Recently I went with two friends on a cruise of the Western Caribbean. It was my first cruise, and was an eye-popping experience, from the the size of the ship (1,112 feet
long) to the enormous quantities of very good food provided daily, to the variety of entertainment on board (an ice show! imagine!! It was a really excellent one, too!!!), and the variety of excursions we were offered on shore.
Our second stop was in Costa Maya on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
Recently a port was built to accommodate cruise ships, which includes a shopping village, and which is a jumping off point for excursions to some delicious less-developed Mayan ruin sites such as Chacchoben, which we visited. The Mayan ruins are a subject for several other posts – they are as fascinating as they are ancient and mysterious.
As you can see from the Google Earth screenshot above (thank you G.E.) the area around the cruise port is sparsely developed. There’s been more growth lately, but so far most of it is centered around cruise ship arrivals and tourist dollars. (That off-center T in the water is the cruise ship dock.) I gather when there are no cruise ships the little village is closed up. It does not seem to be much used by locals.
This faux village has a central square, and in the middle of the square is a 30 meters tall pole with climbing rungs. Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the history of the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). It originated some hundreds of years ago at a time of great drought. The ceremony was developed to appease the gods and bring back the rain.
The dance is usually performed by five young men (the ones we saw were ‘apprentices,’ aged 18-22, but they looked pretty darn professional to us. Six marched in, four climbed the pole). They march into the square, one of them playing a small flute and banging a teeny drum (note the yellow cords hanging down).
Then they begin to climb the pole. This is heart-stopping – it seems impossible that they can climb so high, and that they can perch on the teeny structure at the top, which can revolve.
Once they are at the top they haul up their ropes in a very particular way and wrap them around the pole. Then four of them address the cardinal points of the compass, while the fifth stands in the middle. In our instance there were only four, and they all flew.
The four tied their ropes to their legs and stepped into space, slowly spinning around the pole as they descended in a stately and controlled manner. Impossibly, the drummer/ flute player continued to play both instruments as he flew down.
It is done in a very particular way. They must circle the pole exactly thirteen times. Thirteen times four (number of flyers) = fifty-two, the number of years in the ‘calendar round’ (see the Wikipedia article for more detail). Here they are, gracefully descending.
I apologize for not getting them all the way down for you, my camera ran out of battery (grrrrr).
It was an amazing thing to see, looking far simpler than it is, I think. The Danza de los Voladores has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco in 2009. As a result, the Mexican government has a responsibility to protect and promote the Dance. If you have a chance to see it, don’t miss it.
This is what it feels like some days at the shelter:
Actually, this lovely cat is just a talker (or singer, if you prefer). She has a lot to say off and on during the day. If I translate correctly, she is saying, “Help, there’s been a terrible mistake! I don’t belong here!! Look at me. I’m accustomed to pearls, a tuffet, and tuna for supper.” At least I think that is what she’s saying. She doesn’t have a card on her cage yet, which I imagine means she is waiting the requisite 10 days for an owner to reclaim her. When the waiting period is up she can go to the home, or castle, she so obviously deserves. Until then, she just offers her opinion on everything. She adores being held and scratched, so clearly she is, or was, a well-loved pet.
But I digress.
I wanted to tell you about the wonderful calm and fun there is at the shelter over a holiday, when the place is closed. Instead of the usual rush of preparation before opening to the public, cage cleaning, exercising and playing with the animals is done at a more leisurely pace. Sure, the staff wants to get out early – they need a holiday too! – nonetheless they are more relaxed, the animals are more relaxed (some exceptions) and the volunteers are way more relaxed.
For instance, there are 4 little feral kittens in the back room. They are too young to adopt in any case, but they are too frightened and shy to bring up front for the public to see. One in particular, a teeny little smoke grey, arches and hisses if you so much as look at him. While this is quite alarming behavior from a full-grown cat, it is just adorable and funny when the threat is coming from 3 ounces of fluff. Part of my assignment has been to handle these little ferals as much as possible. It is really fun. They begin by hissing and end up purring. Then when I go back in 5 minutes the whole exercise is repeated. The hope is that they will eventually become tame enough to forget the hissing part and just go immediately to the purr. During my regular volunteer hours there is often not enough time to give to these little guys. Yesterday there was plenty of time, and plenty of fun was had by at least one of us.
Black Friday was decorate the shelter day. Jenny put up the scrawny little artificial tree and we decorated it with beads, ornaments and small lights. The best decorations are the cards, though.
Here are Margaret and Jean hanging the cards. Each one says either Cat or Dog at the top, and then underneath is written something that the animal would like to receive for Christmas – maybe some hot dogs (yes, good dogs get the occasional hot dog treat after their walks), or some small balls with bells inside, or some cans of food, or some litter, perhaps a wee sweater for a small stray. Shelter friends come and choose a card, and then return later with the requested item, or perhaps something completely different and equally useful. It’s a fun way to give to the shelter, and the shelter sure appreciates the gifts.
Probably a shelter near you does about the same thing, or wishes they did. Why not surprise them over the holidays with something for the beasties in their care? One of our cats requested “three blind mice (stuffed of course).” I am sure Santa will oblige.
Here are three kitties of the dozen or so at the shelter right now:
This black beauty is full of fun and tricks (note the rumpled state of the cage).
We all fervently hope this little comedian will one day grow into her ears.
This cat is a dreamboat – loves to be held, loves to purr, loves to be brushed – in short, just loves.
Please visit your shelter over the holidays and leave a gift – you’ll feel so happy.
Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that Speedy and I don’t go out to eat very often. Speedy’s skill at stove and oven makes almost everything else seem pedestrian at best and second-rate at worst. A visit from a dear Swiss friend was the impetus for us to break our usual practice and venture forth for a meal, in this case lunch.
Our friend needed to be at the airport at 3, so we decided to look for a place near Sky Harbor (I love that name for an airport – don’t you? So friendly, but somehow exciting too). Speedy did his research and came up with La Santisima on 16th Street in Phoenix. It is well-reviewed on Yelp, somewhere north of four stars. Not many places do that well, so we felt pretty optimistic.
Isn’t that a beautiful door? And a mighty fine bench, too. My purse fits right in with the color scheme. Bellas Artes de Mexico has provided all the furnishings and decorations of this pocket-sized eatery.
Our meals certainly exceeded our expectations. I had two house specialty veggie tacos, and they were sublime. Clearly the veg were all fresh and had been sauteed just before being generously heaped on two soft double tacos. I chose the plate, so my tacos were accompanied by a 1/3 sized cup of rice – just the right amount – and a splash of refried beans with Mexican cheese melted on top. My plate was hot, though the food on it was tepid – but it was so delicious I didn’t mind. Our friend had the same taco I had; here are poor photos of our two plates (this was actually a photo of the two of us, I’ve deleted us and enlarged the food):
Clearly I wasn’t thinking about taking good foodie pics. But I’m sharing them for two reasons – one, to show you how intelligent the portions are and how truly beautiful the tacos are; and two, to show you just a couple of the salsas from the restaurant’s salsa bar. In addition to the usual pico di gallo, salsa cruda, salsa chipotle, etc., there were salsa di guacamole (top photo on left), salsa di cilantro, and salsa di fresa (strawberry, top photo on right), as well as others I don’t remember.
Speedy ate a pork and beans burrito and reports that it was “very good.” That’s high praise. Our friend declared her taco, “the best taco I have ever eaten in my whole life.” This is a woman with a fair amount of travel, not to mention tacos, under her belt, so you can take her word for it. This was delicious food, and we saw some enticing plates being delivered to nearby tables (very nearby – it’s a small restaurant and they don’t waste space).
Our host, who flew around non-stop, was very kind when we asked him to turn down the music a tad – he immediately complied, which meant we could actually have a delightful conversation with our long not-seen friend.
But I’m not here to write only about the restaurant, as you may guess from the quality of the food photos. I’m here to write about the neighborhood. We’re definitely returning to this top notch restaurant, and I’ll write more about it when we do.
16th Street north of McDowell is on the edge of a largely Hispanic neighborhood (interesting article on cultural diversity of Phoenix here. It includes a map giving percentages of various ethnicities and where they reside). It is not the most elegant neighborhood in Phoenix, but it is surely one of the most artistically interesting that we’ve visited.
After lunch we took a short stroll – it was in the mid-90’s, too hot to enjoy much of the post-prandial thing. The building above (the sign says Thai Body Healing/TaSen Buddha) houses a little shop that carries woo-woo items, used clothing, and some fun toys for kids. In addition there is a small coffee shop, an art gallery and, in back (beyond the small elevated stage which was surrounded by children’s toys) what might be a sculpture garden or, perhaps, just a place to dump stuff. There was also a bathroom, of which I was in great need at that very moment.
Over the sink was this anatomically vague figure, carefully labeled with such diseases as wrenched ankle, broken heart, water on the knee. I don’t know if it’s art or a children’s game. Note the Scrabble tile holders and a basket of tiles; I couldn’t find all the letters I wanted, so my message read “T_AN_ U. I hope it was clear enough.
Outside we continued our stroll, and came upon several more wonderful murals. I got good photos of only one of them. I’m sorry to say I don’t know who the artist is – research needed!
Speedy and our friend give scale to the left side of this mural. The rest of it is below. (I know, there is such a thing as a ‘landscape setting,’ but I neglected to use it (not my best photo day, I guess).
This area definitely demands a return visit to seek out more of the graffiti and mural art. It is not the only part of Phoenix that sports such excellent examples. Katrina Montgomery has documented her 40 favorites in the New Times. I can’t wait to go hunt for some of them. A picture is fine, but to see such a large piece of art in person is really much more fun.
Every Thursday morning I pry myself out of bed at what, for me, is an unnatural hour: 6 a.m. My ‘shift’ at the Paws and Claws Care Center begins at 7. By the time I arrive, typically at 7:10 or 7:15 I am but one step above Zombie. Luckily my job doesn’t require much in the way of wits, see first sentence above.
But wait – some background: Paws and Claws is the animal shelter of Apache Junction, Arizona, a town with a broad mix of inhabitants of all species. It’s not uncommon for residents to find abandoned animals in their yards, or to come across a new family of (typically) cats in the desert, result of feral hanky-panky. While ‘my’ animal shelter cannot describe itself as no-kill, it is extremely low-kill. The sad truth is some animals are simply not ever going to be adopted – they may be terminally ill, they may be vicious. Not their fault, to be sure, but no one is going to take home a biting dog or cat, nor should anyone be asked to. Having said that, P and C sends 90+% of its temporary residents on to new homes, and there is no rule for how long they can wait. Sometimes an animal is special and it will take a bit longer for the right new owner to show up. Thank goodness the Care Center is willing to give every adoptable animal the time required. If you clicked the link above to the shelter you will have already seen that they ‘market’ their guests in the most appealing way possible.
There’s a reason they call themselves a Care Center. A remarkable staff and a host of volunteers take terrific care of the animals. Sick or pregnant animals are identified, put in quarantine and given whatever is required, be it medicine or just a quiet place to give birth. Every day every cage is cleaned from top to bottom and fresh new bedding is put out. Each dog has a kennel in the air-conditioned dog area. As well, volunteers walk and play with the dogs outside (though often the spoiled brats just want to come back in to the air-conditioning. It goes without saying that the cats demand air-conditioning.) A professional photographer volunteers her time weekly to take portraits for the web-site, and groomers volunteer beauty treatments for cats and dogs. Staff and volunteers spend a lot of time with timid animals in an effort to socialize them.
It’s just a great place to spend a few hours even if, like this morning, some over-active little kitten dumps her box of litter on my head (I’m not kidding). As I said, 7 a.m. is not My time. And that’s why little missy below is giving me that wary look.
Jill loves to hide, so every now and then, just for fun, I’ll share a photo with you of his antics. It started when he was quite young:
This was part of his box train, a play area he got too large to enjoy. But it was his first step on the path to secrecy. He may have a career as a private eye yet.
No, not really – I’m pulling your leg. We’re not going to Ghana.
But not too long ago we felt as if we’d been magically transported to that far-away country. Fufu and Jolof rice and Banku – these are just some of the delicacies on the menu at Max’s Mukhaase Restaurant in Mesa. ‘Mukhaase’ means ‘kitchen’ in Akan, a language spoken in much of the southern half of Ghana. While English is the ‘official’ language of Ghana (population 25.9 million), Akan is the language most widely spoken of the 80+ indigenous languages. If you visit Max’s you are more than a little likely to hear a good bit of it.
Max came to the U.S. some fifteen years ago and, he told us, since acquiring a cat, fortune has smiled on him. Being cat-lovers ourselves we are perfectly willing to believe that his feline companion has something to do with his luck.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did we even find Max’s Mukaase Restaurant? Through one of those irritating restaurant card promotions, that’s how. In this case, though, it worked out really well. Somehow we came to have a restaurant card that gives 50% off at selected restaurants if you order a certain amount. A doctor’s appointment took us to Mesa, and Speedy researched what restaurants from the card were nearby – and there it was: Max’s! Who could resist? Surely not us.
The menu is not enormous, but it’s varied enough for all tastes, from adventurous (fufu with goat) to cautious (hot dog or beef burger). Isn’t ‘fufu’ a great word? It’s almost as fun as ‘wolof’ (the language of Senegal). Fufu, a staple of Ghanan cuisine, is made from cassava or plantain flour. There are several methods of making it; a common one is to boil the cassava or plantain, and then pound it into a dough-like consistency. Peanuts are another staple on the Ghanan menu; a good peanut soup is hard to beat, and is often eaten with balls of fufu.
I had the Peanut Soup with Rice Balls (and lots of veggies) – scrumptious and very, very filling.
Louis opted for the Goat Stew, Waakye, Gari & Salad (Goat meat, Rice, Black Eye Beans, Veggies and Gari; Gari is a kind of pud made from cassava), which he declared divine. In fact, he liked it so much he ordered a second helping to bring home. It did not suffer, he reported, by either its short journey or its wait of a day or two.
The food would certainly have been enough to draw us back for another visit some day, but even more than the food, the atmosphere was delightful. A pair of young men occupied another table, rapidly speaking a patois that, I assume, was a combination of Akan and English. One of them kept leaping up and running outside to conduct important business on his cell phone, to the bemused patience of his friend. At one point Speedy said to him, “You should be paid for providing entertainment,” and he shouted back to the kitchen, “Hey Max! I eat for free from now on!” Great laughs all around.
Not long after we arrived a young woman in a health-provider uniform arrived and sat at another table. Soon a lively conversation began, mostly in English, on the desirability of legalizing marijuana. The young woman it turned out, is a pharmacist, and she declared that having seen what marijuana can do, she could never countenance it becoming legal in any way, shape or form. This was a discussion we followed with great interest but in which we sagely decided not to participate.
Overseeing it all, the activity in the kitchen, the spirited conversation, was Max, who is as friendly and accessible as his delicious food. When I asked for a photo with him he disappeared in back and returned wearing his chef’s coat and a toque. I prefer the photo of him hatless, so that is what I share with you, along with a recommendation to visit Max’s Mukhaase Kitchen if you find yourself near Guadalupe and Alma School Roads in Mesa.
I can’t remember how it started, but once upon a time Speedy either read about or dreamed up himself the idea of dying Easter eggs using flowers and leaves that we found outdoors. Now that we live in the desert the types of things we find has changed considerably; but it is spring and there are a lot of flowers blooming right now, on trees, bushes and cacti, so there was plenty to choose from.
This basket contains Speedy’s gleanings from our yard: some frondy leaves from a mesquite, some flowers from hedgehog cactus (ouch – I’m still pulling spines from my fingers today), bougainvillea flowers and flowers of sage and lavender. There are also a few odd stems in the mix, and I have no idea what they are. I should add that the dry skins of both red and yellow onions are always part of the process.
First we boil up a big pot of water with tea and vinegar added to it, take it off the stove when it’s good and murky colored and let it cool for a while.
While the cooking water is cooling we wrap the beautiful white eggs. The skins of the onions go on the outside, the various leaves and petals go on the inside, held in place by the onion skins. Then we tie each egg package securely with cotton twine. This is tricky because the twine wants to slip, and frequently does, either before or during the cooking.
Into the warm water the little packets go. We slowly bring the water back up to a boil and cook the eggs for 15 minutes to a half hour.
We take them out let them cool and then unwrap them. This year’s efforts were a bit underwhelming, but still lovely. For some reason our red flowers did not share any of their colors – we’ll have to search for others next year. (We’re not remotely expert on the flora of this area, and this is a good way to get to know some new plants.) We also did not have very tightly wrapped bundles this time, and I think too much tea water got underneath the petals, which blurs the shapes they are supposed to leave on the eggs.
Next year I want to try coloring eggs with Speedy’s old silk ties, the few that he still has. When we moved back to the States he gave most of them away, but there are a few left, and I’m sure more are readily available at thrift shops. Kate Jones and Sara Wells have a great tutorial over at Our Best Bites – it looks easy and fun. Come back next year to see how it goes. It is certainly a different look from our tea, leaf and flower eggs.
Meanwhile, Happy Spring to all!
A recent visit to Superior left me of the opinion that the town is both falling apart and being reborn. Which process will win is not certain by any means, but the visit was fascinating for that very reason. If imagination and creativity have anything to do with it, though, I will vote for rebirth. I’ve never seen such density of murals, decorated facades and all around artistic expression; it seems that given the choice between cans of cheerful paint or mundane signage the Superians will choose the paint every time.
Superior is a copper-mining town whose old mine (the Magma) has closed and whose proposed new mine (Resolution Copper, to which there is no small amount of opposition) is not yet open. Once relatively booming with a population of over 7,000, the town is now home to under 3,000 residents (2013). (For a very interesting portrait of the town’s struggles and hopes, see Kari Lydersen’s 2012 article). Declining population does not seem to have put a dent in the town’s optimism or belief in itself, though. A look at the Chamber of Commerce’s website shows a bustling sense of possibility (We Believe in Superior!), expressed in three annual events – a House Tour, a Mining Festival, and a Prickly Pear Festival.
Hiking Buddy E rounded up a couple of her young friends and me and took us all off to the House Tour a month or so ago. What a wonderful eye-opener it was. The homes we visited were modest (with one exuberant exception). They were built, by and large, in the 1920’s and years following to house miners and their families. Most of them were rescued from various levels of decay and restored, either to their original state or a more modern version of same. They lay in all the neighborhoods of Superior, sometimes bracketed by boarded up neighbors.
Here are some photos of the homes we visited that day, of hopeful Superior, and of the unique surroundings of this struggling town.
Superior lies between the steep mountains known locally as Apache Leap on one side and the old copper mine on the other.
Many houses that were not on the house tour are creatively painted.
Store signs are, for the most part, painted, with the major exception of the Save Money Market (which always makes me think of Lake Woebegone). What a great name – direct and to the point.
Like the storefront signs, the murals in town are in various states – some are fading and need repair, others are fresher. All are full of movement and interest.
The house tour in Superior was a shining example of what elbow grease, optimism and a lot of love can accomplish to rejuvenate a house. But here’s my ugly truth: in many ways I found the abandoned and boarded up properties every bit as interesting as the restored homes.
Right on Main Street there is a boarded up section of wall with a hole in the boards – what lies on the other side?
The town is full of “Welcome” signs on homes, as well as “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” signs.
The residents are the best part of any town. I’ve visited Superior any number of times and, No Trespassing signs notwithstanding, have always been made to feel welcome. Here are a few portraits from House Tour Day.
There’s a lot more to Superior than what I’ve shown you here. Main Street hosts several charming shops, and there are no fewer than nine eateries in the town. The bustling public library is bursting with materials and with people using them. The senior center appears to be very active, and Headstart has a fine modern building near the elementary school.
When is the best time to visit Superior? Any time! HBE and I visit several times a year, just to walk around, admire the colors and see if any new murals have appeared. The House Tour, Prickly Pear Cactus Festival and Mining Festival are special weekends, making the trip even more worthwhile, but truly, it’s a good visit no matter when you go. If you visit let me know afterwards if you think the town is coming or going. My vote and hope is for the former.
Hiking Buddy E and I finally had the opportunity to take a real hike together a couple of weeks ago. We chose the Vineyard Trail which leaves from a parking area at Roosevelt Lake, an hour plus drive from Gold Canyon.
Now here’s the thing about the Vineyard Trail: it begins with some rather steep climbing. In fact, we had to gain some 1100 feet in the first mile and a quarter of the hike. Being ‘of a certain age,’ and having a kind of hinky hip these days, this took some amount of effort for me. E., however, is a gazelle. The footing was nothing to be happy about either – lots of loose stones and small rocks on the well-maintained trail. Not much of a problem going up, more of a problem coming down that steep part. We were lucky that we were on the trail only a week after about 5 inches of rain fell. The path would have been a lot more slippery had it been very dry, I think.
Now you know the only negative thing I can say about this hike. Otherwise it was Perfect with a capital P. On the way up we enjoyed stunning views of Roosevelt Lake and the gracefully arched bridge that spans a part of it.
Roosevelt Lake was created when Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911. Both named for and opened by President Theodore Roosevelt, the dam was part of the Reclamation Act of 1902 which funded irrigation projects in twenty western states. The lake the dam created is 22.4 miles long and has a shoreline of some 128 miles. It holds a lot of water (1.6 million acre feet) and has a maximum depth of 188 feet. Best of all, it’s just plain beautiful.
Most of my attention and effort was given over to just getting one foot in front of the other on the steep climb, but I did notice (after E pointed it out) the lovely frost-bedecked moss, and the true succulents, which I have not identified. (help?)
This was a real ‘bear went over the mountain’ hike. That means that E would reach the crest of a hill and call back down to me, “Bear!” meaning that she saw not the wished for distant view but another hill to be scaled. (“The bear went over the mountain, The bear went over the mountain, The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see. He saw another mountain, He saw another mountain, He saw another mountain,and that is what he saw” – children’s song set to sing-songy tune).
At last, though, we reached a high point with a lovely view off to the south. The trail leveled out for a while as we walked along a crest.
Snow-bedecked Four Peaks looking much closer than I had thought it was. What a sight. We don’t get snow here that frequently, but the aforementioned 5″ of rain was snow on the mountain tops, and it stayed for almost a week. Four Peaks is a highly visible landmark from many parts of the Phoenix Valley, but I had never seen it from this particular angle before.
We’d been walking long enough to feel a little peckish. And as if on cue, the perfect picnic site presented itself: a saguaro forest.
Our path led along the base of this handsome, ancient and undisturbed stand of cactus. We found an excellent flat spot and had a splendid meal in the shadow of these giants.
Shortly afterwards the trail led sharply downhill. Thinking back on how tough the up had been, we decided not to penalize ourselves with another difficult climb back by continuing down. So, feeling a little sad that we had not reached the end of the hike (or anywhere near it, as it turned out; it’s 6 miles one-way and I calculate we hiked in only about 3) we began to retrace our steps. The views were, obviously, completely different on the way back and were even more beautiful than before.
As we got back towards the dam we saw the Salt river snaking down its valley, with the picturesque Route 88 draped over its shoulder.
Soon we were presented with a terrific aerial view of the dam itself with the bridge in the background. Far in the distance you can barely see what I think is part of the White Mountains Range (or perhaps even Mt. Baldy?) – or I may be completely confused.
This photo gives an idea how steep the climb back down was – in many ways harder than going up. With the climb up the problem was simply catching one’s breath, going down had some tricky footing – so I spent most of my time looking down. Which was nice, because I saw some rather interesting rocks. This one got me wondering if it had been shaped by weather or by human hands centuries ago.
This one looks like what I see in the mirror every morning. Just kidding! I love the juxtaposition of sharp cracks and rounded shapes.I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk up our driveway hill when we got home, but I did! And then made my way immediately into a hot tub of very hot water. At the end of the hike I said to E, “I don’t think I could do that one again.” But you know what? I’m ready! Let’s go this weekend!!