Friday, August 26, 2011

Faulty Relay: A Short Story about Navy Life

Author's Note:  My blog post this week is a story that I first wrote many years.  During the past few months I have edited this naval story signficantly and run it by my writers group and a couple of writing instructors for ideas for improvement.  I thought it would be fun to post while we await the next installment of my retirement and/or travel articles.  I hope you enjoy.

Fleet Underway


            We were steaming south of Samatra after concluding a port call in Singapore.  Most of us were glad to be back at sea so we could start the northeastward trek for our homeport in Yokosuka, Japan after nearly 4 months in Southeast Asian waters.  Our job was the usual monitoring of the oceans and skies around Indonesia by ships of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. 
The hourly reports were in and I recorded them in the Engineering Log Book.  Everything for 0300 hours was accounted for.  Now I was ready to settle back and spend another uneventful hour of listening to the hum of the engines before turning the watch over to Brenner.  I knew he would come down the hatch in a half hour or so groping along, as he always did with blurred, sleepy eyes and hollering for his coffee. 
I almost felt guilty allowing him to relieve me, since upon signing the Log Book and climbing the ladder out to the main deck I would go back to my berthing compartment and snuggle into my bunk for a few hours of sleep.  The engine room would not be my concern for a while.  Instead, it would be Brenner’s job to keep the engine, pumps and generators running smoothly.

Missile Away!

            I listened to the steady twelve-knot whine of the turbines and felt the gentle vibration of the deck plates in the control booth.  Almost everything was as it should be.  Each piece of machinery played in perfect harmony.  The only annoyance was the rhythmic chatter of an intermittently faulty control relay in the main electrical switchboard which couldn’t be fixed until we could shut the switchboard down.  It wasn’t a big concern to us so we learned to live with its occasional staccato clicking.  Yet after a time, it too seemed to be part of the perfect lullaby.

Amphibious Transport

            When the phone rang, I answered it with efficient ease, thinking it was only a trivial report of some kind.
            “Engineering Officer of the Watch,” I said.
            “Eric?  How fast can you bring us to twenty-eight knots with only two boilers on the line,” said Captain Dave Edwin.  There was urgency in his voice.
            “I can do it in ten minutes for normal acceleration, Sir,” I replied.  “I can do it faster if the engine temperature steady out quickly.”
            “Ok, Eric, here is the low down.  Give me whatever speed you can.  We’ve picked up distress signals fifteen miles of port (side).  It is a small burning freighter.  There has been a lot of strange activity going on tonight on the signal channels.  I’ll be in touch.”  The captain clicked his handset off.
            “Aye, aye, Sir,” I hung up the receiver knowing that he did not hear my response.

Author at the Engineroom Throttleboard.

            Immediately I ordered Doug, the throttle man, to commence increasing speed and ensure to maintain proper steam pressure at the main engine turbine.  I directed him to ring the bridge at each speed change through the engine order telegraph.  I reached for the engine room intercom and ordered all my watch standers to be extra attentive to their duties.  There was Louis down on the lower level looking after the feed water and condensate pumps as well as the oil purifier.  Chester was near the boiler controls and Larry was on the upper level keeping an eye on the electrical generators and main turbine.  Phil was back aft.  By now, he was making rounds through the two shaft tunnels to ensure the shaft bearings were cool.  He was responsible for taking readings and putting them in the engine-room equipment log sheet. 
Each man was making sure all their equipment was operating properly and I was sure they would do their job well.  Meanwhile I monitored the steam pressure and advised Chester of our steam demand.  I knew we needed the 1200-psi boilers he watched over to provide our steam generators and main turbine an increased steam supply for increasing the guided missal destroyer’s speed.
            We increased speed gradually and the ship shuddered as if some great beast aroused from its sleep.  The engine whine increased.  When the engine temperatures leveled off for twenty-eight knot operation, I immediately called the bridge.

Full Steam Ahead

            “Captain, I said over the phone, we are at top speed for two boiler operation and we are commencing to light off the other two boilers so that they can be up to full steam capacity within the hour.  I’ve set the ‘maneuvering combination’ and we’re ready for all orders, Sir.” 
            “Fine, Eric!”  Captain Edwin said.  “Be advised, we’ll be going to General Quarters in three minutes.  We are ready to engage enemy aircraft.  That is all.  Good luck!” he said matter-of-factly and hung up.
            I was shocked.  Only three days ago, we had left Singapore.  The news had been still of d├ętente.  Three weeks ago, the Russians in Java had been friendly.  My mind began to race.  Aircraft?  Enemy?  I thought we were going to the aid of a stricken ship.  What happened?
            The sudden flash was so luminous and the searing heat so intense, I did not notice the force that catapulted me through the sheared upper deck plates.  Suspended in air for a moment, I realized a force that had just ejected me out of the engine room now held me.  Then it was letting me drop ever so rapidly.  Every limb ached and I could hear nothing.  I descended so swiftly, the water under the burning oil slick that I plunged through quickly enveloped me.  After what seemed like an eternity underwater, I surfaced and gulped for air.  I was swimming, using frantic splashing motions to keep the flames away while continuing to gasp for air.  When I finally broke clear of the flaming oil slick, I looked around.  I was amazed I was still intact, even though I still could not hear anything.  There were no broken bones, and I was not flayed alive.  Around me, there was nothing except patches of burning oil and bits of debris.  There was no ship.  What had hit us?  Moreover, although it was difficult to see without full daylight, there appeared to be no survivors except me.
            As thoughts of sharks and drowning whirled through my mind, I wondered if anyone would find me as I continued to swim clear of the flames and oil.  This was all so bewildering.  There seemed to be little hope.  My predicament was appalling and now I was so tired.  I was sure the water was going to suck me into its eternal grasp….

Author in front of some engineroom equipment.

            “Eric, wake up!  What’s wrong with you?  You aren’t suppose to be sleeping.  But, since you were, did you dream about a blonde or a brunette?  Who cares?  Let me take over?  You are looking pretty washed out!  This exciting life must be getting to you.”
            “Brenner!  You made it!  You are safe, too!”  I said.
            “What the hell are you mumbling about?  You better go to your bunk and finish the dream,” Brenner said.
            “Ah, no thanks!”  I said defiantly.
            When I had signed the Engineering Log and turned over the watch, I sheepishly left the engine room and climbed the ladder to the main deck.  The fresh sea breezes slowly refreshed me.  It was then I realized I had forgotten to tell Brenner about that annoying and hypnotic relay.  What the heck, he would probably only dream about blonds or brunettes anyway, if he even dared fall asleep.

Final Note:  Pictures of ships are open source available on the Internet.  The two of the author where taken in the Sixties!

Copywrite by John D. Roach, August, 2011.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This week's article is about one of my wife's and I favorite places in Mexico to spend some leisure time.  We stayed one of the best resorts int the world back in 2009 and 2010.  I hope you enjoy our thoughts about this fine place.

Le Blanc Spa Resort

If Le Blanc is good enough for GW, it is good enough for me.  Ok!  What does George Bush have to due with this article?  Well let me give you some background. 
When we became a member of Palace Resorts, we knew we bought a vacation experience among the best in the world and we knew we could stay at Le Blanc.  However, we didn’t know much about this Cancun resort.  Besides, it was always just off the radar screen when we considered vacationing in Mexico, since it was more expensive then the other resorts included in our membership, and especially because we always vacationed, further south of Cancun, along the Riviera Maya.
Then we heard that former President George W. Bush stayed at this resort when meeting with Vicente Fox, the former Mexican President a few years ago.  That piqued our interest.  Le Blanc is so upscale that it advertises only in the most exclusive travel magazines.  To learn more, I had Palace Resort send me a brochure, since their website didn’t provide much information.  There was this mysterious exclusivity about Le Blanc. 
That mystery spurred us to investigate further.  We found that this all-inclusive spa and resort experience was one of the premier resorts in the world.  We re-looked at our contract and found that it was just a click away on the Internet for us if we entered a specific code.  Therefore, we made that click, learned more, and made a reservation. 

Cancun, Mexico has many resorts that range from fun filled family getaways to wild and crazy spring break madness.  Some cater to honeymooners and others focus on keeping guests at play.  Le Blanc, however, pampers guests in line with Robin Leach’s “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”  Nestled between the stunningly white beaches of the Caribbean and a peaceful portion of the Nichupte Lagoon in Cancun, this is a luxurious resort unlike all others. 
            Le Blanc as an adult-only all-inclusive resort offering sophisticated style and luxury gives.  The environmental decor is both contemporary and minimalist.  Its ambiance is exquisitely elegant.  Its Spa is one of the best in the world designed to rejuvenate and wash away the stress of the world.  Its restaurants provide haute cuisine that can compete with the best in the world.  It is a resort meant to revitalize relationships between spouses, provide peace and relaxation, or be the perfect place for a wedding and honeymoon.  Indeed, young or old, working or retired, world traveler, corporate executive, or a world leader all will find Le Blanc Spa Resort the best kept secret in Cancun.
  This breath taking resort with its fine dining, restful pools and lounge, and wonderful spa are located in the heart of the Hotel Zone in Cancun.  Additionally, guests are just steps from some of the finest shopping and aquatic adventures in Cancun.  One might say, “There are many resort hotels that offer these things in Cancun.”  However, it is better to say, “There is an intangible wonder about Le Blanc.”  
            A crisply uniformed attendant greats guests and extends to them a cool and refreshing towel.  Then they climb the steps and enter through the sliding doors.  There they come upon a simple and expansive lobby with several desks on one side while comfortable chairs and sofas are on the other side.  Looking straight ahead, at the far end of the lobby, the blue waters of the infinity pool beckons all to the Caribbean.  Checking in at the front desk, the vacationer receives a refreshing drink to sip as the enthusiastic and smiling concierge describes the coming days.  This is the beginning of total immersion into luxury.
            When we first visited Le Blanc, we took a brief tour of the resort to absorb both its gentle intimacy and friendly social charm.  Once we got to our room, we found our luggage, and a friendly Butler contacted us.  We discovered that he is always available and made a point of greeting us daily since his desk is by the elevator on our guest floor.      He called on us now because he wanted to make sure that we knew each other so he could determine how best to serve us.  We soon realized he would ensure that we had everything we needed--even anticipating our needs.  This included scents and herbs to enhance the aroma of our room.  He offered us each evening an assortment of specialty pillows that included aromatic enhancements with just the right comfort.  He would even run our Jacuzzi tub water and provide invigorating bath salts of your choice.  Plus, he is full of information about Cancun, the resort and the things that might interest you.

All the guest rooms at Le Blanc look out to the beach and Caribbean Sea.  Several types of Liquor and a bottle of wine or champagne are always available in the room.  Each room receives a tropical floral piece daily.  The view of the ocean is magnificent through large picture windows, sliding doors, and a small balcony.  While, you probably do not want to stay indoors much when in paradise, you can be quite content lounging in your room, if you choose, and enjoy its comfort as a guest at Le Blanc.
            When we travel, we usually arrive early in the afternoon.  After the long trip, we often are eager to get to our room, quickly unpack, and change into our bathing suit so we can get our first taste of the sun and pool.  Le Blanc offers you choices.  There is the infinity pool with a swim up bar.  Indeed, this is the opportunity for another drink at the busier and perhaps more socially oriented pool.  Alternatively, we can saunter over to the Lagoon side and get a drink at its smaller swim up bar and lounge quietly in the late afternoon sun until sundown and the time to get ready for dinner.

            Dining at Le Blanc is something to look forward to each day.  The Breakfast Buffet is a daily feast.  Guest can enjoy an assortment of fruits, breads, yogurt, cereals, eggs, and meats in traditional Mexican and American style.  This includes eggs made to order in whatever form desired.  Lunch offers a wide variety of cheeses, beef, poultry, pork, and fish is prepared to order along with a variety of international buffet offerings supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and deserts.  Wine by the bottle or glass, as well as other beverages are available.  Around the two pools, burgers and hot dogs, along with various Mexican foods like guacamole and chips are prepared for snacking while still in the sun relaxing or playing.  By the way, all day long, at the pools, a friendly and very attentive pool butler continuously circulates around the pool deck to bring water, snacks, and drinks.
            Before dinner in the lobby every evening, there is a musician playing a violin, or piano, or harp in the lobby bar.  That music sweetly resonates through the lobby and lounge and sets the tone for the evening.  It is just right for romance or quiet socializing as you recap the adventures and joys of the day before going to dinner.
Dinner is more formal.  The shorts and the bathing suits stay in the room.  Slacks or dresses for women and long pants for men are required.  The menu offers a choice of Asian, Italian, French, Mexican, or Steak House fare or pizza and wine at an outdoor cafe.  All the food is excellent.  With the meals, wine if offered.  Indeed, a knowledgeable sommelier is available to make suggestions and offer from a well-stocked wine cellar some of the finest wines in the world.
            At virtually anytime during the day, guests can visit the Spa and receive the magical touch of well-trained masseuses ready to help remove your stress.  There are nineteen spa suites to help suspend time while enjoying one of the many assorted massages.  In the Spa, steam or dry saunas with chromotheraphy, hydro-reflexology, Jacuzzi, and lagoon pools of varying temperature are available.  All this is provided under the caring watch of the Spa Butlers who are ready to assists at any moment.

One of the most wonderful joys of Le Blanc is the little thatched roof cabana that sits at the end of a pier jutting into the tree-lined lagoon.  Each morning, at 9:00 am, Petra (with fitness center staff) leads guests who desire to learn about Yoga or continue their practice while on vacation.  For an hour, she guides her students through Hatha, Pranayama, or Vinyasa Yoga depending on the day of the week.  Her style, even when the yoga is intense, is gentle and caring to ensure that maximum pleasure and spiritual renewal is experienced.  There are few other peaceful pleasures like a Yoga session outdoors while hearing the rippling water of the lagoon and the birds chattering.
While staying at Le Blanc, as a member of Palace Resorts, guests can visit of their resorts in Cancun or south along the Riviera Maya.  They also have a resort on the nearby island -- Isla Mujeres.  During those visits, all can dine, play golf, and enjoy the variety of entertainment of those resorts.  In addition, the concierge at Le Blanc can arrange day trips to snorkel, scuba dive, or visit Mayan Ruins.
All that I have described only touches on some key facts about the Le Blanc experience.  We have not touched on the intangible.  I dare to say that I can never describe that intangible character of Le Blanc.  In reality, it is impossible to explain.  It can only be experienced!  It is about people, sight, sound, and scent.  It is the ambiance.  It is about the way a guest is treated.  It is the blend of all these and more because when the right mix of all these elements come together a remarkable thing occurs.  It is Le Blanc.

I opened this article with a reference to former President Bush.  We had a chance to see the rooms he stayed in while at Le Blanc.  In spite of their expansive size, for he had a Governor’s suite, as well as the wonderful view, I wonder if he was able to enjoy Le Blanc the way we experienced it.  I somehow doubt it.  I can only imagine that he was so involved with preparation for discussions and responding to his large entourage about domestic and world affairs that it would be extremely hard to experience the true essence of Le Blanc. 
Nonetheless, he must have gotten a slight sense of what Le Blanc is like.  For besides the ambiance, much of what I touched upon in this article relates to people.  It is people, who make a place special.  I truly believe that Le Blanc has some of the friendliest and best-trained staff.  They are focused on making their guest’s stay at Le Blanc memorable and pleasant.  I am sure that Mr. Bush must have experienced that.  
We all can say is, “Thank you GW for putting Le Blanc on our radar screen!”  We know that we will return often to experience the luxury and pleasure of this magnificent resort.

Written By John D. Roach, Spring 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cuernavaca, Mexico

While we await my next installment of my series on retirement, I decided to include this interesting travel log that occurred during my first year in retirement.  I hope you all enjoy.


Cuernavaca, Mexico—A Special Senior Moment

          Our trip to Cuernavaca in 2010 was an exciting and memorable experience.  My wife, Joann, had an opportunity to study language and culture in Mexico while she worked on her Masters in Education.  Newly retired, I figured that I would go with her and indulge in my passion for photography.  Joann suggested I study with her.  She said with some humor, “You know, as we get older, it is good to learn a foreign language to keep the aging memory cells working fine to avoid those senior moments.”  So traveling, learning a language, and photography became the plan.  Who can argue with that common sense?
While, only a week, the trip was packed with wonderful experiences.  It consisted of classes at a Universidad Internacional dedicated to teaching Spanish Language, Mexican culture, and history.  We lived with a Mexican host family and went on several cultural excursions.  All of this cost us, excluding airline tickets, about $1500.  This total immersion in the Mexican culture could not compare to the typical resort vacation that Americans usually take in Mexico.  This was a great experience in language learning, cultural diversity, history, and developing relationships in another country!
Getting There
To get to Cuernavaca we flew to Mexico City.  At the airport, we met other students from Joann’s college and then traveled by bus over the mountains south to the City of Cuernavaca.   Over 50 years ago, this city was an easy reach “get away” trip from Mexico City for Mexicans.  Now it is an expansive and ever growing city in its own right.
Our bus started out in the rush hour traffic taking a four-lane road through numerous fringe neighborhoods of the City skirting around the downtown.  This road connected with a major highway that took us over the mountains.  When we came to traffic lights, there were street vendors selling gum, flowers, candy, snacks, and cigarettes to those trapped at a standstill in their cars.  The 52-mile trip that usually takes an hour and one half ended up taking well over two and one half hours.

            Eventually, the traffic thinned and the bus followed a road that climbed the mountain range.  Nearing the highest altitude, it started to rain.  Indeed, it rained hard as we climbed further up the mountain.  At every turn in the road, we saw the clouds waft close to the ground.  We observed that at some point around 8000 feet, there developed a tree line of pines that continued to surround us as we climbed to 9000 feet.  The pine trees stayed with us until we reached approximately 6500 feet as we descended into Cuernavaca.
            The mountainside terrain was rugged on each side of the highway.  It was not until we came very close to Cuernavaca that we started to see evidence of farming and then gradually began to see suburban dwellings.  When the bus took an exit off the main highway, we came quickly into the midst of many winding streets until one those streets that we took suddenly stopped at a series of building marked Universidad Internacional, our final destination.

 Our Host
We took our baggage off the bus and went into a classroom near the main entrance to meet university officials.  There we got instructions about the coming days and met our host, Martha, a woman that was perhaps in her early 60s.  We went with her and got our luggage and stuffed it in her late 90s Dodge trunk.  Then we were off with Martha incessantly speaking in Spanish and pointing at things as we drove to her house.  Frequently, she indicated things she showed us as “muy importante.”  We felt lost catching only a word or two as she pointed at street signs and buildings.  All the time she was so cheerful and we so bewildered and tired from our long trip. 

When we got close to her house, she made a point of telling us that we must turn on Pino (the name of her street) to get to her house.  She wanted to make sure we understood that we had to turn at the "Casa Blanca Uno Tres Dos.”  This was a big white house, with the numbers “132” imprinted on it, located at that corner of Calle de Pino and Calle de Franco Villa.  There we turned left. 
Martha and her husband, Salvatore, a retired college professor, live in a nice home, which included two garages behind a high wall.  In their yard behind and adjacent to the house they had a small swimming pool along with many plants enclosed by walls on three sides of the house as well as a steep hill behind the house.  The neighborhood was located in a quiet section of the town about 15 minutes from the University.  When doing research prior to the trip, using Google Map Satellite view, I had actually found an aerial view of their house with the small kidney shaped pool visible at their house on Calle de Pino.  Later during our visit, I showed them this map and they were very surprised about the detail and the availability of that information on the Internet.

At supper that first evening, we met Rachel and Emily.  They also were students at the University.  They were in Cuernavaca already a couple of weeks and still had two more weeks to go in their Spanish study program.  Emily spoke Spanish quite well since she majored in Spanish at her university in the States.  We learned that she wanted to do missionary work in Ecuador.  She helped as translator occasionally during our stay though reluctantly at times, since she believed we needed to learn the language the hard way by trial and error without her help.  We could not speak much Spanish without the use of the dictionary and we stumbled through sentences.  Of course, that is the process to learn when immersed in a foreign environment. 
After our delicious cena of chicken and rice, Joann and I learned the plans for the coming days.  We quickly reviewed with Martha (Emily translating) arrangements for getting to the university the next day for orientation and our first excursion to a nearby town (Tepotzlan) in the mountains northeast of Cuernavaca.  We learned that Martha would make us a lunch and give it to us after breakfast and drive us to the University.  In fact, Martha took us every morning to the University.  She picked us up between two and 3 pm if we were coming back to the house.  On this first day, in the evening when we got back from Tepotzlan, we were to take a taxi back to our host family’s house.  Martha gave us special written instructions that we showed the taxi driver.  She told us to hire taxis marked as “Radio Taxi” because they gave us the best fare.  On subsequent days, we used this card every time we hailed a taxi with great success.

The School
The next day, we went to the University and spent the morning getting orientation instructions, qualifying for the proper level of language class and getting our schedule.  Even though we had studied some Spanish at our local community college in the States, our ability to speak scored us both a spot in the beginner class.  Our classes included 3 hours of Spanish, 1 hour of culture, and 1 hour of history each day for the week.
During our week of classes, we experienced the challenge of learning Spanish with little or no English spoken in the class.  The Mexican culture and history classes were taught in English by an interesting if not somewhat radical professor, who shared many opinions with us about how poorly the needs of the people in Mexico are met by the government.  From him we were able to learn about the numerous revolutionary movements throughout the history of Mexico.  This certainly helped us understand the great disparity between the rich and the poor of this vast and interesting country.
Cuernavaca, frequently referred to as the “City of Eternal Spring” is hilly and plush with beautiful plant life.  At nearly one mile high elevation and nestled between two Sierra Madre mountain ranges, the weather is relatively mild for this southern latitude.  It rarely gets hotter then the mid-80s and there are frequent showers that account for the rich and lush plant life.

Near evening of our first full day in Mexico after school orientation and our trip to Tepotzlan, we arrived back in Cuernavaca.  The taxis dropped us off at the Central Plaza.  There we took in the sights for a few hours and sat outdoors at a nice coffee and ice-cream shop across from the Central Plaza.  The Central Plaza is the heartbeat of the city and serves as the gathering place for young and old.  Vendors ring the plaza selling food and souvenirs.  Every day during our stay in Cuernavaca, the plaza pulsed with events such as indigenous native dancers, soccer players, art expositions, couples dancing the rumba, and many other events or performances.  Branching off from the Central Plaza were streets filled with nice restaurants and cafes as well as expansive shopping areas with many bazaars and malls.

Interspersed among the lovely shopping and dining spots were interesting cultural and historical areas such as the Borda Gardens, many old churches and the Cortez Castle (now a museum) once used by the Spanish Conquistador.  Every afternoon after class, we spent time visiting these spots as part of our cultural awakening.  In the short time we were there, the city became a friend where we could relax, talk with our classmates, enjoy a drink, and finish the day with a delightful meal in comfortable surroundings.


Martha and Salvatore
One evening, everyone at Martha’s house played cards.  We all had a wonderful time leading up to the games especially, since Joann would chant Victoria, Victoria, frequently taunting the others about the upcoming good time and victory that would be Joann’s.  In the end, we think Martha held the day, since she was continually changing the rules or making them up as they played.  All of this was in good fun. 
During one of the games, Martha suggested that on the last evening of our visit, we all should go out and have a drink together.  We truly believe that Martha was enjoying our company, since Salvatore stayed to himself most of the time.  Thus, Martha had some company that she was enjoying.  Martha said that he was a little depressed after retirement and worried about their children especially one daughter who was having a difficult time.
On another afternoon, we stayed home with our host family.  We all did some studying and, additionally I had an opportunity to spend time with Salvatore.  It so happened that on a prior day, Martha said it was ok with Salvatore if Joann and I had a glass of his wine.  Because of this, I felt obligated to get Salvatore another bottle of the same wine.  Luckily, there was a supermarket near the University, where I was able to buy two nice bottles of red wine.  One was a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon identical to the bottle to be replaced, and another was an Argentine Malbec wine we were sure would be a hit. 

That afternoon, I sat with Salvatore, who spoke no English, and we found a way with my Spanish dictionary, one of the bottles of wine, and his photographs of a trip to Patagonia to spend an hour sharing common interests.  The wine and the pictures made it possible.  He had brought out the pictures, since I had mentioned I always wanted to travel to Patagonia
An added benefit to breaking the ice included my giving Salvatore a book about Chicago loaded with photographs and written in Spanish as well as a Calendar for 2011 with pictures of Chicago.  We had brought these as gifts for our host family, since the University suggested that we bring a gift for our host family.  During this conversation, I learned that Martha and Salvatore had visited Chicago nearly 30 years before and had seen some of the sights shown in the pictures.  Martha and Salvatore showed a lot of excitement in the gifts.  I believe they truly enjoyed receiving the book and calendar.

On the day after our arrival in Mexico, after we completed university orientation, in groups of threes, we took taxis to Tepotzlan.  Unfortunately, it rained a lot and got us all wet but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.  We immediately set off to see a 16th century church and convent, and then browse a colorful market place.  After that, we gathered as a group of 15 to 20 students and guests at a restaurant called “Los Colorines.”  There, we enjoyed fine authentic Mexican food and had a wonderful time getting to know each other and taking pictures.  Tired, but happy, we found a taxi stand and again in our groups of threes found our way back to Cuernavaca.

Next day, Sunday, we had to be up at 6:00 am to prepare for our trip to Teotihuacan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to see the ancient Pre-Columbian temples of Indian tribes that inhabited the central regions of Mexico.  This was another bus trip this time back across the mountains and then 25 miles northeast of Mexico City.  On this trip, we saw the slums that surround Mexico City.  In these slums, millions of people live in tin and concrete shacks.  We imagined that few if any of those living in the slums ever would experience what we were experiencing in their own country.

Our trip to Teotihuacan was an opportunity to see the City of the Gods and the various pyramids (temples) such as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.  Many of us climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, which is the third highest in the world at 234 feet.  The city established around 200 BC lasted until its fall sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD.  At its zenith, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas with as many as 200,000 inhabitants, placing it among the largest cities of the world in that period.

On the next to last day in Mexico, we took a two-hour trip by public bus to Taxco.  This is a famous silver mining town and market place.  It sits on the side of one of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges located southwest of CuernavacaTaxco is a very picturesque mountain town filled with steep and narrow streets that ran between shops.  Midway up the side of the mountain in the center of the town is a major church built by the Spanish in the 1700s.  We toured the church and took in the breathtaking views while panting our way up the steep streets.  We took many photographs of this scenic mountain town, visited many shops, and bought silver jewelry before heading back to Cuernavaca.

That evening after the trip to Taxco, back in Cuernavaca, Martha took the five of us downtown to a lovely restaurant called Las Mannanitas.  There we had a couple of drinks and enjoyed one of the more expensive and chic places in Cuernavaca.  We sat in a courtyard that had traditional Mexican architecture and elegance. 

It was obvious to us that those who came to this restaurant were the more affluent of Cuernavaca.  When I recall this evening, I cannot help but remember Martha’s comments that the well off in Cuernavaca fell into one of a four categories of people.  She said that those that lived in the nicer neighborhoods and had the money to spend in Mexico were doctors, lawyers, teachers, and drug lords.  I wonder how many drug lords were at Los Mannanitas that evening.  It was just the day prior that there were drug war related killings near one of the main bridges of Cuernavaca.
On the last day, Martha took us on a little tour of the neighborhoods near her area.  There were many beautiful homes.  They were of varying styles of hacienda with the closed-in fenced areas.  When you go down the streets in the residential areas, every house was behind a high wall.  In a few instances, there was even barbed wire.  It was obvious that the “well to do” were very intent on maintaining protection and security of their homes.

Martha made us laugh on that last day.  She was steering the old dodge around and over speed bumps and potholes frequently.  The dodge had to creep over potholes to keep from scraping the bottom of the car.  Indeed, every morning when she took us to the University, if we got over one of the speed bumps without scraping bottom, we would cheer.  Now the potholes were another matter.  As I said, it was very funny to Joann and me that Martha said that many people call CuernavacaCuernabacheBache in Spanish means pothole.
So at last, Martha dropped us off at the University and we said our goodbyes.  Then we took the chartered bus back to Mexico City and its airport.  It was a beautiful sunny drive over the mountains.  I sat close to the front and could see through the expansive windshield the wonderful country we had visited, with all of its beauty as well as its problems such as slum areas we saw on the day of our trip to the ancient temples.  This was a great experience and not a typical vacation. 
This trip was important to me in the beginning of my retirement because it helped me focus in on how I want to live the rest of my life.  I want to continue to see the world both near and far by bumming around taking photographs of what I see, writing about it, and learning as much as I can about the ways of others including some of their language.  In fact, Joann, since she has a great gift for writing perhaps will join forces with me.  I will focus on the photography and first drafts of travel details and she doing the final editing.  This would be a terrific way to keep my mind active to help avoid those “senior moments.” 
Finally, I would love to go back to Cuernavaca, stay a month, and study more.  Then I could actually feel like I deserved the diploma that I received for just the one week of language, culture, and history training.  Most importantly, in that time, I perhaps could truly begin to have a more meaningful conversation with Salvatore and Martha.