Thursday, June 22, 2017

these shoes were made for walking

And I think this pair has just about worn out their welcome.

Or their welcome has just about worn them out. That sock-clad pinkie toe is proof enough that these shoes are about to take a short trip to the dust bin.

The hole surprised me. Admittedly, our streets are a bit rough on walking wear. Between sand, dirt, cobblestones, uneven curbs, and various sharp and pointy things, my little village does not coddle my shoes.

And this pair seems as if they are new. Just six months out of the box and they are about to meet their unmaker.

If I have counted correctly, this is my fourth pair of walking shoes since I started my exercise regimen in August two years ago. (You may recall that my initiation into walking was accompanied by three hospitalizations for cellulitis.)

But this pair of shoes has accompanied me on each of my journeys this year. My visit from my brother and sister (and nine other guests), my cruise around Australia and New Zealand, my trip to Colombia, my extended stay in Oregon, and lots of steps here in Barra de Navidad.

I was curious how many miles I have put on them during these six months. And, thanks to the wonders of electronics through my smartphone and my Gear Fit, I know the answer to that question. 1,867 miles.

To put that in perspective, that is further than the distance between Barra de Navidad and Los Angeles. Admittedly, it took me six months to rack up those miles. But it is a lot of walking steps. And I am quite proud of the accomplishment.

When I was in Oregon last month, I bought another pair of walking shoes. I am breaking them in gradually in the hope I can avoid a reprise of my bed rest days in cellulitis land.

But my new shoes will undoubtedly figure in another "I have not come to praise shoesers, but to bury them" in a mere few months.

The good news is that I am daily getting out to see areas of Barra de Navidad I have not previously explored. My favorites are the farm roads through the fields where men with real jobs do something to keep our little village running.

I have re-discovered how much I enjoy exercise. Well, exercise of my choosing. Just as long as it does not involve other people.

A friend in San Miguel de Allende sent me an email this morning about ticket information for the music festival in August. Maybe I will walk there.

Just for a change.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

green is not my color

I have been considering installing solar power ever since I bought the house with no name nearly three years ago.

But, like getting married, it is probably not going to happen. At least, not for me.

Like most aspects of our lives, it helps to know why we want something. In this case, what hole in my life was solar power supposed to fill? I am beginning to think I was simply seduced by the mau-mauing effect of popular culture.

Whatever the reason, I am now faced with a decision.

I had responded to several email inquiries about installing solar panels on my house. "Just send us a copy of your electric bill, and we will show you how you can be swimming in money." Or something like that.

My response was always the same. "I am not as interested in saving money on electricity as I am in preserving the architectural lines of my house. Will your system do that?"

No one responded. No "yes." No "no." Nada. Zilch. Just a buzz on the other end of the line.

Two weeks ago, I finally convinced a solar salesman to stop by and look at the house. And he had good news. Because of the flat roof on the pavilions on the upper terrace, the array could be installed at an angle to avoid any sight of it.

With that assurance, he took photographs of my two electric meters, examined the switch boxes, and explained to me how he would tie the two systems together. With that, he photographed my last two electric bills.

Friends have a similar system. I had hoped that a solar system would provide power during our infrequent outages. But I knew it wouldn't.

The system is designed to generate power only when the power is flowing. The idea is that excess power is sold back to the electric company, and then drawn against during periods when the demand is less than the supply.

He did suggest, though, that if I was interested in a backup that I should purchase a propane-powered generator. I had not thought about that option. I will now.

I have now received the three-page proposal for the solar power installation. And I am a bit disappointed.

Let me get a rant out of the way. The entire proposal is denominated in US dollars. And that makes some calculations bothersome.

For instance, the proposal estimates that I spent $414 (US) this past year for electricity. Of course, I spent zero US dollars for electricity. I am billed in Mexican pesos, and I pay in Mexican pesos.

And that makes the currency conversion a bit tricky. Depending on which calculation I use, I paid $6,854 (Mx) ($378 (US)) in 2016, and $9337 (Mx) ($515 (US)) for the last twelve months. (That last figure is a bit deceptive because I still have a large deposit with the company on which I am drawing.)

So, let's give the proposal the benefit of the doubt and increase the annual usage to $500 (US). The question then becomes: if I install an array under this proposal, how long will it take me to recover my capital outlay?

This is where things get a bit confusing. The cost of the full installation would be $9,842 (US) -- even though I will be paying in Mexican pesos. It is the currency where I live.

Using simple mathematics, it would take just under twenty years to recover my capital.

Actually, it would be longer than that because the electric company requires a minimum monthly payment to be part of its system as a service fee. But twenty years is still a long time. The system itself may not last that long. I know I won't.

Here is the dilemma. According to the proposal, I will recover my capital outlay in less than ten years. Obviously, there is some 'splainin' to be done here. I suspect the proposal fails to take into account the current cash value of the investment in its recovery. But, we shall see.

So, I came, I saw, but I was not conquered. I am sending a request to the salesman now to see if I can resolve my obvious confusion.

The cost of solar arrays has decreased since my friends installed theirs. It appears this is almost one-third less than theirs.

Maybe time (and cost reductions) will eventually make solar a worthwhile investment for me.

As of now, it just does not pencil out.

Monday, June 19, 2017

why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?

If you think you know the answer to that question, you don't. Or, you might.

Almost every tourist, when first encountering palm trunks outfitted in pancake makeup, has asked the question. I know I did.

The best thing is that there are plenty of answers. The problem is that no one really knows what the correct answer is. In this world of terminal relativism, maybe they are all correct. Or maybe none are.

These appear to be the top five theories. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

1. The white background exposes dark insects and makes them visible to birds. The birds eat the insects and the tree is freed from predation by crawling critters.

This explanation has a nice green feel to it. Humans are simply helping Mother Nature keep her balance.

2. The second option deals with insects, as well. But a notably darker relationship between man and nature.

The paint is designed to kill insects. We will call this the better-living-through-chemistry option. Dow would be pleased.

The paint is not merely paint. It is latex laced with lime to snuff the bugs -- or latex mixed with a sticky substance to trap insects and let them die a lingering death. Like a puma caught in a leg trap.

There is a great divide in advocates of this choice on whether the insecticide option actually works.

3. The third option smacks of a mother's hand on the cradle. The paint reduces the danger of sunburn in young trees. If the bark is damaged by the sun, it reduces the tree's natural defense against boring beetles. But not boring creators of painted bark explanations.

4. There is the possibility that one of the other options, in the past, was the reason for painting palm trunks. But, now, the primary reason is aesthetic and cultural. Let's call it the Ivanka Trump option.

We have come to expect palm trunks to have a bit of makeup -- or to look as uniform as a line of Rockettes. Without a lot of kicking.

5. But this is my favorite. There is a tale --undoubtedly apocryphal -- that the palm-lined highway in Bermuda from the Officers' Club was the first to have painted trunks. Apparently, after tackling a full bottle or two of Tanqueray, officers driving home were losing battles with palm trees. And the British military was losing officers.

Some brilliant thinker (undoubtedly an enlisted man) came up with the idea that if the trunks were painted white, the officers might have a fighting chance. Apparently, no one thought of the option of hiding the gin.

I like it because it is such a tidy tale -- and has the stamp of authenticy based on my experience with military officers. If there is any truth in it, though, the original story most likely involved a highway safety bureaucrat in Mallorca who had a excess supply of paint for highway lines and could not sell it back to his scoundrel brother-in-law. So, he used it to paint trees.

Even though there is reason to support the highway safety option (you may have already noticed the electricity poles in the second photograph are also painted white), it cannot be the sole answer. Otherwise, why would the trunks of these palm trees on the beach be painted white?

Whoever came up with the Bermuda officer club story would point out that drunks know no boundaries. The trunks are painted white for inebriates who miss their turn and end up driving on the beach.

There is an answer to the question: "Why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?" It is: "How long is a string?"

There are mysteries in life that will forever be mysteries. And this is just another.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

traveling man

Some fathers are men of place. My father was a man of the road.

He was the guy Willie Nelson sang about in "On the Road Again." He had no greater desire in life than to be behind the wheel of a truck driving somewhere.

Most of my earliest memories of him involve trucks. Logging trucks. Pickups. Semis. That was what he knew how to do. What he liked doing. And it was a quintessential American dream. To be free from the humdrum life of daily drudgery.

I suspect part of that came from growing up essentially as an orphan. His mother was institutionalized for what was described as "health reasons." And his father could not raise him. So, he ended up in the care of his mother's sister -- my great aunt Madge -- and my great uncle Noble. I always saw Noble and Madge as my grandparents on his side of the family. And I guess that is what they were.

But it left Dad with a sense of rootlessness that he worked out in a driving life. Constantly tracking down the better life as if it an elk running down the middle of a never-ending highway.

And it made him happy. He did not really care whether or not his businesses made money. Just that they provided him with a truck. He worked to enjoy life, not to be rich. And he faced life with a laugh -- leaving my mother to deal with the results of that carefree life.

His humor led to one of his greatest attributes -- his charity. My mother never knew how many people would show up for holiday dinners -- or just family meals. Dad would meet someone on the road who had no family or place to go, and he would invite them to our house for a meal and the friendly banter of our family dining table.

He died almost 21 years ago. In his eulogy, I called him a common man. A friend of his took umbrage at the characterization. She said he was a great man, not a common man.

Great he was. But he was, at heart, a common man. He found pleasure in the simple things of life. Freedom. Humor. Charity.

We could all use a larger dose of that in our own lives.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Keep on truckin'.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

spelling it out

Melaque is going Chinese.

In its never-ending quest to become The International Restaurant Capital of -- well, Melaque -- we now have a new Chinese restaurant just off the San Patricio town square.

Of course, we have at least one more Chinese restaurant and two more Japanese restaurants in town. But you can never have too many good oriental food eateries.

I have no idea if this place falls into that category -- a good eatery, that is. I have walked past several times when it was open. The best I can say is that its appearance is unassuming.

It is nice to know there is another spot for Christmas dinner.

Friday, June 16, 2017

going wild in colombia

We have all done it.

We fly off to somewhere exotic, and, as we are signing into our hotel, we pick up a brochure festooned with photographs of howler monkeys, toucans, and crocodiles. Eco-nature tour, it promises. See the animals in the wild.

Having just watched one of those nature documentaries, we sign up with visions of jaguar stalking capybara. Most often reality does not live up to the hype. At most, we hear howler monkeys howling, see shadows of what was supposed to be a toucan in the jungle canopy, and hear the splash of a crocodile.

Dan, Patty, and I were more fortunate than that on our nature hikes. But we often ended up peering into the underbrush to catch a glimpse of what our guide assured us was a very rare sight.

But we knew where we could find wildlife. At a private nature reserve just outside of Pereira. Ukumari.

The entrance was promising. Tidy and well-designed.

No matter how you try to change the name, even these preserves are a type of zoo. Usually, far more enlightened. And, without them, most people never would see some of these creatures. I try to support the good ones.

The preserve has two parts: animals from Africa and animals that can be found in Colombia.

I have seen enough African animals that I was ready to give that part a miss -- until Patty climbed into this pot.

Any zoo brave enough to display this type of humor is worth a look. And I am glad I did.

If we hadn't slipped into the African experience, I would have missed this meerkat that was doing everything it could to coax a snack from us.

The preserve has three elephants -- all of them rescue animals. One was from a circus. And the 37-year old bull (on the left) was once the prized position of Pablo Escobar, probably the best-known of the cartel bosses.

We then slipped off to the Colombia animals. The preserve's collection is so large, we could have easily spent the rest of our day there. I will share only a sample.

When we were hiking in the wax palm forest, Paula, our guide, did her best to point out a crestless curassow hidden in the branches of a tree. I saw only a shadowy curvature.

Thanks to the preserve, I had an opportunity to get within touching distance of one in an open aviary.

Along with this small wading bird whose name I do not know. I called him Marty Feldman.

But the most colorful was this scarlet ibis.

I have not seen the large flocks of flamingos in the Cancun area. For now, I will be satisfied with this small group. They look as if they would be comfortable stuck in a suburban Miami lawn.

The star of the bird show was this chestnut-mandibled toucan. I have only seen one toucan in the wild. In Veracruz. There were three or four in the aviary -- all of them them willing to strut their beaks.

I have long-known that parrots are a jealous lot. This little fellow did his best to attract attention by hiding the toucan sign.

Here he is: posing on his own.

And a fellow parrot waiting at the door to the monkey compound.

If anyone could compete with the toucan, it was this pair of macaws from the Amazonia region of Colombia.

Because Colombia is a land of monkeys, the preserve is populated with several species. Such as this brown capuchin with his mod hairdo.

Or this playful white-fronted capuchin.

My favorite monkey, though, was this old spider monkey. He was world-weary enough to have seen it all before. Let the young spider monkeys flounce around. He could have been a character out of a Bertolt Brecht play.

At the other extreme was this river otter -- the compulsive obsessive of the animal world, who could not stop playing.

Preserves may soon be the last place it will be possible to see these white-footed tamarins. They are currently endangered because their forest homes are being cleared of timber. Patty told me they are beloved of most Colombians. Watching them, I could understand why.

I was going to end this essay here, but I have another experience to share. Mainly in photographs.

One of the primary reasons we visited the Quindio Biological Gardens was to see the butterfly house. Seen from above, there is no guessing what is inside.

There are almost 1600 species of butterflies in Colombia, and we saw a good sampling. I do not know the scientific names of these beauties, and our guide did not intrude with that type of information.

She just let us enjoy the experience. I will give you that same luxury.

One of the butterflies took a real liking to Dan. She rode on him through most of the tour.

So, there you have the wildlife of Colombia from our brief visit.

After compiling these summary essays, I am ready to return. And I suggest you do the same. Colombia is a memorable experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

dear diary

The summer rains arrived today.

It sounds like a line from one of those Victorian explorers. Richard Burton, or perhaps, Hugh Clapperton, sitting on a crate in camp on the African savanna.

This morning around 4:30, my fan started a familiar on-off tango. No necromancer could have offered a more reliable omen. A thunderstorm was on the way.

And so it was. For the next hour, we were treated to one of those shows only the tropics can produce. Lightning. Thunder. And a brief cascade of rain.

There was no hope I could sleep with the storm raging. These sound and light shows are far too entertaining to waste time in bed. And there was no hope of sleeping with the fan motionless and the humidity rising in my room.

So, I slipped on a pair of sandals and stepped outside just as a bolt of lightning zagged its way across the sky. Thor must have been very pleased with himself.

The great benefit of rain here is the precipitous drop of temperature and humidity outside. Had this first storm of the year arrived during the light of day, my neighbors and I would have been dancing in the street.

The downside of these storms is that whenever it rains, we lose electricity. I suspect the infrastructure is not up to handling the Southern Baptist experience of full water immersion.

But, once the rain stops, all of the conveniences of the 21st century return. Fans. Lights. And, of course, the internet. That is why I can write to you as the last rain drops are dripping from my landscaping. Otherwise, I would be stuck with my fountain pen and diary -- just like Burton.

Summer may not start officially for another five days. But the weather is not bound by a piece of paper on the wall. With this storm, summer is here.

May we have many more. Rainstorms, that is.