Feb. 8-22: At Home on the Hill in Guanajuato

After a month on the road, we finally settled in for two weeks in magical Guanajuato, a city surrounded by tall mountains with multi-coloured and multi-level houses built on steep hills of a ravine, mainly reached by foot through windy alleyways.

cityscape coloured houses (1 of 1)

It was the site of the Spaniard’s major silver mines (worked by Indigenous slave labour), the historical independence battle led by Criolle rebel leader Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, tunnel passageways and monumental architecture. The birthplace of muralist Diego Rivera, Guanajuato hosts the international Cervantino Arts Festival for three weeks in October (we’d love to return for that and Day of the Dead later this year, John by bike, Deb by plane!).

Hidalgo 2  Don Quixote

Miners monument (1 of 1)

Just strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets is a treat, with mimes and music on every corner, singing along with Los Estudiantes (roaming troubadours dressed in 19th century Spanish attire – listen below). One evening we took in an art history lecture at the massive University on Diego Rivera and his role in the Mexican left (understanding perhaps half of it, and relieved when there were images to look at!)

(View the city in the slide show below clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner and by starting with first in the strip of images below)

Guanajuato city

We rented a house from Deborah’s cousin, Rachel and her partner, Adam, and shared many meals with them.

Rachel and Deb  John and Rachel (1 of 1)

They live the summer months on an island in Nova Scotia and the winter months here, where they have created whimsical spaces in their home, Casa Rosa, and the rental, Casa Palma (highly recommended for our friends!)

(Click on FS for full screen in lower right corner and tart with the first of the images in the strip below ;  Find Rachel and Adam’s cream coloured house with blue trim the first two images; our aqua coloured house with avocado tree to the right and above a red house can be found later)

Our houses in Guanajuato

Part of the treat for us was reclaiming domestic tasks such as shopping in the immense Mercado Hidalgo and cooking for ourselves. We relished fresh tortillas, tropical fruits, octopus pozole and fish ceviche, helped down with John’s famous margaritas and any new local artisanal beer he could discover. We experimented with cooking with the Uitzi (solar oven) created by Adam, aiming the mirrors at just the right angle to sizzle our octopus with the hot sun. (website for solar oven).

(Relish our experiences in the market, cooking and eating in the slide show below clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner and by starting with first image in the strip below)

Buying, cooking and eating..!


13John spraying14bugs

 We also immersed ourselves in other tasks, each according to our passions: John worked daily in the garden Rachel has cultivated (with mango, avocado, orange and peach trees, and wonderful beds of arugula and mustards), turned over and revived the compost, and spent hours fighting a massive infestation of sap-sucking insects that threatened the very life of the avocado tree.

 17Dining room with laptops (1 of 1)

Cyborg Deborah reconnected with her pilates class via internet, Skyped with family, friends and students she is still supervising, and worked on her evolving website, with long-distance tech assistance.

Exploring our barrio

 We got to know Apollonia, the local storekeeper; Pepe, our neighbor who painted the mural that covered our wall, and exchanged “Buenas Tardes!” with folks we passed on our hikes up and down the hill.

Las Palmas mural (1 of 1)

One day while exploring the neighbourhood, we passed by one of the ubiquitous murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe, got a whiff of dope, and watched a group of local youth duck down to hide from Deborah’s camera. Jorge, the friendliest of the gang, offered to show us a local mural project in a garbage-strewn vacant lot they were reclaiming down the hill. There we met Leonardo, a regional coordinator with Pacto por el Pueblo, a project with “chavos banda” (local street youth into graffiti and hip hop). He and Ingacio, the local community leader, invited us back for the mural opening on the weekend. Ignacio himself offered a fascinating life history: sent for security training in arms around the world (including Canada), he was a bodyguard for federal politicians and witness to endless demonstrations of corruption; rejecting that life, he has now chosen to be a “generador de cambios”, or change agent, with local youth.

1Pacto por el barrio (1 of 8)

(View  the slide showof the youth mural project by starting with first image in slide show and clicking on FS for full screen in lower right corner)

Neighbourhood youth mural project

The first mural, a Mayan calendar, was flanked with the number 13, to represent the transformation of the youth and of the barrio hoped for from this project. As special guests, we were invited to pose with the youth for everyone’s cellphone cameras. We chatted with local women and enjoyed a community meal of chicharrón and a big birthday cake they had prepared. Deborah exchanged with the Pacto’s coordinators contacts with other youth mural projects in LA and Toronto.

See the next blog entry for our adventures around Guanajuato..!

Jan. 27-30: Big Boats, Small Boats: Adventures on the Sea of Cortez


Baja ferries 2

Before boarding the immense Baja Ferry at midnight, we were subjected to hours of security checks, sniffing dogs, and multiple fees, with drivers separated from passengers and men from women. Our reward was a tiny but luxurious cabin and a good night’s sleep before disembarking at La Paz, Baja California, in time for a hefty breakfast overlooking the beautiful malecón.

Baja Ferries

Our home for the next three days was Suzie, the 37-foot wooden trawler built in Asia in the 70s, and winter home of John’s friends, George and Janet Diveky (she was back in their Yellowknife home, so we missed her). While the plan had been for us to sail around the Sea of Cortez, predictions of stormy weather kept us docked but still enjoying the mariners’ life, reading and cooking on the boat, and delighting in George’s tales of his dramatic childhood in Europe or his decades as an educator with Inuit communities in the Arctic.

The gastronomical highlight of our visit was a collectively produced feast of lobster, tiger shrimp, and fish accompanied by John’s original margaritas. With calmer waters on our last morning, George took us for a few hours spin around and outside of the harbour, following sea lions and birds, cooking a big breakfast as we rocked, and pretending to be serious co-pilots.

(See images from George’s boat (the big one belongs to Carlos Slim!) below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, click to move to next image or let it run.)

Adventures on the Sea of Cortez


We managed a day on Playa Balandra, walking 15 minutes in inch-deep water to get to the mouth of the bay so that we could have a hearty swim and view the volcanic rock formations. Back on the beach, John followed the sea gulls with his camera.

Beach with George

La Paz beach 2

bird photographer

We also took a bike ride along the malecón (seaside promenade) and beyond into the hills past amazing rock formations, and then back through the town of La Paz.

John looking at rock cliff  La Paz plaza

Crossing the Sea of Cortez back to the mainland offered an unexpected adventure. Approaching the port, we stopped to take photos of what we thought was our ferry; by the time we parked to buy our tickets, we learned that the ferry had just left, but it wasn’t our ferry. While the Internet indicated our ferry to Mazatlan was to leave at 5 PM, it failed to offer the update that the ferry had broken down two days earlier. The ticket seller told us we had to wait a day or two, mentioning no other options. As we were about to return to George’s boat, a helpful port employee told us about a freighter from a competing company leaving that night for Topolobampo. It may not have been as grand or luxurious as the passenger ferry, but it was free of security checks and provided endless entertainment. We watched the big trucks loading and sat in our van as it was lifted up to the top level. We then joined the 20 or so truck drivers, eating a basic meal in the cafeteria and struggling to sleep in a stuffy salon while the sea rocked us through the night.

Deb, car and ferry

in line for the ferry

John photographing truck loading

Only one week into Mexico, and we had experienced a wide range of sleeping quarters, from seedy hotels to elegant ferry cabins, from Suzie’s cozy bow to the freighter’s plastic salon seats.

(See images of our sleeping quarters below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, click to move to next image or let it run.)

Sleeping quarters

Jan. 21 – 26: From Trains to Boats, Mountains to Sea (first week in Mexico)

First Mexican breakfastWe slipped easily across the border at Nogales, Arizona, with only paperwork delaying us, and tested a roadside restaurant for our first Mexican breakfast.

colonial carving

We spent our first night at a somewhat seedy Leo’s Inn along the Pacific coast at Guaymas, Sonora, but were reminded of Mexico’s colonial history in an old hotel restaurant where we enjoyed our first Mexican fish dinner.

We headed inland the next day to El Fuerte, Sinaloa, a beautiful colonial town, and the launching pad for our train trip.There we discovered a gem of a hotel, Rio Vista, an ecotourist’s dream overlooking the river.

Deb at Rio Vista

It was filled with paintings of birds, Indigenous, colonial and revolutionary figures and collectibles. The owner and self-taught naturalist, Eleazar Gamez, gave us a tour regaling us with stories of Indigenous cosmovisions, his conversations with his plants, and colourful shamanic visitors

(See hotel images below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, then click to move to next image or let it run automatically.)

Jan. 21-27 From Trains to Boats, Mountains to Sea


The next two days took us on a winding train trail into the mountains and through the La Barranca de Cobre, or Copper Canyon, deeper at points than the Grand Canyon. It may not be as vast but offers a more intimate view from El Chepe train, an ever-winding narrow gauge engineering marvel, which passes through 86 tunnels and over 37 bridges on the 8-hour trip to Creel, Chihuahua. Passionate (and crazy) photographers that we are, we hung out in the space between cars where we could try to capture the volcanic-formed ridges and deep valleys. Armed with his 200mm lens, John followed the train in and out of tunnels.

(See images below by clicking on FS in lower right corner for Full Screen, then click on each image for slide show or let it run automatically.)

Chepe train through Copper Canyon


Before taking the train back to El Fuerte the next day, we took a tour of the surrounding valley, home of the Rarámuri peoples, visiting a family living in a cave house, an old Jesuit mission, regional school, and amazing volcanic rock formations.

Our next adventure moved us from mountainous earth to tumultuous sea. This time our launching pad was the charming seaside town of Tolopobampo, Sinaloa. We devoured a big fish dinner on the beach with the backdrop of a fiery sunset.

Topolobampo beach sellers

Topolobampo sunset







Then we happened upon a pedestrian Sunday night on the malecón (boardwalk), complete with tailgate parties and communal exercise machines (a model for Toronto’s waterfront…?)

Exercise machines in Tolopobampo (1 of 1)  John on exercise machines in Tolopobampo (1 of 1)