Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LVII. En el Sendero Extraño y Peligroso a la Cascada Esmeralda

On the Strange and Dangerous Path to the Emerald Waterfall

That's mighty hot water spilling over La Cascada
Photo courtesy of George Frazier
Every Tuesday and Friday a group of mostly gringos—both ex-pats and seasonal visitors to this area—meet at Dona’s Donuts on the carretera, or throughway, that bisects our little town. From there we walk or drive to a trailhead where we begin a 3-6 hour hike. There are usually at least two—often, three—levels to accommodate everyone from tenderfoot to experienced bushwhacker. This past Friday I joined a group of the latter types headed for Bosque de la Primavera, a large, semi-protected, pine and oak forest just past the western outskirts of Guadalajara. Among the trees, cerros and arroyos the area is full of the remains of past volcanic action—huge blocks of pumice, scattered chunks of obsidian, free-standing fossil fumaroles, lava plugs and lots of geothermal activity. We were there for a walk along Rio Caliente—"Hot River", and it lives up to its name—and thence on a hunt up to the source of one of its scalding tributaries not far above—often spoken of but seldom seenLa Cascada Esmeralda.

About the Ride to the Bosque

I met my main hiking buddies, George—an ex-newspaper columnist, -private eye, and -branding entrepreneur from Marin County—and Anthony—yoga instructor and former high school shop teacher from Texas and Florida—at the donut shop a few minutes before our 8AM departure. There was only one car for the ten of us who wanted in on this hike and we were ready to chuck it and wait for a later, lighter-weight local trip until Canadian Peter volunteered his newish SUV for the two hour drive to El Bosque. I traveled with him and three other Canadians all here to escape the brunt of Ontario’s winter. As usual with Canucks the talk at one time or another turned to their unfavorable exchange rate compared to the Yankee dollar…The ride was mostly past sugar cane fields being harvested and trucks way overloaded with same. It was a clear, warm day above the haze from an occasional field being burned to rid the cane of its leaves and bugs.

About Rio Caliente

After paying a nominal entry fee at a kind of Mexican hillbilly toll booth, we found the river flowing clear and mostly shallow over a pebbly bottom, and occasionally bunched into pools above makeshift rocky dams. You could tell by the low banks and youthful vegetation that in the rainy season the river must deepen and spread more widely. We began hiking under a mid-morning sun through a narrow valley with pine and bigleaf oak forests in the hills on either side, hardly any understory. Several times—in order to stay on the path—we had to hop across the stream on convenient rocks. The first time, I put my finger in the water to test how hot it was—“warm,” was what I called out to my companions. When we met a creek tumbling down to our river, steaming hot through a rocky arroyo, the beauty and odd confluence of natural forces made me laugh with happiness at being its witness.

About the Hot, Emerald Stream 

Our destination Friday was the source of a scalding hot tributary of Rio Caliente. This stream’s bed has a bountiful growth of emerald-green algae giving color to its clear water. And it IS hot. A cautionary sign at the trailhead claims the temperature reaches 80º C, more familiarly about 175 Fahrenheit. It wasn’t long before we came to the first crossing, a balancing act on six rocks zigzagging about eight feet to the opposite bank. Maximum depth here appeared to be around knee high. I think we were almost all wondering something along the lines of “What if I fall in? Will I parboil my huevos?” I tested the water with a quick finger poke. “It’s hot. But not too hot.” Meaning, we’ve all put our foot (and quickly withdrawn it) into a full bathtub that wasn’t any hotter than this; we wouldn’t die if we fell in…It’s a testament to our nimbleness that we all made it; possibly our foolhardiness that we even tried…A bit further on and we came to La Cascada Esmeralda—a stunning scene, and a new level of heat and challenge. Steam blowing off this beautiful green-tinted waterfall gave it an eerie and dangerous air. The arroyo had now closed down around the stream. From here on we’d have to climb up its steep walls to gain access to the source that our GPS told us was only a tantalizing 130 meters away.

About Being Stuck

Mis dos amigos (plus Artos, our lanky German friend who always wears a ceramic bear around his neck) wisely decided to bag it at this point. John, intrepid leader, gingerly skirted around the thin edge of the cauldron trying a low approach. The rest—including Lynn, only woman among us, game and fashionable in a black satin and rhinestone visor over Nieman Marcus sunglasses—opted to scramble about fifteen feet up a nearly vertical and overgrown embankment. It wasn't long though before we realized our way forward was irrefutably blocked. And then we saw John below us. He'd run out of room and was hand-over-hand up the vegetation on the sheer wall above an almost-literally-boiling pool of emerald water. John is a stout guy. We saw him grasp and pull out by the roots several small bushes as he scrambled for purchase. Russell, my Canuck seat mate—even more stout—reached down to grab hold of John’s hiking pole. I—smallest of the bunch—backed up Russell…We made it! John—legs scratched and bleeding—fell to the “trail” to catch his breath. I imagined the leg-shaking tension I would have felt in his place…Later, he and I compared notes on an alternate route that will allow us to reach our destination—perhaps next time.

About the Post-Hike Celebration

Not too far from where we left the Bosque on our way home there were an awfully lot of buses and trucks—18, 26, even 32 wheelers—traveling on the loud and air-polluted main road between Guadalajara and the large coastal city of Puerto Vallarta. They could get up to some pretty good speed running past an unbroken line of vividly painted concrete block and metal awninged tiendas, cantinas, repair shops and bodegas. Cafe customers there were close enough to the traffic to really feel the rapid displacement of air and vibration of engines grinding loudly behind their backs. Close enough—we were on the sidewalk, for crissake—to make it difficult to hear, let alone understand, the rapid fire patter of a restaurant owner trying to explain she doesn’t actually serve the food on the appetizing-looking poster displayed on her road-dusty wall, nor does she even have a license to sell cervezas...She solved the former problem by overwhelming us with information about what was on the menu until we ordered whatever (“Carne asada is usually good,” someone muttered). The more important legal issue was worked around in typical Mexican fashion by sending a girl to the little store next door for some liter bottles of Corona, Tecate, etc., and pouring the beer into ceramic mugs…Anthony—bless his heart—is always a soft touch and treated us to a couple of songs from a passing minstrel. We heard the guy's hoarse singing between the noise of passing trucks, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the tennis ball-sized growth on the side of his neck. Salud!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

LVI. Nuestra Nueva Casa

Our New House

We're the liver-red casa on the left. The grillwork will be replaced by a wall
with glass brick windows changing the garage into an office/bedroom, maybe
performance space.
There were eight of us around the table yesterday at the notaria's office for all the papers we had to sign in order to gain the deed to our new home. The now-previous owner—elegant, frail and friendly—was there with una amiga. We were there with our lawyer. The realtors’ office was represented, and of course there was the notary himself, a dapper fellow. 

Most of the money had already changed hands—a one-way street from our bank to theirs. We were in and out in an hour, came home and took a nap, drank an extra margarita before dinner and retired early. We were beat. 

Breezeway from front door looking out to street, kitchen
window to right.
Today is another let-down day after the adrenalin rush of our transaction—culmination of weeks of way-out-of-my-comfort-zone financial dealings, plus all the 3AM paranoias about what could possibly go wrong. My therapist—I mean, sensible spouse—was talking me down to the very end.

I went over to the house this morning and found some cool things I hadn’t noticed before like the indirect lighting hidden all around the living room cornice to illuminate the brick-domed ceiling above. Wall sconces on dimmer switches are always a plus. And I hadn’t noticed before how fine the view is from the mirador to the mountains, and how much we can see of the sky. 

Dining room with kitchen entry at left guarded by large Virgin.
On the other hand, a cucaracha and I surprised each other in the closet off the patio, the one that also houses mops and garden tools; I couldn’t get the garage opener to work and quit trying after jumping back from the crackling sparks of an electrical short.

I accomplished my main goal, though, of watering all the plants that our erstwhile realtor had been neglecting, poking around in drawers (discovering some colorful ceramic plates I liked), and making mental notes of how to proceed with cleanup and maintenance.

The configuration of this house is interesting and unusual but not uncommon around here in the central area. Because the properties are pretty much cheek-by-jowl and the blocks
We'll add some of those colorful ceramic tiles to counter top
and replace shelves to right with cabinets.
are big squares, the property width is only about 20 feet, but it goes back well over a hundred. There’s a long breezeway entry walk, past the garage and kitchen and you enter a dining room and through that to a large living room with brick domed ceiling. There are octagonal skylights in each of the last three spaces.

Past the living room you enter a patio with many plants, a wall fountain, and steps leading up to what will be a second story mirador. Straight ahead you go through the patio to the bedroom with its bathroom and at the far wall of the bedroom is a big window and glass double doors onto a very narrow and plant-filled space that mainly is there to give the room more light. 

From the dining room looking into living room and past our friend Wayne into the patio. Refinishing the tile floors is one
of our first orders of business.

Patio with our detached bedroom straight ahead, steps to mirador on left, fountain on right.

Bedroom fireplace and its own narrow patio which is mostly there for the light. The house was designed by the previous
owner--a gringa who lived in Mexico for many years and eventually became a Mexican citizen; she accumulated several houses, much artwork, and still enjoys an idiosyncratic personality. The design is notable for having no windows to either side of the enclosed property. All light comes through skylights or from interior garden space.

Monday, February 1, 2016

LV. ¡Dinero—Ay, Caramba!

Money—Ay, Caramba!

In exactly two weeks the closing is scheduled for the house my wife and I are buying here in Mexico. That’s when we pay for the whole kit and caboodle, minus the 10% down payment we already wire transferred*. Our offer for the house was only accepted a little over three weeks ago, so it’s been a whirlwind trying to get our financial ducks in a row. 

Feathers are flying as I try to get our financial ducks in order.
Less than two weeks ago—following a back and forth exchange about where to send the request—I faxed a document asking that a relatively small—but crucial—amount of money be directly deposited from an AXA investment fund to the joint checking account my wife and I have at Bank of America. A few days later I was notified that AXA regulations would not let them accept as proof for direct deposit the faxed photocopy of our bank account’s voided check, which they had requested but that only had my wife’s name printed on it. Nor would they accept a PDF document I offered to email of our most recent bank statement that had both of our names, account number, bank logo, etc.

AXA would mail a check for the amount we were requesting to the address they had on file, which belongs to our younger daughter. Ten days ago, that’s what I told them to do. Our daughter had deposited other checks in our bank account, so we figured she could do the same with this one. However, the AXA check had not arrived as of last evening. Tonight I’ll get an email from her letting me know if anything came in Monday’s mail. Needless to say, we’ll be very happy to hear everything is OK with this penultimate piece of money movement.

If not, I reckon my first step will be to call AXA and ascertain when (if?) the check was mailed, and the soonest we could have it cancelled and another one Fed-Ex’d for next day delivery, if that’s possible; the AXA rep didn’t mention it as an alternative in the previous phone and email exchanges. (He did suggest, however, that before any money could be transferred out of my account I really should have been required to submit some other undoubtedly complicated and time-consuming document as a consequence of not being in the U.S.)

This is the way we want things to look.
Depending on the timing of a check’s delivery to our conscientious daughter, I might need to further—with that information in mind—contact the realty office to notify them that the final $10K or so will be available by such and such date, possibly after the scheduled closing. I hope that’s not the case because every time I speak with the business manager at the realty office she seems to feel that we are not putting serious effort into purchasing the house. (I think, though, that her suspicions might have been allayed now that she’s got a good chunk of our change in her office’s Mexico City bank*.)

In the meantime I’ll keep growing what remaining hair I have on my head since I seem to have made a de facto decision to not get it cut until I feel that all those financial ducks are in some sort of presentable file.

UPDATE: The check was received by our daughter, and that was a big Hooray! Contrary to our instructions, however, 20% was withheld for income tax. This morning I contacted the AXA functionary to ask about that and he said that disbursement of a Tax Sheltered Annuity, by federal regulation required such an amount to be withdrawn. Who knew? 

*The wire transfers went relatively smoothly from B of A to the Mexico City bank. As a consequence of our Luddism neither my wife nor I have one of those smart phones, nor are we even sure how to send and receive a text message. In order to send an online wire transfer of over $1,000 US, we needed to supply a verification code sent to a mobile device. Younger daughter was once again the middlewoman. As I was online to my bank, and daughter and I were long-distance connected by telephone, she read off the code that I'd had sent to her iPhone. I entered the code in the little box B of A supplied on my laptop screen, and presto-chango the virtual money flew into the ether and eventually to our realtor's account.