a very unusual museum, and a treat for anyone with even a sliver of geek.

The museum is an open-air acre of rail sidings on the edge of Merida's working railroad freight yards.  You pay a buck at the outdoor ticket table for admission.  A couple of nice kids at the ticket table tell you basically "here are the trains ... go anywhere you want ... just please stay off that one car which is being restored and isn't safe."

Safety is a relative concept.  I am confident that for liability reasons this museum could never exist in California.  You can clamber around on these old locomotives and train cars to your heart's content.  I didn't want to get hurt,  so I climbed all over -- but carefully.

Mother and child walking the museum
This rolling stock has not been prettified.  In truth, as you walk around the feeling is almost like being in a junkyard.  My theory is that the railroad management saw a good accounting opportunity.  Take a couple unused spur tracks.  Dedicate them as a museum foundation.  Run the rolling stock until it is completely worn out.  When it is 100% frapped, donate it to the museum for some whopping tax credit.  I don't intend to sound cynical, because -- if that is how it happened, I can only say the outcome is a terrific, unique and educational museum.  And a lot of fun!

Steam locomotive

Kid pulling the bell rope...
... and ringing the bell

19th century passenger car, currently under restoration

"Steel Wheels 2nd Lives Foundation"

All aboard

The only kind of liability signage I saw ... original
General Electric diesel electric locomotive, circa 1960

That lonesome whistle

End of the line

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Se Vende Blues Band

I'm sure the band has a real name, but I don't know it so I think of them as the Se Vende Blues Band -- based on the "for sale" sign on their practice studio a couple blocks from here.

When I walked by last night the band was practicing a blues classic:  Shake Your Moneymaker.  Song was first recorded by Elmore James in 1961.  It has been covered by Fleetwood Mac, Jimmy Page, George Thorogood and others, and is included in the Rock and Role Hall of Fame "Top 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll."

I like their music, so I stood outside the studio and recorded a bit of it on my iPhone.

Not certain if this will work -- I don't have a CS degree or a thirteen-year-olds iPhone skills -- but let's try.  Click on the "Play the tape" link below, then hit the normal audio play (something like this ⏯) button.

Play the tape

"Se Vende" Studio

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Adventures at Hamacas El Aguacate

Update:  a friend said stop yakking and add some pictures.  So I did.  A combo of my own photographs and Google Street View snapshots.

Despite my excellent repair, the hammock here was making some disquieting sounds whenever I got in -- strings popping and little ripppping noises -- I think it is on its last legs with advanced dry rot.

So I thought about getting a new one.  Did some research, discovered a lot about the local hammock industry.  There are a couple of high end hammock boutiques, and at the other end a lot street vendors selling plastic hammocks.

Then I found out on line about a place called Hamacas El Aguacate (The Avocado Hammocks).  Well reviewed: "This is where the locals buy them - good fair prices to start, all hand made and a reputable seller." Thought that sounded good, so I decided to visit.  A very interesting walk of a mile or so to get there.

El Aguacate (Google Street View)

El Aguacate isn't in the tourist district.  In fact, it isn't even in the low-rent commercial district.  It is south of the second class bus station, in what turned out to be the red-light district.  Even at two in the afternoon ladies were blowing kisses and winking as I passed, and I'm confident it wasn't because of my boyish good looks.  Got a snapshot later of the hotel across the street from El Aguacate, courtesy of Google.  Cat sitting in the door is a nice touch.

Across the street (Google Street View)

When I got to El Aguacate, had a conversation mainly in Spanish with the owner and an employee.  Poor Spanish to be sure, but Spanish all the same, and I was happy with that.  They showed me some hammocks.

You can get wonderful hammocks, hand woven under conditions that would make anyone proud to participate -- hammocks that help "alleviate poverty, promote gender equality and inspire social entrepreneurship." (quote from one of the hammock boutiques).  They are beautiful hammocks and great goals, and it is nice to help achieve outcomes like those by stretching out in a hammock. But they are also kind of expensive hammocks.  And I looked at one of them today at El Aguacate. Frankly, it was too fine a piece of artisanship for me to ever feel completely comfortable just hanging around in it.  I would worry about spilling something on it, or at minimum feel I should wash up and shave before getting into it.  So I asked whether they had something a bit plainer.

Bonus sogas para hamaca
They showed me a cotton hammock that was exactly what I hoped for:  just like the one here, but without the dry rot!  I asked the price, and was pleasantly surprised when I figured out it was $27 -- that is a very relaxing kind of price.  Of course I knew immediately I was going to buy it, but didn't feel I'd be keeping up my end of the conversation if I just said "sold!"  So I asked if that included some extra rope to help hang it, and they replied basically "why not?"  Then cash changed hands.

Hamaca in operation
This hammock has no pedigree. It may unravel beneath me as I sleep.  But it sure is comfortable.

A great book on Yucatan

Plug for a great book:  Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood.

Published in 1841, it documents the travels of perhaps the first two Anglo-Americans to really explore Yucatan and Central America with a focus on archeology. Many of the Mesoamerican sites famous today -- Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Mayapan, Copán, Palenque -- they found through local word of mouth and rough overland travel.

The book itself weighs a few pounds and consists of 600+ pages of dense print and illustrations.  It is hard to hold up in a hammock for longer than a few minutes.  Though fascinating, ten or fifteen pages is the perfect amount to read before falling into a nap.  So the book gets two thumbs up on that account alone.

I'd love to meet the authors.  They were very modern guys of their time.  Recounting the earliest history of interaction between Europeans and Mayans, they give no sense of glory to the events, making it clear that they involved a series of bloody little guerilla conflicts.  And their ethos re the archeological sites they found involved a certain amount of "if we can pry it loose, it's ours".  In addition to the archaeology, they give a wealth of info on daily life in Yucatan circa 1840.  I get the sense that they would be interesting people.

Since few in their right minds are going to actually read the book, I'll give just a sample here, describing the discovery of the two-headed jaguar statue at Uxmal:

"At a distance of sixty feet in a right line beyond this was a rude circular mound about six feet high ... we determined to open it.  It was a mere mass of earth and stones; and, on digging down to the depth of three or four feet, a sculptured monument was discovered ... it was found standing on its feet, in the position represented in the engraving.  It was carved out of a single block of stone, and measures three feet two inches in length and two in height.  It seems intended to represent a double-headed cat or lynx, and is entire with the exception of one foot which is a little broken.  The sculpture is rude.  It was too heavy to carry away.  We had raised it to the side of the mound for Mr. Catherwood to draw, and probably it remains there still."

Fortunately, it does remain!

Mr. Catherwood's drawing, and the sculptured monument today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"... tighten the cone nut, Scotty ..."

Casa Caballito has two old beach cruisers.  They are about as far as you can get from Star Trek technology. They are never going to be fast let alone hit warp speed, but they roll.

One rolled much worse than the other, thanks to a loose and wobbly wheel.  Was that way last year, and it hadn't gotten any better.  With Katie coming down soon I thought it would be nice to have two working bikes.  So in the spirit of "try to leave things a little better than you found them" I thought I'd take a shot at fixing the problem.

Thanks to traveling with a basic bike toolkit (doesn't everyone?) it was possible.  Problem was as I thought it might be: a loose cone nut, meaning the bearing races weren't snug enough, meaning the wheel wobbled side to side on the axle as it rolled.

An hour of moderate swearing and grease and it was done. Looking forward to riding this one!

The restoration jigsaw puzzle

Time and the elements have been rough on some of the structures at Uxmal.  Not unusual to find buildings mostly intact, but with a wall or the roof fallen in.  Archeologists are painstakingly restoring the damage.  Here is a building that gives a great example of the situation and the restoration process.

First photo: pile of rubble stacked inside a partially fallen building.  These are probably the roof and wall stones found in and around the building, collected together for safekeeping.

Second photo:  the reconstruction process.  Believe some poor graduate student is doing a jigsaw puzzle with the rubble -- trying every piece, finding the one that fits correctly, chalking a label on it for correct placement in the rebuild.  These rocks are very heavy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

... and Uxmal off the beaten path

Uxmal was a huge city.  And the easily accessible part with the pyramids and palaces -- while pretty big -- certainly isn't the whole thing.  Being the kind of person I am (me) I've always wanted to "poke around the edges", maybe see some less groomed stuff.

The only 24/7 residents of Uxmal today are iguanas, and there are plenty of them.  If you get too close, like about to step on one, they shoot away into the underbrush.  So I figured they know their way around, maybe I'll follow.  Searched out some little paths and thin spots in the underbrush and just walked into the jungle a bit.  Well worth it!

Here's a picture of Uxmal taken in 1890, before much had been cleared.  Piles of rocks, covered in grass, brush, trees. 

And another picture, taken today... 129 years later. Still covered in grass, brush, trees when you get away from center.  Naturally I decided to go inside for a look.  Glad that I did. Beautiful architecture, nicely built.  Glad that these un-restored areas are accessible.

A few minutes into the jungle, down a barely visible path, found a mostly overgrown graveyard.  Wow!  Not off-limits, just not so easy to get to.  Photo of carving on the side of a slightly raised plot.  Not planning to visit here on Halloween thank you.  And below, an un-restored ruin deeper in the jungle near the graveyard.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Took a bus from Merida to Uxmal today, an overnight trip to visit an archeological site.  It was a "second class" bus so I had some concerns, but in the event they were completely misplaced -- bus ride was fine.  Staying in a little hotel at the site, hotel that was built basically for early archeologists and visitors and expanded some over time.  Nice thing, it is maybe a 10-minute walk to the site itself, which is about a square kilometers of incredible buildings.  Uxmal was once -- from 900 to 1200 AD? -- the capital city of the Mayan Yucatan, and is believed to have been in decline well before the arrival of Europeans.  Not so famous as some other sites, so shared it today with only a handful of other visitors -- just enough to give some sense of the buildings scale when you spotted another person.

Very little band-width here, so only uploading one photo for today.  Will plan to upload a couple more when I get back to the city mañana.

Back in the city, so here goes.  These are from the central area of Uxmal.  Beautifully maintained area, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Might not want to climb some of these stairs with a cane, but otherwise all this is very accessible to anyone.

For scale...

A view from central building complex

Kind of creepy but well done

I did not climb these ... moment of sanity

What proportions

Just a nice shot

Bird carving

Admirable stonework 

The famous (in some circles) two-headed jaguar

Goal at the ball court


Photo of eclipse from azotea of Casa Caballito
We had an eclipse last night, and I had a great spot to watch it.  All good except the clouds -- really heavy -- but fortune smiled with an occasional break as they drifted over.  An eclipse doesn't happen that often, so I was happy to be able to see this one at all.  Like a million others I pointed my camera at the moon just to see what would happen.  It took pictures right up until totality -- when the last sliver of moon was darkened. I think at totality there was no longer any spot of bright light for the camera to focus on, and it did not know how to cope.  At totality the moon looked pretty cool -- red orange -- very visible to the eye but invisible to the camera.

Fun evening!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cultural Subconscious

"In an era of globalization, cultural heritage helps us to remember our cultural diversity..." -- Elena Franchi

Greyhound Bus
There is a local bus company in Merida called "Rapidos de Merida".  You see their buses everywhere.  At first I thought that they were Greyhound buses, but they aren't -- their logo is just pretty darn close to the old Greyhound logo. I had a kind of mixed emotion about this bus line -- on the one hand, regret about the phenomenon of globalization, on the other hand, admiration that they were so brazen in copying the Greyhound logo.  But my main thought when I saw a Rapidos de Merida bus was generally "that is a pretty bad drawing of a dog... tail too thick... front legs too short... too meaty in the haunches... just plain wrong.”

Well yesterday the scales dropped away from my eyes and I saw the logo for what it really is.  True, it is a rip-off of the Greyhound logo, but one drawn by an artist who comes from the Yucatan and a Mayan cultural heritage.  

Rapidos de Merida Bus

Sprinting Jaguar
The artist's subconscious is steeped not in dog, but in cat.  And that drove his or her hand when creating the Rapidos de Merida logo.  The logo is not a greyhound dog -- it is really a jaguar (albeit with kind of a doggy head).  Now I can't see the logo any other way.  It is a dog-headed jaguar.

I wonder whether the artist intentionally drew a jaguar in place of a greyhound, or the substitution of jaguar for greyhound was  subconscious.  I wonder if I am the last person to notice this, or the first.  The management of the bus company might well say "of course it is a jaguar ... you thought it was a dog?  Jeez.  Tourists."

Mesoamerican Jaguar Figure

Biciruta Sabado

Sunday morning Merida closes a nice boulevard to traffic and dedicates a couple miles of it to cyclists, dog walkers, roller skaters, skate boarders and pedestrians: Biciruta Merida. What a great thing! Paseo Montejo is a beautiful boulevard.  It used to be the "the place to live" back when Merida had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world -- late 19th / early 20th century -- thanks to the sisal trade.

Weather today is unusual.  Cloudy, windy, some drops of rain and cold by local standards.  Standing outside in the shade in a t-shirt and shorts early this morning a guy might almost have gotten a goose-bump.  So a perfect day for a ride!

I'm a fool for custom bikes.

A young rider

7 ladies on a four-wheel bike

Main square
My ride