Gear and Preparation, Nice to Haves, Places

Back in La Paz After Language School in Taxco

I got back to La Paz on August 17 after a little road trip followed by six weeks of language school in lovely Taxco, which I’ll tell you about shortly. But first, an update on Aldabra. While I was away, Sergio Galindo and his team were working on two important modifications to the boat. One is an arch on the stern, which holds additional solar panels, a mast for a wind generator and davits for the dinghy. They also repositioned where the outboard motor mounts when it’s not on the dinghy, created new mounts for antennas and made a new space for the BBQ so it doesn’t set the canvas on fire when in use. In addition, they built a new setup on the bow for my anchor and for the tack of my new asymmetrical spinnaker, which I will pick up in Santa Cruz in the next couple of weeks.

The dinghy davits will enable me to raise and lower the dinghy by myself when necessary. The additional solar panels and wind generator should allow me to charge the batteries while at anchor for long periods of time without running the motor. The bow setup will make it easier to raise and lower the anchor. And the asymmetrical spinnaker can be used without putting up the spinnaker pole. So all of these improvements will make life aboard much easier.

I arrived back in La Paz as the workers were installing the new arch

Looking aft toward the new arch

Since I got back to La Paz, I’ve also done a bit of work myself, even in this extreme heat. I installed an accumulator tank for my fresh water system to take some cycle time off the water pump. I was hoping it might solve a problem I have with a small amount of fresh water leakage, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. I still need to solve that mystery. I replaced the joker valve on one of the heads, which was really a good idea. I should have done it a long time ago. I cleaned part of the exterior of the boat in the aftermath of the arch construction. I serviced 3 of the 5 winches. And I pulled some antenna wire halfway through the boat (extracting it from bundles of wire) so I can rerun it from the arch. All of these were hot, sweaty jobs that took longer than one would imagine they should. In the middle of these jobs I would walk or take taxis to search for parts.

Chava, of La Paz Yacht Service just finished revarnishing my saloon table and my companionway steps. He’s going to do a bit of fiberglass repair for me once the wiring for the new solar panels is finished. Hector is about to get started on dinghy chaps for me. And Luis Cosio and his team will continue to look after the boat.

With all this work under control, I’m renting a car in a few days to drive up to California. I’ll take some things that I don’t want on the boat anymore. And in California, I’ll pick up several items that I can’t get in La Paz. Once I return in about a month, the wiring for the solar and wind generation can be installed. I’m looking forward to the three-day drive to the border (maybe that’s crazy) and to seeing friends and family in San Diego, LA and Santa Cruz.

So now I’ll backtrack a bit. After leaving La Paz at the end of June, I flew to Puerto Vallarta. I stayed in an air-conditioned room in Paradise Village for two nights. It felt like a bit of luxury after working so hard to get the boat secure for hurricane season. With zero responsibilities (temporarily), I joined Jeff and Jules from El Gato (and their dogs Chance and Roxie) for a little road trip. We drove to Guadalajara the first day and spent the night in an nice inn. There was a festival going on that night near the church, so we wandered through after dinner. The next day we drove to Cuernavaca by way of Mexico City. It was somewhat eventful in that we couldn’t get through Mexico City in the rental car because we didn’t have the necessary electronic pass to get us on the road south. After multiple attempts, all ending up in the wrong place, we backtracked and ended up on a scary mountain road at night, arriving rather late to our very nice little inn, as the only guests. The next day Jules and I walked twelve miles through town, not always in the best neighborhoods. And on our second night, the three of us took advantage of the hotel’s game room, with lots of three-way competitions playing things I’ve never played before, such as air hockey and roller ball.

From there it was a fast trip to Taxco, a must-visit colonial city. I think we were all charmed. Taxco is a densely populated hill town surrounded by forest. The cobblestone streets are steep, narrow and windy. It’s mostly known for silver mining and later the design and production of silver jewelry. You may have read about William Spratling from the U.S. who started the silver jewelry industry there in the 1930s. It took on a life of its own after that and enjoyed quite a run, although the silver business is a bit in decline now. There are a zillion vendors of silver jewelry now but some of it is unoriginal and much of it is cheap. It hasn’t helped that Taxco is in the state of Guerrero, which receives a lot of attention for drug violence. You hardly see any gringo visitors on the streets. Most of the tourists are from Mexico. (We never felt a threat to our safety.)

Five of us (two couples from two different cruising boats and me) rented a house in Taxco. The owner (Don Andres) is part of the silver trade. He had a history with Spratling and his shop represents some good designers. But his business isn’t what it once was. In any event, we enjoyed living in his house and were well looked after by a couple (Jaime and Carmen) who lived on the premises. (Toward the end of our stay, we met the daughter of a friend of Spratling. Her father had purchased Spratling’s house in Taxco and his ranch outside of Taxco. The purchase included many of the Spratling jewelry designs so she has kept up the tradition of producing many of his designs and maintaining his legacy. We went with Violente Ulrich to the ranch and enjoyed a tour and many interesting stories about those days gone by.)

Wandering through the grounds of the Spratling rancho outside of Taxco

Silver worker at the Spratling rancho, finishing up a Spratling-designed piece

The house we rented was in a typical residential barrio, about a 15 minute walk from school. We got acquainted with the various people in the barrio and felt quite at home.

The house we stayed in in Taxco

View from the back of the house

Looking up from the house toward the Christo statue

Here’s the Christo statue from up top

School was at the local branch of UNAM (CEPE), Mexico’s national university. The administration, the faculty and the staff were so welcoming and helpful. To give you an idea, when one of our group got sick enough to require hospital care, the faculty members considered it a given that they would reorganize teaching assignments for the morning so that the head of the Spanish program could accompany our sick comrade to the hospital. It didn’t actually come to that, but that is how kind and attentive the faculty is.

Two teachers and two students at our cooking event

Spanish teacher Lydia and dance teacher Olviedo Layo

Our group of 5 students

The school is in an historic complex that once was a monastery. The buildings are beautiful and the grounds include a garden of cactus and herbs use for healing and cooking. Summer is a quiet time, especially because drug violence has scared many North Americans away. So we had very small classes. One of our group, Jeff,  had six weeks of private beginning Spanish lessons with a wonderful instructor, Alecia. Two others, Jules and Rick were the only two students in Itzel’s basic Spanish class. And Cindy and I were joined by two young Canadian students (Dea and Myles) in our intermediate class, instructed by Jorge, the lead of the Spanish program. The four of us also had a literature class instructed by Iztel. The only other student, Renee from Canada, was in an advanced class. Other courses took place while we were there. A family from Washington state had their own private classes. And a group from Cal State Long Beach had some courses as a group. (And a summer camp of young children brightened up the campus for a few weeks.) But our instruction was very targeted and intense. The instructors laughed because they hadn’t before met 5 students of our age (between 50 an 65) who acted like their performance would determine the rest of their lives. Unlike the young Canadian students, we weren’t taking these classes for college credit. But we were all driven and obsessed and the teachers appreciated it. Jorge liked that he could bring up all kinds of topics in conversation (historical, cultural, artistic, political) and Cindy and I could engage with him. We took latin dance classes with Olviedo Layo, who is also the theater director. While we were there he directed a play written by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, who was born in Taxco in the 16th century.

Other cultural events occurred while we were in Taxco, including international film and guitar festivals. At the school we also participated in a cross-cultural event with young English students from Mexico as well as a cooking event. (We made apple pie.) We were so lucky to have this summer opportunity. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in language or culture.

Looking down on Taxco from the top of a hill

Another view of Taxco

Another view of Taxco

And another

And another

Looking down at the church in the zocalo

On any given evening you might see a celebration in the streets

Marching celebration

When we first stared our 6-week program, Jeff and Jules and I would take weekends for urban hikes around the city, and we covered a lot of ground. But a couple of things happened to curb our wanderings. First, our coursework was really intense, and each of us had enough studying to keep occupied all weekend. Second, our group members started to get sick. I had a couple of weeks of gastro discomfort. Jules got Zika, which made her a quite weak for more than a week. And Rick and Cindy got really sick with bacterial infections that send them to the hospital. Luckily, you can get great medical care in Taxco.

In closing, I have to mention the Volkswagen bugs, as we call them in the U.S.  In Taxco, they are called vochos. I wrote a little blog post about them in Spanish for the UNAM CEPE website. I have very fond childhood memories of Volkswagens: Bugs, buses, squarebacks, rabbits, etc. So I couldn’t believe when I got to Taxco that 90 percent of the cars there are vochos, Volkswagen bugs. I thought maybe all the bugs that had disappeared from U.S. streets had found a home in Taxco. But no, these bugs are originally from Taxco. There is a Volkswagen factory not too far away. Most of the taxis in Taxco are white VWs. And there are many private bugs of various colors, along with a few buses and other models. The vochos have so much gumption up the steep hills and so much personality. You can’t help but be charmed by them. Especially if you remember the first bug your father brought home for a family of 6 in 1966. Yes, we all fit in that little car.

One of many Taxco taxis on a typical street near the center of town

Another white vocho taxi coming up the hill toward the zocalo

The narrow streets require a lot of negotiation between vochos

No problem getting around tight corners with a bit of finesse. The take the front passenger seat out of the taxi for easy entry and exit. An typical ride in town is 25 pesos.

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