Tag: Casitas

Memories of Mexico: Day 2, Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

This is the second installment in a series about that trip.

You may read the first post by clicking on Day 1.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Upon arising after a good night’s sleep, we got ready for the day and walked down to the hotel restaurant where Daniel quickly showed up and helped us order.


I think we might have gotten him out of bed.  Steven ordered scrambled eggs with cheese and I ordered an omelette with tomatoes, onions, and sausage.  Their sausage tasted different than ours, but was very good.


I let them give me beans and tortillas and Steven did not.  We soon learned that beans and tortillas come with every meal unless you ask for them to not bring them.  We both ordered some fruit which turned out to be apples, cantaloupe (Daniel didn’t know what the English word cantaloupe was but instead just called it melon), banana, and papaya.  It was served with honey and lime.  Maribel told us later that they think the honey helps with digestion of the fruit.


We then drove to the home of our hosts.  Maribel offered us some freshly squeezed orange juice and after showing us around their home we walked down what we would call about 1/2 block to the church.  Here are some pictures.


This is the view from the street.


You enter the church from the left side.  Here is Amanda with the painting that’s on the wall next to the entrance.


 Here are Pastors Marcello and Maribel Fernandez at the entrance with the posted service times.


This is what you see when you walk in.  (Well, you probably won’t see these people in these exact spots.)  It is an L shaped room opening to the right and left.  The street is out the window you see here on the right.  The building is small but tidy and clean.  The roof is thick corrugated metal, similar to many others we saw.  The floor is concrete.  The benches are wooden and smooth.


This is what if you look in the window by the street.  Notice the fans.  They don’t have air conditioning and it gets VERY hot there, especially with lots of people in the room.


This is what you see directly in front of you as you walk in the door.  The light is on ahead of you in the bathroom.

Following this we headed out of town: destination Mesa Del Tigre.  We had mentioned to Daniel at breakfast that we were going to Mesa Del Tigre and Paso Real and he didn’t know where it was.  That should have been a clue that it was a little off the beaten path.  We drove northward on Hwy 180 and then turned onto a rocky rutted mud road which goes through what they call a ranch, but we would call farms and orchards.  It jostled my brain, and I was suddenly impressed at the wisdom of my husband renting an SUV.  I don’t know how a car could have made it.  They usually take a bus which is reportedly even more bouncy and jarring.  We passed groves of trees growing oranges, papaya, more oranges, grapefruit, bananas, and oranges, plus also crops of beans and corn, and then more oranges.  Amanda was saying she was hungry, so we promised to stop at the next McDonald’s we saw.  She was happy until she realized the nearest McDonald’s was about 2 hours away.  We paused long enough for Marcello to pick a few oranges which actually turned out to be what we would call clementines.  There was fruit everywhere: on the trees, on the ground, in the ditch…  I told Amanda this was the drive-thru.  The fruit was delicious.  She still wanted McDonald’s.


We climbed into the mountains and passed through Paso Real, the little village we would return to later in the day for service.  First, though, we were visiting some saints in nearby Mesa Del Tigre.  As she drove, Maribel dodged chickens running wild, and she said if she hit one she’d have to pay for it.  Evidently they know exactly which chicken belongs to whom.

We arrived at Mesa Del Tigre and drove into a field surrounded by homes.


Most of the construction is concrete block covered with stucco or plaster.  The homes were very open to the air.  One of these homes belonged to Hermana Santa (her first name is Santa, the Spanish word for saint, and “hermana” means sister).


Here is Amanda with a beautiful bush outside the home we visited.


Hermana Santa was very hospitable and sweet and made us fresh tortillas and some chicken soup with fresh cilantro.  The round bowl-type object in the middle of the table is a hollowed-out gourd used to keep tortillas warm.

Here is how she made the tortillas.

She sold a fresh turkey to Maribel who took it into town and resold it for the same price.  Maribel helps her get her chickens and turkeys to market this way.

She also had a parrot which she did not sell.  His name was Doroteo and he did not like Steven to take the video.  The bird kept turning his back to the camera.

Following lunch, we went back part-way down the mountain to Paso Real, the village we had come through earlier, where we had church service.


It was a church belonging to another group, but one of the men of the village lets them use it to gather.

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12 people were in attendance besides our 5.


Marcello opened the service with prayer


Then we sang some songs.  I tried to play along on the violin, but the songs were new to me, so I’m afraid I was probably more hindrance than help.  They sang a few slow songs and a few fast ones.  The fast ones were in a minor key.  They usually sing a capella with Maribel leading.


Then I played a violin solo of How Great Thou Art.  They knew the chorus and sang along in Spanish as I played.  The weather was very humid and cool, and embarrassingly, I had to stop and tune in the middle of my song.  It just wouldn’t stay in tune.


Then Steven preached and Maribel interpreted for him.  She was nervous as this was her first time translating for a sermon, but did a splendid job.  The prayer after the sermon was a wonderful time of time of repentance and dedication.

Following service we met each of the people there.  I took some pictures from the door of the church.  As you come out the door, this is what you see.


Thatched roofs are common.  They are made of palm tree fronds, and they do not leak.


Here is a picture of the underside of a thatched (palm frond) roof.  This method is vertical, weaving the fronds in and out of a wooden structure.


The bottom half of this picture shows the other kind I saw.  In it, the fronds are placed horizontal and attached to the bracing, but not really woven.


If you look left when you go out of the church, this is your view.


And you see this if you look right.

Down this road a bit is their general store, a house with a walk-in-closet-size room in the front with a few items for sale.  I went with Amanda there to buy some toilet paper.  This was a recurring theme on this day.  The bathroom was an outhouse-like structure out in back of the church.  I rapidly discovered that the American definition of “bathroom” is very narrow.

I also saw my first tortilla truck.  This works on the same concept as our ice cream trucks.  A loudspeaker on the top of the car or truck plays music and occasional advertisements for fresh tortillas and tortilla dough.  I never saw them sell any, but I guess they do.

From here we got in the Jeep and drove to the house of the elder who allowed us to use the building.  His wife was sick at home with a diabetic ulcer on her foot.  We went in the home and prayed for her, also meeting part of the family.  Extended family is very important in their social structure.  Everywhere we went we were introduced to sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins…  Extended family is their welfare, social security, health care insurance, and all-around support system.

Following this, we got back in the Jeep and drove back over the bumpy roads, through the orchards, to Casitas.  We dropped by a hotel owned by church members Gabriel and Rosa.  They also own a ranch with cattle and lime orchards.  Then we went to eat at a place called El Pirata (The Pirate).  Gabriel and Rosa also came with their grandson to eat with us.  We discussed farming and ranching.  A lime farmer this season is getting 800 pesos for a metric ton of limes.  That’s about $61 American for 2,205 pounds, or 2.7 cents per pound of limes.  I remember paying a lot more than that the last time I bought limes at the grocery store.  With the farmer getting that much money, I imagine that his laborers picking the fruit aren’t getting paid very much.

They had very good food at El Pirata in very large portions.  Their appetizer was a spiced shredded fish with chips and a hot sauce meant to be mixed with mayonnaise. (They use a lot of mayonnaise there, even putting it on their corn-on-the-cob in place of butter.)  This was quite good and we ate a lot of it as we waited for our food.  While we waited, this gentleman came around to entertain us.


Steven took a video of him singing, which he thought was delightful, perhaps because we also gave him a tip.  This reminded me of my teenage days when I belonged to a group of strolling musicians that often played at banquets as people ate.  Amanda told us later that he was singing “All the drunk people raise their hands”.  But we weren’t drunk, so we didn’t.

Here he is singing his song.

The entire time we were there people tried to sell us snack and trinkets.  I got quite good at “No, Gracias”.  Rosa bought us some sweets that were fried dough with sugar on them.  They reminded me of the Cinnamon Twists served at Taco Bell, but they were much better.

After eating, Maribel delivered Hermana Santa’s turkey to a local restaurant owner who also happens to be the landlord for their home and the church building.  That family owns several local businesses including a fish market and restaurant.

This season is a busy time for Casitas, as it is a coastal town frequented by many Mexicans on holiday.  Since we were there between Christmas and New Years, business was good.  I do think, though, that we were the only Americans in town.  I’m sure in that little town of 2,225 our presence was known.

Following this, Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda walked across the street to their house, and we drove on down the road to our hotel.

Memories of Mexico: Day 1/2 and 1, Travel to Casitas

A Little Background

A few years ago, a wonderful lady named Maribel and her daughter, Amanda, attended our church.  Our emotions were mixed when Maribel married Marcello Fernandez, a pastor in New York City: happy for her and her new husband and sad that we would no longer be seeing them on a regular basis.  After a while of service in New York City, they volunteered to move to his native Mexico and pastor a church there.  She extended to us an invitation at that time to come and see them there.  After about 2 years we finally took her up on it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day 1/2

Philly AirportWe left the Philly airport on the evening of the day after Christmas and flew to DFW where we spent the night in a hotel.  (For some reason, I was given TSA PreChek while my hubby was not.  This made him a bit frustrated as I zipped through security with my shoes on and he had to do the whole screening thing.)  This would allow us to arrive the next day into Veracruz, Mexico in the middle of the day, not in the night when we still had a 3 hour drive to get to our final destination: Casitas, Mexico.

 When we arrived in Dallas we were pleasantly surprised that the hotel had given us a suite because they thought we were honeymooners.  They were about 17 years too late, but we enjoyed the complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 1

We arose the next morning bright and early.


Well, early at least.  I wasn’t feeling too bright.  We flew into Veracruz, Mexico.  From the air, I noticed what I thought were colorful stacked shipping containers.  They were actually apartment or townhouse buildings.  Whereas Americans generally paint their homes white, brown, or gray, the Mexicans have no such inhibitions.


I saw homes of all colors and hues of the rainbow, which I found to be quite delightful.  These 2 are not my original photos, but the scenes I saw were very similar to this.


We arrived at the Hertz rental car facility and Maribel, Marcello, and Steven went into the office to make arrangements.  Maribel is fluent in both Spanish and English (as well as Portuguese).  Steven speaks only English, and Marcello speaks only Spanish.  Amanda, who at 11 years also speaks Spanish and English, stayed outside with me.  When they brought our Jeep around, Marcello walked around it with an employee documenting things that were scratched, dented, and broken.  There were quite a few, and we didn’t want to be blamed for them when we returned the car.  Nearby, another employee cleaned a car while listening to a very loud and thumpy version of “I’m Sexy And I Know It” in English.  I wondered if he knew what it was saying.  I still don’t know, but I heard several other American songs during my stay, sometimes in places where I knew for sure we were the only English-speakers.

After the paperwork was done, Maribel drove us down to the harbor in Veracruz.  On the way through town we passed some policemen, but they didn’t look like American police.


They looked like this.  I didn’t know whether to feel really safe, or really in danger.  This is not a picture I took.  I found this one on the internet; I was too chicken to actually take their picture.  We saw several police, both federal and state, during our days in Mexico.  Both kinds always carried automatic weapons.

We hoped to park along the street and walk to the beach to see the Gulf of Mexico.  The parking spots were all taken except those blocked with traffic cones by some enterprising people who had arrived earlier and claimed the spots for those who promised to eat at a certain restaurant on the beach.  It was either that or not go, so we opted to eat at their restaurant.  Here is a view of the waterfront restaurant.


 We would also be where we could see our car, which made our hosts feel good as well.  This was my first experience at a REAL Mexican restaurant (because I would soon learn they are quite different in every way from the American version).  They led us to our seats, plastic chairs like Americans would use on a patio, and a rickety table.  It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while.  They handed us one very-worn laminated menu.  With help from Maribel I ordered the grilled shrimp.  I figured that it would be mild and simple.


 It was very good. They served them with the heads still attached, which I learned was customary.  It was a bit messy and they didn’t supply any way to clean my fingers.  Though I can’t remember exactly, I think it was served with beans and tortillas.  I think this because almost every meal I ate in Mexico was, including breakfast. Steven had shrimp also, but his was seasoned, though he ordered it to be not too hot.  Maribel had garlic shrimp, I can’t remember what Marcello ordered, and Amanda had shrimp cocktail.  The Mexican version of shrimp cocktail comes in a tomato juice with shrimp, avocado, and some other green things in it, served with saltine-type crackers.  It is served like a drink, but eaten with a spoon.   Again, this is not a picture I took, but It was a lot like this.  Later on I will post a video of Steven trying this dish at our hotel.


The whole time we were there eating, vendors tried to sell us things: plantains all sorts of ways, peanuts seasoned a variety of ways, and various other goodies.  I quickly learned to say “No, Gracias.”  That worked pretty well.   You can see in the background of this picture the man in the blue baseball cap is selling chicken, shrimp, pineapple, ham, and I don’t know what else.


After our lunch, Amanda bought some roasted salted peanuts which she then squeezed lime juice on.  They eat lime juice on all kinds of things.  Limes are quite plentiful there, at least this time of year.  Maribel and Marcello later expressed that they were somewhat embarrassed by this restaurant experience because it was overpriced and not good quality for the money.  Steven and I didn’t know the difference and enjoyed the cultural immersion.

We got back in our rented SUV and drove out of Veracruz toward the north and Casitas, where Maribel and Marcello live.  We left the city, paid a toll, (I guess that’s not just an American institution) and drove along the coast.  At the toll booths we always saw several police officers, again with machine guns.

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We traveled on Federal Highway 180 which goes from Brownsville, Texas all the way down to Cancun.  The stretch we were on was mostly 2 lanes.  We passed through many little towns and villages, occasionally seeing the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.  It was very undeveloped: no highrise hotels or boardwalks.  Just beautiful beaches and rolling waves.  We passed the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station


and recurring signs showing the “Ruta De EvacuaciĆ³n”.


 I assumed the 2 things were related but tried not to dwell on these thoughts.

We saw several gas stations.  They didn’t have various kinds: I guess Pemex has a monopoly on gas stations in Mexico.  You can buy any kind of gas you want, as long as it’s Pemex.  Gas prices were not advertised on the signs.  imgres-2

Most of these had a convenience store attached of the OXXO brand.  I am not certain that they were all OXXO, (though they could have been) but most were.


We stopped for a bathroom break (it was nice and clean) and I got a mediocre-quality Vanilla Cappucino from their machine for about $1.00 American if I remember correctly.

As night fell, we continued along the coast.  I saw one sign more than any other, even Pemex.  It looked like this.


I finally asked Amanda what it was, though I suspected I knew because some things cross all cultures.  Sure enough, it is a kind of beer.  Later on in the week I would also see this sign, which needed no explanation.


Well after dark, we drove through Casitas, past the church and the gate which led to the Casa de Fernandez.  We were tired, though, so we kept driving with promises to check that out the next day.  Maribel had spent much time and energy finding us a hotel that she thought would be acceptable.  She had done a wonderful job.  They don’t have many American visitors in this area, so she had to make sure they would have someone who spoke English.  When we arrived, they called Daniel, a civil engineering student on holiday who had learned English from a boss at a restaurant he had worked at.  His English was quite good.  He helped us to our room and showed us around.  Everything was very white and clean.  The floor was tile, though there was a small (maybe 1.5 x 2 ft) throw rug to wipe our feet on.  This got a lot of use since it rained all but one day that we were there.  It was a bit chilly, though my sweater was plenty sufficient for me, but the locals were freezing.  They are used to much warmer weather.  The hotel had A/C but no heater, but luckily we didn’t need it.  Then Steven drove Marcello, Maribel, and Amanda back to their home while I unpacked.  Since everything was right on Hwy 180 I didn’t figure he would get lost.  Sure enough, in about 20 minutes he returned.

We walked down to the restaurant, an open-air porch with a thatched roof, where Daniel was waiting to help us.  I ordered some tacos and Steven ordered some steak with peppers and onions, with both meals to be accompanied by Coca-Cola.  Steven offered me one of his peppers, and I said I would take a tiny bite.  He insisted they were just bell peppers and popped a big slice into his mouth.  He rapidly found out that they were not bell peppers but something much stronger.  He made a loud noise and Daniel came running to make sure everything was okay.  I laughed and laughed, glad I hadn’t accepted his offer.  I think the employees thought we were loco.  The tacos were beef, served with soft corn tortillas, Spanish rice, and beans with crumbly (probably goat-milk) cheese on top.  They were quite good.  No cheddar cheese, sour cream, or cold vegetables were served with it.  Evidently that’s American.  I wish I had taken a picture, but I was just too tired and didn’t want to look like a silly tourist, an inhibition I soon learned to ignore.

Then we went to the common room right off of the open-air registration desk, the only spot with wi-fi, and we FaceTimed with the kids and my parents who were staying with them.  The connection was slow, but sufficient enough to communicate some.

We went back to the room and finished unpacking, I took a very quick shower because I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water, and went to bed.