Sunday, January 28, 2007

Back stage tour of the musical "All Shook Up"

Samantha and Carla
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Yes, it is a long way from the warm waters of Mexico and the charms of Tenacatita Bay.

But the joys of life in urbania were crystal clear Sunday when we went to see a touring production of "All Shook Up," with granddaughter Samantha and then got a back stage tour with a member of the cast, Carla Woods.

Carla is the older sister of Steve Woods, the husband of Admiral Fox's cousin Kate from Boston. We made a rockumentary about their wedding two years ago titled "Kate & Steve, A Hector'd Romance." We met Carla at the wedding and she has a big part it that rockumentary, singing "Love Me Still."

"All Shook Up" is a rock n' roll production featuring songs by Elvis and while a local newspaper critic was less-than-enthusiastic, the show was fabulous. Or as the governor of this state is fond of saying, "It was fan-tas-tic!"

The two acts went by waaaaay too fast. We could have sat through another round of rollicking toe-tapping music and comedy.

After the show we zipped to the stage door where Carla met us and took us on a backstage tour of the set - and where we met some members of the cast. One of my goals had been to get a photo of me with Susan Anton, the tall (and drop-dead gorgeous) blonde bombshell in the play, but she had already zipped out for dinner. The cast had a second performance that evening and a short time slot in-between shows.

Susan Anton
Susan Anton swings

Samanatha's eyes were nearly as big as her eyeglasses as we walked around the stage while Carla gave us a running dialogue about where she had to stand, explaining how they knew exactly where to be at any given moment and showed us the stage manager's control booth where all the action is controlled from.

From out in our seats, the performance was flawless.

Samantha and Carla in front of car
Samantha and Carla in front of rolling stage props

We were introduced to a number of the cast members - many of whom look quite different out of costume.

Girls from the cast with Sylvia and Samantha
Two girls from the cast with Sylvia and Samantha

There's some loose talk of going to see the show again before it leaves town in about a week - loose talk I'm supporting, and not just so I can have my photo taken with Susan Anton. (OK, it is a argument in favor of going back.)

It was just fun to hear the great music and suspend reality for the theatre experience for a couple of hours.

Hmmm... I wonder if All Shook Up will ever play in La Manzanilla?

I'll take it up with Ms. Anton.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Change of climate and a change of cultures

Outdoor butcher shop
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The Admiral and I returned home from Mexico late Friday and it wasn't until this afternoon that the reality of life back here began to sink it.

It coincided with waking up after a several marathon days in Mexico just before we left and then a looooong day of travel from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco via Alaska Airlines and a drive home in the Prius.

Alaska Airlines reminded me that I was back in the nation of rules. First, I forgot to put up my tray table when the plane started to taxi and thought I had committed a felony given how the flight attendant barked at me. Then, during the flight, the attendants were on the loudspeaker every five minutes, reminding us that we were on an international flight and, by God, there were rules. And they repeated those rules many times in a 4-hour flight. What rules? Well, stay in your seat, don't make lines in the aisles for the two bathrooms at the rear of the plane and please, please, don't interfere with the handing out of stale pretzels.

It was pretty hard to reconcile all that with a nation that lets you drink a beer on a bus if you so desire and let's people ride around, gasp, in the backs of pickup trucks, sans seat belts.

On our sojourn from Puerto Vallarta to La Manzanilla to get another look at Admiralty Beach, we stopped in a little town for water and snacks and parked next door to the Mexican butcher shop you see in the photo above.

The butcher thought it was pretty funny that I was taking photos of his sides of beef and a few chickens hanging there. While we got our supplies, he came out several times to make some cuts from the raw meat, which he then wrapped and sold to customers.

Not exactly the Safeway meat counter, but you sure know what you're eating.

When we got to La Manzanilla, the Admiral posed outside of Santana Realty, the company we have been talking with about Admiralty Beach property with the nice folks there.

Note the bare feet. Don't see that at Coldwell-Banker offices.

Barefoot at Santana and grinning
Barefoot and grinning

The sad part of that trip, however, was when we walked the beach in front of La Manzanilla and saw that five loggerhead turtles had washed up on the beach and were in various states of decay. In several cases, sea creatures (crabs most likely) had already started to reclaim the turtles back to nature. Farther up the beach, buzzards were hard at work.

The turtle deaths appeared to be natural, perhaps a virus we supposed. The local folks were puzzled, too, and a team of naturalists in town, studying the ever-present cocodrilos, was expected to take a look to see if they could figure out what was killing these magnificent creatures.

Dead tortugas on La Manzanilla playa
Two of the five dead turtles

And although this part of the coast rarely has serious threats from hurricanes, we also took a tour of seawall being built by one gringo to protect the house he has planned for his property.

A veteran of hurricanes in Florida, he apparently lost severals home some years ago to rising waters and isn't taking any chances at his new casa.

Pretty impressive concrete and rock.

Heavy-duty seawall
Heavy-duty seawall

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The hazards of boating include occasional rocks

Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
ISLA ISABELLA, Mexico - The boaters around here worship a magazine out of Marin County, Calif. called Latitude 38 which loves funny - and not-so-funny - boating photos.

This one was published this week of a boater at Isla Isabella, a long day's sail from Puerto Vallarta and the site of bird sanctuary. We anchored there several years ago and explored the place, anxiously watching Sabbatical at anchor, not far from where this picture was taken.

The bottom is littered with boulders and coral heads and this unlucky boat came up with a massive rock.

How they got it out of the crook of the anchor remains a mystery.

Wal Mart
Puerto Vallarta's own Wal Mart

Tuesday was mostly a beach day, but we did fight a traffic jam coming home, with cars all zooming in and out of Puerto Vallarta's very own Wal Mart, with a Sam's Club right next door.

The more 'local' grocery stores (chain outfits like "Gigante" and "Comercial") all have comparison lists in their stores showing that the Mexican chains are actually cheaper (for groceries at least) than the Arkansas-based giant.

The produce is certainly of better quality.

But the beach! Ah, the beach at Paradise Village! As this trip/vacation/adventura winds to an end, it was the best surfing day yet. (OK, body-boarding) And there was also a lot of volleyball action for the younger tourists.

Tuesday was likely the last visit to Paradise Village beach as Thursday we will roll back down to La Manzanilla for a visit with Dan & Lorraine Olsen (from Zephryus) and the folks at Santana Realty. And then over the weekend, Alaska Airlines willing, we will return to Sacramento and, gulp, work.

Volleyball action
Volleyball action at Paradise Village

Monday, January 15, 2007

Surf was up for 'body boarding' at Paradise

PARADISE VILLAGE, Nayarit, Mexico - The surf was up today, higher than when we left 10 days ago making the body boarding (the sport-formerly-known-as-boogie-boarding) a lot of fun. It was old home week at the Vallarta Yacht Club with Jim & Myrna Keitges from the sailing vessel Blue Moon and also Bob & Judy Lyon from the sailing vessel Lyon Around.

While the crew of Blue Moon didn't take to the boogie boards (oops), Jim's sister Cathy and her husband Fred did, proving that Iowans can surf quite nicely, thank you very much.

Dangerous surf
Surf's up, amigos

In addition to the boards, there were quite a few parasailers zooming over the tops of the beach. Several years ago, a woman went over a crane at a downtown hotel and got hung up in her parachute and had to wait hours for the fire department to come and cut her down.

No thanks.

Getting a good view of the beach

Parasail on the the ground
Waiting for a customer

The vendors were having a busy day today, too, even though the beach wasn't quite as littered with tourists as in the past.

Buying jewelry
Shopping for the perfect bracelet

The loose cocodrilo of La Manzanilla captured

PUERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico - Maya Tucker, daughter of Mel Tucker (shown in the photo at the right and displaying his odd sense of humor) shipped along the photos she took last week of the fellows capturing the cocodrilo that had escaped the lagoon and was swimming with the tourists.

I missed seeing the capture - we had gone down the beach to Valentina's for a great lunch - but I did watch several people out wading up to their knees to get a look at this critter swimming in the water only a few feet past all those bare legs.

Croc on the beach
Lunch wades in the surf

The surf swimming cocodrilo was small compared to most of the ones I've seen in the reserve, just a few blocks from the center of the town. Perhaps it was a juvenile, just experimenting with leaving home.

I received lots of different stories from local people about how common surfing cocodrilos are. Some people seemed aghast and said it never happened, others said the crocs come out from time to time and return to the reserve. Several people told me they have seen croc tracks on the beach at low tide near Martin's restaurant.

Time to time? Croc tracks?

Madre mia!

Wrestling with the croc
Wrestling with the croc

All tied up
All tied up for the trip home

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Musical driver on our journey to Puerto Vallarta

Musical bus driver
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
MELAQUE, Jalisco, Mexico - We took an early morning bus ride from La Manzanilla to Puerto Vallarta, that began with a rocket/taxi ride over to Melaque, the site of the bus terminal for this section of Mexico.

The tickets for the bus ride were 162 pesos each - about $15 - on a first-class bus. We had two movies during the ride: one in which Tom Cruise plays a hit man, the second a thriller about two children whose parents have been killed in a car accident. Watching movies while careening around mountain switchbacks is definitely not recommended.

But before we caught the bus, a driver from another line came over and starting chatting with Sylvia about her violin and then demonstrated his prowess. When not piloting buses around the region, he plays in a band and the violin is his instrument of choice, though he said he can play others, too.

The Admiral's violin always draws stares - violins are not that common in this part of coastal Mexico. At least not in bus stations in small towns. After Daniel the Driver gave his concert, he insisted that the Admiral play a tune, which she did, The Road to Lisdovarna, an Irish tune that had the crowd tapping their feet.

I started to dance a little jig, but thought the better of it, as my dancing abilities are hardly up to the level of the Admiral's violin skills and were likely to spark an international incident with headlines like "Clumsy Gringo Empties Bus Terminale."

Military checkpoint
Military checkpoint

I did risk an international incident about an hour later when we cruised up to a military checkpoint. These checkpoints are fairly common around the country and this one featured a small, white drug-sniffing dog they let loose inside the luggage compartment under the floor of the bus.

We were all relieved that the little pooch didn't have to, well, relieve himself while he was doing his important security work. A few people seemed uneasy when the dog crawled in the compartment but mostly because they had loaves of bread and other foodstuffs in there that hoped didn't get a doggy lick.

Or worse.

If the photo seems a little less than great, it's because I wasn't looking through the viewfinder when I shot it. I learned that trick taking photos of a group Hell's Angels many years ago. They were quite camera shy, too, it seemed and suggested that they would do something that is anatomically impossible with my 35mm if I shot any film.

Cleveland sucks
Even in Mexico, they know

The four-hour trip went by quickly, with only a few stops in the towns between La Manzanilla and Puerto Vallarta. These towns have their own ticket agents with bus terminals that are just shady spots along the road.

At our first stop, in the photo above, the young lady handling ticket duties expressed her views of one North American city.

Good thing comedian Drew Carey wasn't on the bus with us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Another day in Mexico - with animals on the road

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - What was billed as a 'beach day' turned into a 'drive-all-over-the-place day' out to look at some mountaintop properties and then a return to Admiralty Beach to admire the place.

In our travels, we came around a corner doing about 60 mph and found three cows right in the middle of the road. They were not all that eager to move, either, though with a combination of quick driving and horn work, we got by.

Later, we came upon the fellow riding the horse in the photo at the top, headed to the local tienda with some produce for sale. How do you calculate miles per gallon on a horse, anyway?

Once at the beach, we gave a quick tour to our Canadian friends John and Catherine from Salt Spring Island. They have been on the move since early fall and are headed back to the Great White North over the weekend to resume their 'normal' lives.

They wanted to simply pitch a tent on Admiralty Beach and stay forever.

Admiralty Beach Canadian tour
Admiralty Beach, Canadian tour

The day also included a nice time with our amigos Dan & Lorraine Olsen from the sailing vessel Zephryus, who overstayed their time limit a little and had to barrel out to their boat so they could pull anchor to get to a safer anchorage for the night. They hate to enter any anchorage at nightfall - with good reason.

But before they left, I snapped this shot of their boat with the sunset. San Francisco Bay sailors work for 20 years to get their boats ready to sail here for just that kind of sunset.

Nicely done, Zephryus.

Zephryus at Sunset
Zephryus at Sunset

The day also include the hunt for a photo of someone enjoying the life on the beach.

A dragon on her back
An impressive dragon

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lunch, kayaking and a loose cocodrilo off the beach

Lunch crowd at Valentina's
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - Always in search of the perfect margarita, the perfect fish taco and the perfect flan, we struck out today down the beach to Valentina's an outdoor, palapa-style restaurant that by reputation was one of the best in town.

The reputation is well deserved.

Admittedly, because it was lunchtime we passed on the margaritas and the flan, but I did have fish fajitas which were as tasty as anything I have had in the few weeks I've been down here. The service was quick and the beer was ice cold.


On the way to Valentina's we saw quite a stir along one spot of the beach. It seems a cocodrilo had decided to take an ocean dip and crawled out of the lagoon, lazily making its way down the beach right in front of our palapa. Where he was going, what he was thinking and what he was considering eating was unknown.

Croc on the beach
The shadow in the water is the crocodile swimming

Some locals told me that it was no big deal. (Ha! Did they think I just arrived from some hick town like Sacramento?) But after we left, Maya Tucker took some photos of four local guys wrestling the beast in the water, trussing it up with ropes and eventually dragging it to a pickup truck to return the croc to its home in the lagoon.

And I thought it was exciting to see sting rays in the water. Imagine stepping on the head of a 15-foot long croc.

Earlier in the morning, Mel Tucker took his last kayak ride of this vacation, going out in search of whales (lots of wildlife in this bay) returning to shore using the barrel-roll dismount favored by kayakers in really warm water. Or so Mel claims.

Mel Tucker goes sand surfing
Mel Tucker goes sand surfing

Just after the croc was wrestled from his swim, some of the tourists decided it was time to get back in the water - but not without some hesitation, not knowing if other crocs might have decided it was time to go out for a snack.

Debating on taking a swim
Debating about taking a swim

A walking tour of the pueblo of La Manzanilla

Maya meets the La Manzanilla express
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We took a walking tour around downtown La Manzanilla and the area to the south across an arroyo Thursday, stopping briefly to say hello to a beautiful horse tied in front of a house near Martine's Restaurant.

The horse - and the motorcycle - are great examples of the two worlds here. We have traditional Mexican restaurants alongside Americanized eateries, dirt-floor, one-story houses next to McMansions and horses parked next to Hummers.

Several weeks ago a Washington Post reporter was in town and went back to D.C. to write one of those stories that Chambers of Commerce love and local residents hate. Here's the link to reprint:
  • La Manzanilla

  • And there is talk of paving the roads, at least in downtown.

    Madre Mia!

    Part of the tour was to get a second look at a new (to this area) use of steel frames to build homes. The advantage to using steel is that the main frame of the house can go up very fast compared to traditional concrete block construction.

    Even the outside walls of the surrounding courtyard use the steel as a frame with concrete eventually sprayed over the top.

    Steel walls
    Steel wall frames

    Steel stairs
    Steel stairs (looking down)

    From the roof of this under-construction casa, we had a commanding view of the city, with the newer houses popping up all over the place. Most of the homes build two stories and then cap them with a palapa top. The views are spectacular and whatever breezes blow, you can feel them up there.

    With the humidity hovering at probably 90 percent the past few days, those breezes are muy importante.

    Rooftop view of La Manzilla
    Rooftop view

    One nice house
    One new house

    And although the town has really emptied - most holiday tourists heading home - there are new arrivals daily.

    Walking out of the surf
    All cooled off

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Just another day in paradise, for most of us

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - We spent another day chasing about the beach here, but had to say farewell to sons Dylan and Dustin who left today, their respective vacations over.

    Dylan flew out on Alaska Airlines and headed back to Berkeley and his new job in the financial world. Dustin drove out this evening and back to a herd of anxious customers in Puerto Vallarta who want their boats fixed.

    I caught this shot of Dustin, sitting in front of our palapa, an hour or so before he barreled out to do the four-hour drive.

    Dan & Lorraine surf in
    Dan and Lorraine surf in

    Early today Dan and Lorraine Olsen from Zephryus motored across the bay to anchor in front of our rented quarters to spend the day on the beach with us. They did a near textbook surf landing coming in (above) barely getting their legs wet at all when they jumped out and pulled the boat up.

    Later in the afternoon, when Sylvia, Lorraine and Beth Tucker drove Dylan south to the Manzanillo Airport (one hour south of here), Dan got involved in a little pickup game of Frisbee with three young Mexican lads on the beach.

    It was a little unclear if they wanted Dan to play catch with them - or if they just wanted to borrow the casa's Frisbee. Dan was up to the task, however and showed them some of that great Sonoma State University Frisbee technique he learned there as a undergraduate.

    It requires being able to throw skillfully with one hand, the other firmly clasping a beer. He proved today he hasn't lost his touch for either, since college.

    Dan plays Frisbee with a local pro
    Dan teaches a Frisbee lesson to his new amigos

    The number of people visiting the La Manzanilla beach is dwindling rapidly as the holidays get further and further behind. But new people are arriving every day, too.

    Catching some rays
    New arrival catches some rays

    A tour of Admiralty Beach from south to north

    TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - We took a drive Tuesday along Admiralty Beach, going all the way to the north end where a lagoon bursts through the sand during the rainy season and closes up with ocean sand in the dry months.

    Joe Santana & beach tour
    Joe and his beach tour group

    Joe Santana, of Santana Realty and the original Palapa Joe of La Manzanilla, drove us around back roads and across sand dunes to show us this remote - for now - stretch of beach.

    The lagoon is especially interesting for anyone who likes to fish or is interested in birds and wildlife.

    From our vantage point in the photo at the top, we watched fish jumping every minute or so and looking out at the ocean, watched a whale spouting about a mile offshore.


    Also amazing was Joe telling us that there are some cocodrilos in that end of the lagoon.

    The entire area is slated to become part of an eco-tourism project, intertwined with housing. As long as it isn't intertwined with cocodrilos, I suppose.

    Far end of Admiralty Beach
    Far end of Admiralty Beach

    The House on the Hill
    House on the hill above the lagoon

    We spent most the afternoon on the Tenacatita Bay side of the town, right near where Admiral Fox has laid claim to where she wants to retire. We watched dogs running up and down the beach having a great time and there were schools of fish around a reef nicknamed "The Aquarium" because of the clear water and color sea life.

    One rather large, gray colored bit of sea life brushed against me while I snorkeled, prompting me to return to the safety of the palapa.

    Dog on the beach
    He thinks it's his beach

    Tenecatita Bay visitor
    Tenacatita Beach visitor on a stroll

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    Scooping out the good stuff to make ceviche

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - The day was all about food, exercise, more food, more exercise, more...

    You get the point.

    But an early highlight was having Javier, who takes care of the casa here (and us) give Beth Tucker a lesson in making ceviche. He made a huge bowl of it for our welcoming margarita party last night when Beth, Mel and their daughter Maya arrived from Flagstaff, Arizona.

    Today, Beth asked Javier to show her how to make it - from the beginning.

    The beginning was scraping the meat out of a dozen small Sierra before doing anything else and it was amazing to watch Javier work with a spoon, and so quickly. Beth got quite good by the end and more ceviche is in our futures.

    Beth and Javier prepare the fish
    Beth and Javier prepare the fish

    But the day also included a looooong kayak trip with the three Tuckers and Dustin and Dylan. The Admiral and I stayed behind but waved goodbye as the interepid explorers headed out across the bay towards an ultra-exclusive club called El Tamarindo. The rumor is you need about $3 million to join.

    To join.

    If I hadn't misplaced my pen, my app would be going Fed Ex right away. Oh, and I don't have a Fed Ex envelope either. Darn.

    At the start of the kayak voyage, Dylan had a slight mishap during a practice beach landing, captured in the three photos following this.

    Dylan slides down the wave
    Dylan slides down the front of the wave

    Dylan upside down in the wave
    Dylan upside down in the wave

    Dylan up for another shot
    Dylan up for another shot

    The fellow standing on shore in the first two frames is Mel Tucker, who is shown below leaving on the kayak journey alongside his daughter Maya. Mel took his own share of spills today, but not when the camera was handy.

    Heading out to kayak
    Maya and Mel head out

    Tomorrow's adventure should be a good one - a day trip to the town of Tenacatita (site of Admiralty Beach) where we will be snorkeling, eating non-Javier manufactured ceviche and likely checking the place out for possible longer-term residency.

    But that's tomorrow.

    Today's gratuitious bikini photo
    Today's gratuitous bikini photo