Sunday, August 31, 2008

Valle de Guadalupe

Yesterday we went to the Valle de Guadalupe. Theo's friend from school invited him because his parents were hosting. It was hosted by a kids catholic club for kids 5th grade and below. Good thing for us, there were plenty of people who weren't part of the club so we weren't the only ones. There was a mass, food and lot's of games. It was a fun day. One of my friends from school was there because her little brother had been invited too so we hung out together. Here are some pictures:Theo in a pyramid with his team.

My team.They decided to have a breakdancing session, luckily I know how.Me in the three legged race.
We filled paper plates with whipped cream and chucked them at people who volunteered.
Theo volunteered to be a target.
Me and my friend Zulema, sorry I blinked.
Theo and his friend Rodrigo, the boy who invited him to this event.
"First Communion" for Theo
A game in where you have two teams and everyone is numbered off 1-8 on each team. When they call your number you have to try and get the hat and bring it to your side before the person on the other team does.
This is my favorite picture.
Again.
"First Communion" for me.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Photos of Colegio Argentino

Here are some preliminary photos of Colegio Argentino. These were taken on the Friday before school started. The workmen were still completing work on the school, and there was still no electricity that day. The plumbing worked, however, to everyone's great relief.

Theo in the library. Not many books here. At least not yet.


On the patio, looking toward the playground. The Pacific Ocean is off to the right. The school has a flag ceremony every Monday.


From the very small soccer field toward the school. The offices are in the back (which is actually the front of the school...the road is on the other side of the buildings in the back).


Looking into the bathrooms on the left, and down the main row of classrooms. Nathan's class is the first one past the bathroom.


This is the lunchroom, looking out toward the playground and the ocean beyond. It's too warm here to need to enclose the eating space .



The Pacific is in the background, with the Isla de Todos Santos in the distance.

The school's construction started last April. They've come a long way in a few short months, but still have some things to accomplish. Parking lots are not paved, the lunch room (or lunch area) has no place to really serve the kids yet, and the fields are smaller than they envision. The administrators also plan to build a two-story middle school on the same property to open next fall. So the place may still feel like a construction zone for quite some time.

But it is certainly spiffy, and you can't beat the view!

Laura in the Classrom


Here is photo of Laura teaching her 7th grade (a.k.a, Primero de Secundaria). This was the Friday before school started in earnest this past week.

Valle de Guadalupe

Today we spent the day in the Valle de Guadalupe, which is northeast of Ensenada on the route to Tecate, perhaps 25 miles or so. It is the major wine producing region of Mexico, and apparently there are about 50 wineries in the area. There are also a lot of olive groves. The valley is surrounded by relatively bleak hills that look a bit forbidding. But for about 150 years since the valley was first settled by a few Russian families, the people have made a living from agriculture pulling a bit of water out of wells.

We were invited by the family of a boy in Theo's class (his name is Rodrigo) to participate in a Catholic youth group. I'll let the boys tell you more about the activities, but I'll post a few photos of the valley and the ranch where the festivities were held.


A view of the valley from one of the houses on the ranch.


The olive grove surrounding the property where we hung out for the day. It rained in the morning--just enough to make things muggy.
Laura at the rancho where the patio met the olive grove.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Productive Week

Well, I'm about to head back to Denver on Monday. Today was sort of my last day to get things organized before leaving the family to enjoy things on their own, while I go back to work.

Here's what happened the last couple of days:

  • The appliance man came today at noon (he said he'd come around nine--some things remain the same across the globe) and hooked up the dryer. So now we have all appliances in good working order (and finally some clean clothes!)
  • After driving all around town, I found a place for the boys to take private music lessons--four blocks from our house. Nathan starts guitar and a music history class on Tuesday. Theo also starts piano on Tuesday with a teacher who is a native of Russia.
  • Theo has started soccer at an official Chivas training school (the Chivas is the professional team from Guadalajara). The drills are tough, and he will be working his little fanny off every Wednesday and Friday. If he makes the traveling team, he'll be going to Guadalajara sometime this year with the team.
  • Nathan has found a place to take swimming lessons. He settled for this because he really wants to surf, and his parents insisted that he cannot take surfing lessons until he is a stronger swimmer. So he'll be tested on Monday to see what level he should be in; if he's good enough, he'll train with the "pre-team." The pool is at a swishy, country-club sort of place...very close to where we live.
  • After looking at about five places and taking a complimentary class at one, we found a gym for Laura that is not very far, but too far to walk. Aerobics, yoga, cardio machines, and weights, if she wants. I'm hoping she can get there 3 times a week.

And tonight was the real score: we found a taco stand at the corner of Juaréz and Gastelum (easy walking distance) that sells absolutely amazing roasted meat tacos for 50 cents a piece, as well as the most amazing chiles rellenos I have ever eaten. They are served piping hot between two warm corn tortillas, and you eat them with your fingers with a bit of lettuce and guacamole. We stuffed ourselves for $5.00. Then we splurged and bought "paletas Michoacanas," an excellent popsicle or ice-cream bar sort of thing, which come in one zillion flavors. Strawberry was the hands-down favorite (four for $4.40).

We also ran into two families from the school that the kids know: one at the pool, and one along the street as we walked home. This is a town of 400,000 people, but it's also pretty darned small. Laura has now vowed not to go much of anywhere in town without looking half-way decent, in fear that she'll run into the very wealthy parents of her students. (Compare this experience with the parents of the students she teaches in Denver, who are mostly illiterate and have only a couple of changes of clothes themselves.)

Anyway, it was a productive week. I even managed to get some of my own work done!

WEEKEND!

I'm so glad the first week is over! It was the hardest week of my life! Hopefully the days and weeks will get better. I'm thinking they will as I learn Spanish. During this week I was so frustrated. My teachers would would be talking and I would have no clue what so ever about what they were saying. When my teachers tell me to write something I don't understand until someone explains to me. Here's how the week went, Monday and Tuesday were the hardest Wednesday got a little better because I made friends, Thursday was the same as Wednesday and Friday was better because it was Friday. I'm so glad it is the weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

VIDEO OF OUR APARTMENT!

This is a video I took of our empty apartment the day we moved in. I'll make another one of our apartment as it is now.

video

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

WILL I EVER LEARN SPANISH?!

What I have to say after two days of school is "OH MY GOD I'LL NEVER LEARN SPANISH!" And that is all I thought after school today. All of my classes have been really hard. I have history, math, Spanish, geography, Catholicism, and maybe some other subjects I don’t know about yet. During the day I go nowhere. All the teachers come to me and I don’t have to go anywhere, which is kind of nice actually not having to go anywhere. My favorite class surprisingly is math, because the math problems are exactly the same, which makes it simple. Although not all of it is simple because of word problems, which are obviously in Spanish. History is my second favorite subject because of the teacher. The teacher is really nice and is easy to understand. Next in line is Catholicism just because all I have to do is try to understand what she is saying and copy what I have to write. Still, I don’t understand anything I have write or do until my friends tell me. My least favorite class is Spanish because most everything is written down on a piece of paper. So far I have had to read two stories. I had no idea what the heck they were about. To top it all off I have to do questions about the story that I didn't get plus I didn’t understand the questions. Even if I did I wouldn't be able to answer them. So I think Spanish is going to be the most stressful and frustrating class, which isn't saying much because every class is going to be and already is stressful and frustrating. It helps that my teacher, Miss Cindy, is really nice, which takes some of the stress off. What helps the most is my friends who can explain it to me. So far I have made two good friends. Both who are really nice. One speaks pretty good English and the other speaks barely any English at all. This is good because one can help me learn Spanish and the other can help me not feel stupid during class, which still is going to happen tons of times. My ratings of my classes will probably change as I learn Spanish (if I ever do!).

More Appliance Nightmares

Well, Theo and I bought a fridge, a washing machine, and a dryer last week. Easy as pie. Just pay money, and it's delivered in a matter of hours.

Fridge is new: few scratches and dents. Works great.

We hooked up the dryer. The faucets leaked like fountains. Water all over the place. Need to be replaced. Great.

Laura plugged in the dryer to dry some hand washables. After 20 minutes, she checked on them. No heat in the dryer.

It's a gas dryer. No gas line to hook it up to. Went back Sunday to see if I could exchange for an electric one. "No hay." They sell only gas dryers. So we're stuck. Turns out most people in Ensenada prefer gas ones that can be hooked up to an LP tank. After a trip to Home Despot, I now have a regulator and hose to connect dryer to tank. Still no tank, but I have scoped out the guys who drive by every morning--two or three times, honking their horns--selling the tanks off the back of their trucks and who will tote them upstairs for me.

Plumber is supposed to come tomorrow. At least the landlord will pay for this little problem.

After five days, several stuttering phone calls, and a lot of new vocabulary (e.g., "water leak," "portable LP tank," "faucets," and "return policy"), maybe we'll be able to do laundry tomorrow.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

REAL UNIFORMS!

I wrote another post on my sports uniforms but here are the real ones.




It's a lot different the the sports uniform, huh? The blazer I'm wearing is too small, so we have to get a new one, which stinks. On Mondays, I have to wear the blazer, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I wear the sports uniform, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, I wear the vest and no blazer.

BEACH!

The beach that we went to yesterday was the best beach I've been to so far. The first beach we went to was okay, but the waves weren't very big. The second beach we went to had a rip tide, so we could barely go out past our knees.

But this beach, called La Misión, had huge, huge, huge waves. The water was colder, because the other beaches were in the bay near Ensenada, which is called Bahía de Todos Santos (All Saints Bay). Even though the water was cold, we got used to it pretty fast. We bought a boogie board, and we rode the huge waves. The waves we rode on were not even the biggest waves--they were the second break, and they were still over our heads. Riding them was awesome.

The beach was pretty crowded, but not too crowded. People were selling stuff on the beach, from kites to ice cream to coconuts. Lots of other people drove their cars right onto the beach, so that they could bring more stuff onto the beach, like tents, barbecues, plastic furniture, and lots of other things. And I saw one car that was stuck in the sand, and they were trying to dig it out.

On our way home, we stopped at a pizzeria and ordered a pizza to go for cena (that's "supper" in Spanish). Next door to the pizzeria, there was a panadería (which means "bakery" in Spanish). We got lots of stuff for last night for dessert and stuff for this morning. It was all great, including the pizza.

I'm looking forward to going to that beach again.

Cultural Observations

Just as there are regional cultural differences in the US, Mexico's culture is different from one end of the country to the other.

Baja California is the spot in the country that is furthest away from the capital and the center of Mexican culture. Laura's school principal told her that when she was growing up, the only TV stations available were in English. Now with the digital revolution, everything is completely in Spanish (which is, perhaps, having an effect on Baja culture). In any case, Ensenada is only 100 kilometers (60 miles or so) from San Diego. Some people go up there all the time. Some people live in Ensenada an work in San Diego. Many of the elite here, especially, are professionally entwined with southern California. Many American companies do business with the "maquiladora" factories here (we're in a special economic zone along the border that encourages US companies to invest down here). So in many respects, Ensenada is much more connected to San Diego than it is to Mexico City.

Also, keep in mind that there are many US retirees in Ensenada, as well as many Americans (many of Mexican descent) that have vacation homes down here. We see tons of California license plates--I've seen three or four in the parking lots of our apartment complex.

So what seems to be the impact? We see more boys--and men--in shorts than we saw in Cuernavaca a few years ago. Coffee houses abound, and there is even a new Starbucks on the Boulevard near the cruise ship terminal. There is an Applebee's next to WalMart. The grocery stores are full of American products. The second-hand stores are equally full of American products. (Ever wonder what happens to your old washing machine? it is auctioned off to Mexicans who drag them down here by the truck load and sell them to people like me looking for a cheap Kenmore). There are not as many Indians here as there are in most other parts of Mexico; instead most of the people look fairly "white" or southern European (Laura blends right in).

That said, Ensenada is definitely Mexico. It's not Phoenix or San Diego.

As a government wonk, I see much of the difference in terms of government regulation, zoning, and political structures. In our neighborhood, right in the Zona Centro, you can have a dilapidated house or business right next to a beautiful mansion. The kindergarten of the Colegio Argentino where Laura teaches is sandwiched between a beautiful home and a used car lot. We looked at one house that was a complete wreck, but it was located right behind a very attractive strip mall. There doesn't seem to be much regulation of who can build what where, or governmental priorities about zoning. (That said, it's clear that the Avenida Reforma, which is the main north-south artery and part of the Transpeninsular Highway, is strip-zoned for commercial, and the residential neighborhoods are off the side streets). The boys noticed that the WalMart and HomeDepot are just steps from the beach. As a casual and uninformed observer, this sort of civic decision is jarring.

I know that one of the most difficult reforms that successive Mexican governments have tried to push through have been land reforms. Land ownership in this country has always been a little screwy, with some land privately held, and some held in common by the "ejidos." I haven't really figured this out yet, but land tenure is part of the problem. So government regulation has to deal with these separate land tenure structures.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that despite the fact that Ensenada and Baja California, in general, are cultural and economically much more tied to San Diego and northwards than to Mexico City, the fact is that Ensenada is a Mexican city.

I'll write more as I begin to understand this place better.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

School: First Impressions

Yesterday I had a half day of school. I came early with my mom at 8 and waited around until the kids came. All the teachers came into our room and talked with us for a half an hour. Some teachers I can understand, and some not so much. First we met our Orientation teacher, she was nice I guess except for we all had to say our names and what school we went to last year. I messed up and everyone laughed at me. I still don't know what the class Orientation is. Then we met our Biology teacher she is French and married to a Mexican. She has lived in Mexico for 8 years and speaks spanish fluently. I think I will do okay in that class. Then we met our Spanish teacher, I am 100% sure I'm going to flunk that class. She speaks very clearly so I can understand most of what she says but I still don't know exactly what she's talking about. She talked about how we were going to find out why we spell different words different ways. She is very strict and likes to have us stand up when she enters and exits the room.
After that we got a break, I was ready for it. That whole time I felt really crappy, I felt like I didn't fit, and I would never be able to communicate, and how I just wanted to go back to the states. The break helped a lot. After that we met another teacher who teaches catholicism and other stuff. I didn't understand one word she said. First we were talking about catholicism, then we were talking about ipods, and then people who didn't have homes and enough to eat. I got pretty confused.
Then came our geography teacher, oh man. We had snack outside while she talked to us. The other guys were talking a lot and she was getting pretty pissed at them. Then she called my friend Mario (who wasn't talking) ninito, which means little boy. We all laughed a little and then she looked at us and got angry. She said: Is it funny?! Is it a joke?! No laughing! So I was trying extra hard to stay on her good side when some of the guys started talking, and they all start saying some funny stuff and everyone starts laughing. She was getting pretty mad, and I was stuffing my face with a granola bar to keep myself from just losing control and start cracking up. Anyway after that we went back in to our classroom and she told us something along the lines of; if you step out of line your dead.
Then it was my mom's turn to talk. I was kind of embarrassed but she didn't do anything bad, and she wasn't mean. Overall it went well, I am very nervous for Monday.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Orientation

Today was orientation day at school. It was very fun but I was a little nervous. My morning was a little rushed because we thought we had to be at school at 10 but we had to be there at 9. My mom's colleague had texted my mom about it the day before but my mom sent her first text message yesterday and by the time she got the text message it was 8:40 and I had only been awake for 5 minutes.
So when we got there, everyone had to check in their stuff, I didn't have my stuff because I didn't have time to grab it. My dad brought them at 10 when the younger grades came and he checked them in for me. There are 19 people in my class and only 6 or 7 guys. I met them all and I am good friends with two of them and I hang out with the others. One of my friends name is Mario, he speaks no english but he speaks slowly and doesn't mumble so I can understand him pretty well. My other friend speaks a little english, is kind of weird and not athletic at all, but he's nice and helps me understand things. I also made friends
with a girl named Geneva, she is half Mexican and half American and is bilingual.
After our teacher talked to us we played games like dodgeball and pass the water balloons, (It was kind of lame). After we had a snack and me and the other guys played soccer until it was time to go. It was a very fun but tiring day. I look forward to tomorrows half day and Monday, when school actually starts. Until then, we have lots to do.

ORIENTATION!

Today I went to the orientation of my new school. The kids in my class are nice but I can't understand them, they do speak a little English which helps me understand. Even though it wasn't even class it was hard. I still have the adventure of school ahead of me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Drinking Water

None of us has had even a twinge of Montezuma's Revenge since our arrival. We've even eaten tacos on the street and seafood tacos in the seafood market (right next to where the fishing boats come in--there is a healthy commercial fishing industry in Ensenada). No problems.

Still, we drink bottled water. We finally got a "porta garrafon" yesterday, which is an Rubbermaid apparatus upon which to turn a big water jug upside down. We can keep it on the counter. I was told that I can buy the "garrafones" (jugs) in the convenience store across the street, and you can fill them up for 10 pesos (1 dollar). Or there are trucks that deliver them...they just drive around honking their horns hoping you'll come out of your house with your empties.

So today's the day to get the garrafon. A red letter day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NEIGHBORHOOD!

Our Apartment

Our neighborhood is awesome! Everything is nearby. There is a bakery a taco stand, a laundromat, a convenience store (abarrotes) and a few blocks away there is a language school that we went to. And there's lots of tasty restaurants. Here are some pictures.


The convenience store

The Laundromat


The Bakery

Our language school.




The taco stand

UNIFORMS!

The first thought I had when I heard I had to wear a uniform was "AHHHHHHHH!" but then it might not be so bad. I was right. Our uniforms aren't so bad, but I wouldn't wear them any time else other than at school. Here are some photos.
I know what you're thinking: those are your uniforms? Well actually those are our sports uniforms. We haven't gotten our real uniforms yet. When I get pictures I'll show you.

The Cheap Stove That Wasn't

Most apartments here are rented unfurnished. No stove, no fridge, nada.

So we have been shopping in the "segundas" for used appliances. We bought an old stove for $130 US which was delivered yesterday. They had a really difficult time installing it. So difficult, in fact, that it had to be installed in the center of the kitchen. At least it worked so we could prepare our first hot meal in the apartment: penne with marinara and a tomato and cucumber salad. Mmmm...

Then today I called the landlady to ask her who she knew who could fix a stove. She gave me a number. I called, told them the best I could what was wrong (the copper piping was not flexible, and I feared that I would break it if I bent it too much). Two men arrived in 30 minutes, completely reinstalled it as it should be done (with a flexible hose) and they cleaned and regulated it properly. Now it works like a charm.

And it cost me $70 more. So the stove cost $200...for which we probably could have bought a much newer stove. Oh well.

At least I had the presence of mind to ask the men how to resell stuff at the end of our stay. Apparently there is a radio station in Ensenada that does nothing but classified advertisements in Spanish. They said that if I wrote up an ad and gave it to the radio station, I'd get calls within minutes from people who wanted to buy stuff cheap.

So now I'm feeling more confident about buying a decent fridge and probably a washer and dryer.

While the whole process is a bit frustrating, it's also a good way to learn vocabulary. How else could I have learned the words for "tools," "drill," and "copper pipe"?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Transition

We left about 12 days ago, and we crossed the border 8 days ago.

The thing I'm most proud of? The way the boys are adjusting so rapidly. They are wild about the food. They don't want to hang in the tourist zone or in restaurants where gringos usually go. They tried the birria stew of goat, and loved it. They are settling into the apartment, which is a bit cramped, but in a nice, central neighborhood (you can find a yoga studio down the street and a couple of plastic surgeons on the next street over). Nathan and Theo are just rolling.

Their only real complaint is that they have to do too much shopping. Walmart. Home Depot. Dax (the equivalent of Walgreens). Waldo's (the dollar store). And the "segunda" where you can buy second-hand furniture and appliances. All this shopping takes a ton of time and energy, and understandably Nathan and Theo lose patience. But they do understand that the intensive shopping is about to come to an end (we need a fridge next). And they are excited about school starting.

All in all, the transition has been fairly smooth. A few surprises. Several glitches. A couple of wacky moments.

But our landlady is nice (her grandkids go to the school where Laura will teach). Most of the people we have dealt with have been very helpful. We have figured out how to drive from one end of town to the other. And we found the nearest beach (and the roadside taco and tamales stands).

It's going to be a very full year.

FOOD!

Yummmmm! The food here is awesome. Each day since we arrived here we have had tacos, enchiladas, chili rellenos and much more. During the Spanish school that I took; every day I would have a delicious taco. My favorite kind was the taco de Nopal con huevo (Otherwise known as cactus with egg.)

Yesterday we ate at a restaurant called................. some Aztec name that I can't pronounce. Anyway the food there was great we had lamb and beef tacos. Plus we had a great vegetable that I don't remember what is was called but it was great . A few nights ago we had lamb, beef and goat. I liked the goat the best. Overall I'm exited to have this food all year.

The Trip

Now that I have finally gotten around to it, let me tell you about our trip. Our trip was long. It lasted four very extremely long days. We could usually find something to keep us occupied but sometimes we got extremely bored and grumpy because we had nothing to do, we were hungry, and we were driving through a freakin' dessert in the middle of nowhere. We went to two national parks, they were Painted Desert national forest and Petrified Forest national park. Both were very beautiful, especially the Painted Desert. The thing is we didn't have a lot of time to see them because we were rushing to get to Phoenix, Arizona, to see some friends of my parents, (we needn't have rushed because it's one hour earlier in Arizona, we just forgot to set our watches back). We had a fun night.

We also explored Santa Fe, New Mexico. It's a very cool, artsy little town. We visited a museum there about the history of Mexico. Also in Santa Fe, we took a tour of St. John's University with my dad. It's a cool college but my brother and I decided that we didn't want to go there. So here's an overview of our trip. First day we drove from Denver, Colorado, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Second day we drove from Santa Fe to Phoenix, Arizona. The third day, Saturday the 10th, we drove from Pheonix to El Centro California, and on Sunday we came to Ensenada. Here's some pictures of our trip:
The car all loaded with stuff.


My parents at Petrified Forest National Park.
On the road in Santa Fe.
Me, my brother and my dad at Painted Desert national forest.

Photos of Our Apartment--Empty

We moved into our apartment last Wednesday. It was bare. We slept on air beds the first night, because the workmen were painting and still cleaning around us. Anyway, we didn't have any furniture or appliances.

So here are some photos.



This is the master bedroom. Theo and I will sleep here.

Here's our claustrophobic bathroom!
This is my mom's room and my dad's when he comes. Do you see the train on the wall?
The house is sold!

This is the kitchen.

This is our main room and there is nothing in it.


This is our laundry room (without a washing machine and dryer)/garage/basement. There is no real wall so bugs and dirt can come and go freely.

This is our small balcony looking onto that beautiful wall.

Our apartment has no air conditioning though it does have fans. All in all it's starting to feel like home.