thirty nine steps I counted them …



That’s on top of the five hundred and eighty nine steps I counted them… or rather my neighbor, Richard Hannay, told me at the beginning of his story that he had counted them, vertical and up the outdoor centuries old cobblestone road to the Casas on Privada Diego Joseph Abbad at the top of the hill, after and on top of five hundred and fifty to six hundred and fifty vertical stone steps and a number of lateral steps on the stone paved road we must climb from Calle Lerin to the Casa, which is on a private street called Privada Diego Joseph Abbad. Add another hundred and fifty steps on the mild incline from Plaza Vasco de Quiroga at the bottom to Calle Lerin on the way. El Burro is only five hundred steps to where El Burro is garaged. The street construction on the way to where we live is undrivable. We go down to Quiroga and climb back nearly every day, once or twice, usually in my case with a bottle of wine. A day without wine is indeed a day without sunshine here this month as the winter and cloud cover has kept temperatures here around 55. Due to El nino the winter temperatures in Maine are considerably higher than here! Also we climb carrying the groceries we get daily at the local Mercado, which are fresh, inexpensive and very good eating and are certainly heavier than those dumb  bells females mainly are seen striding along swinging their arms with in the US. The walk with groceries is probably the best thing that ever happened to us, although we did not plan it that we would have this walk.

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We meet or pass some ten to twenty people climbing or descending on the way usually, and some thirty or so workers laying stones, making cement and positioning and laying stones in the road way which will be the street to our home. It seems remarkable. Grandmothers and grandfathers, my age, blankets around their shoulders and of indigenous origins, and young mothers carrying babies, with their other children in tow, aren’t troubled at all by the long climbs. And of course we walk along through the road work of the young laborers, paid daily five to seven dollars if I guess right. often in baseball caps and T Shirts announcing New York. What is remarkable is everyone without exception is cheerful and salutes with a buenos tardes or buenos dias. This is indeed a very cheerful and accepting place.

It is good personally to be free of running a business or equivalents of wage slavery (a lot better as it is than having no work). Perhaps I feel less guilty as again if I got it right the retirement age when some government help kicks in is fifty five in Mexico.

But on vacation we are now still slaves to the digital age. Both la Esposa’s and my credit cards for some reason stopped being accepted at ATMS and, Travellers Checks or checks no longer being acceptable, we had to change the few US dollars we had held in reserve at no a very good rate for pesos to keep going. Then the phone got hijacked somehow by Mexcell, or else it just got stircrazy and refused to roam, and would only say Google has stopped working. Overall fixing the problems took at least three days on the phone and trouble shooting.

Why Google has anything to do with an ATT phone I still don’t get. Fortunately we had just bought a local Mexico Internet connection for the laptop (which unless you take a day to study up on how to get around the default, taps into the local search engines only, meaning Google speaks Spanish unless, despite translation possibilities, you take a day to figure a way out of this default), the Internet provider had required, (even though we had a US ATT cell phone with $30 a month Mexico coverage), as part of the Internet package, that we hook up a land line. Meaning we had to buy a land line phone. Earlier we had declined to buy a phone. Now I raced around town to find one and bought it! There was no accessible local help.The local digital folks and bankers did not speak English and to the extent they did denied any responsibility. We reached both ATT and the Bank of America International help services, however, and their help was just great. They were 24-7 available and excellent at fixing and trouble shooting, although neither seems yet to have figured the source of the problems which are partially fixed and on which we are still working.


Looking back after a year, an interesting place. You cant as a professional or middle class person earn more than $30 a month, you get subsidies. No one is happy about it. The young see the larger world. How long will they put up with Castro’s regime now that he is dead. And yet Cuba does not suffer – yet – the excesses of tourist and modern contemporary development. Incredible old historic buildings. The sun is very hot. The people very pleasant. The city of Habana great but the streets frequently totally unclean. Good chess players here!! The Cuban experience with USSR now gone leaving them out in the cold, but the Russian presence still is here. Our good friend Ricardo had studied there and showed us about. Cubans went to fight wars with Russia, in Angola and their presence may have been decisive but many wounded and disabled and the pensions are almost nothing. Now a year later we are almost set to make a trip to ARchangelsk in Russia ….


Part of travel is making new friends, and sometimes rekindling old friendships. How quickly with distance we forget. Now here in Patzcuaro again we have rekindled our friendship with the local patron of the Mezcaleria, Beto, … And Arturo, who now for eight years holds yet the same table at Lupita’s on the Quiroga Plaza where he paints and sketches. ….. with whom I speak of master watercolorist, Tony Van Hasset, our neighbor in Maine … Explaining drawing to young kids. Same cap beret. …Two years hence to meet the same fellows as if, although it has, no time had passed at all and to pick up where things left off. ..
Throwing an I Ching before we left, advice was my friends are in the South West. Here we are.
And we have made new friends quickly. Our neighbor who introduced himself when we arrived and we found the street was closed to cars and who helped us move in up the hill when we arrived. He is very pro US having worked there a number of years but has hair raising stories of crossing the border illegally years earlier when one older companion died basically of thirst and when he himself, while running from the Border Patrol, was badly wounded by cactus spurs. Presently he drives Coca Cola truck between Patzcuaro and neighboring villages or towns, not an easy or enviable task over the mountain roads
He drives us to Madero, a Town NW of Mexico City, like most Towns well into the mountains. Francisco Madero, a visionary statesman and leader of the Revolution, who as President of Mexico paved the way for the adoption of the Mexico Constitution in 1917, was overthrown in 1913 and like too many Mexican statesmen assassinated by his opponents. There we visit the Hacienda where a friend of is grows the cactus from which Mezcal is made. He also distills it. We bought three (unflavored) kinds ofthe best Mezcal. I am told Mezcal is distilled from Maguay, a variety of the Agave cactus and Tequila just from the Agave cactus. Our new friend’s brother in law, a former Tai Kwon Do Mexican champion, (student of Dom Suk Kim), who also won tournaments in Las Vegas, Chicago and Cuba, has undertaken to instruct us in the sport.
We find a local language school, CELEP, and for about ten dollars a lesson for us both, have undertaken instruction in Spanish. Our instructor, a Puerhepeche artisan who learned to weave complex designs from her grandmother, is fluent in Spanish and English. Along the way, she introduces me to the works of Michoacan poet Amado Nervo (1870s to about 1920), whose poetry I look up on the Internet.
… And of course the same chess player, a British Columbian whose game has improved much more than mine has over the past two years, is here and spreads his canvas board across the table at the local café… And a new chess playing friend, available to play in the Square if he is not where more people are to be found as he begs his living, cheerfully. He reputedly supports a wife and two children, which is not surprising given his personal charm. Having no legs, a friend pushes him in his wheel chair.
Our friend, the retired lawyer for a number of Native American tribes, returns and regales me with more stories, of the present and his fight against a pipe line which is taking his land by eminent domain, or trying to, of the impact of oil fracking on local farms, and stories of the past, of his mentor and friend, Reuben Snake, an impressive Native American Activist and road man) of the 1960s and 70s.
Around the corner our neighbor opens up the garage to his house and cooks over a hot round tin in broth delicious tacos, beef, pork, onion, hot peppers, maybe pursuant to a secret recipe… all.
It being the season of celebrations of the Virgin of Guadelupe (December 12 to January 6) there are candle lit processions, it seems every evening, led by young girls happily enjoying their dress up as Angels, crowds of children and parents following, to sites where numerous prayers are cited, after which young kids struggle mightily to bang at and to bring down showers of sweets from the Pinyatas hung across the street, after which the festivities continue through the night. The Celebration of the Patron Saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadelupe, eclipses any Christmas celebration although a large Christmas tree is placed in the Square where Bing Crosby and Johnnie Mathis Holiday songs are often to be heard on the loudspeakers in the Square! There seem to be a number of inexplicable juxtapositions but one is foolish if he would deny the magical element to it all.
In the morning, rather early each morning, in addition to the deep ringing of the copper bells from many churches, calls to what we do not know, we hear, untranslated, a deep voice, resonating with the bells, repeating a phrase we cannot figure out, sounding almost like a morning Muslim call to prayer. Eventually our friend explains the mystery: “Oh, it is the Agua truck.” The driver bears five gallon jugs of water for sale, up, down and around the narrow streets, calling out “… Agua …Agua Purificado … Agua …” The melodious sound perhaps reminds the awakening dreamer, as well as of the need for physical water, of the words of the Persian Poet Hafiz:

“…Water of life dost seek?
Like Hoary Khizar know
The fount of that sweet life giving stream is love
The capital of everlasting life is love!”

Mexicans, here anyhow, surely like music! Indeed Mexicans seem to be quite constantly going to or about to be going to a party. Our friend Jorge, the Tae Kwon Do champ, introduces us to the music of Michoacan Province, of which Michoacans are very proud. One can find the Lilguerillas of Michoacan on the Internet, two ladies who have sang Michoacan love songs, campana songs, and not least the Cancon Palomas Mensajeras for many decades.
“Palomas Mensajueran devuelban a sunido. Siban al paraiso sobiebolando estanhay Michoacan.” I think are the opening lyrics.
The workers painstakingly having dug out, leveled, mixed and filled the excavation with cement, chiselled and laid each rock with painstaking detail and labor have almost finished the Escalaria 600 plus feet walk from the Square up to our Casa, a walk good for the heart in more than one way. Along the climb up as elsewhere in town, the presence of children keeps one young, I would venture that one making the walk will remain young forever, as he passes at least a dozen very pretty young mothers, their infants wrapped in their Rebosos, often followed or accompanied by gleefully smiling five to eight year olds, and three year olds. The little ones from two to five or six years old, often do not need a hand to hold, but make giant steps and easily handle the stone stairs. If needed, they hold the hand of an accompanying grand mother. One does not hear these elders, not a few septuagenarians like myself, complain of the climb. Nor often do they seem out of breath.

… All this may to some smack of a smug and romantic account of life in Mexico, especially viewed against the backdrop presented by hundreds of thousands of Mexicans facing daunting Immigration and deportation problems in the U.S., against the background of economic impacts in Mexico from devaluation of the Peso in response to raising interest rates by U.S. Banks, against the fact of criminal enterprises (which go so far as to assassinate Government officials rather often), stoked in part by modern day drug policy of prohibition, in the U.S., and against the background of alleged wrongdoing by foreign corporations from Monsanto to Canadian Railway Companies, and domestic Mexican corporations such as PEMEX, and against continuing reportage of significant levels of corruption.

This tourist, with superficial knowledge and extremely limited linguistic abililty over many months however never experienced a hint of crime, or corruption, or bribery or intimidation.  An American married to a Mexican here forty years said he had been stuck up three times and that is the worst this tourist heard of actually happening.

Recently it was reported in the news that Mexico’s wages are near the lowest in the Central American area.  At the same time it is estimated that sixty percent of the economy is informal, which I take it means cash.  My experience mostly in the informal economy is that Mexican President Nieto’s positive affirmation of Mexico as an emerging major force in the world economy and as an important and significant Friend to the U.S. is on the mark.



Our experience of Patzcuaro weather is it is generally a sunny farenheit 70s in the day and high 50s at night during the winter months. El Nino, the weather pattern this year has made it slightly cooler this year and our casa has not a lot of Eastern sun, which it is good to have. My chess playing friend stays at Hotel Rosa on the Gertrude Bocanegro square where he says the plastered walls absorb the sun and let out the heat best during the day.
We decide to take a week at the beach. This trip I will preview was great and involved wonderful swimming and sun, but as well involved serious rumination and consideration of whether we might invest in a Mexico winter home at the beach.

After a few unplanned turns, we ended up a three or four drive away from Patzcuaro in Playa Azul, a beach town in Michoacan Province, a short distance from the major port Lazaro Cardenas, whose namesake was a general in the Mexican revolution and statesman who served as President of Mexico from 1937 to 1944, and is noted among many other things, for establishment of the ejidos in the Mexican agricultural sector which gave communities and peasants ownership to land to grow crops on but did not give individual titles to land.

It is written that the ejidos are usually owned by a community of local people and the land is passed down from generation to generation within the communities which own the parcels. Pretty difficult although legal for a foreigner to buy such land. As a casual tourist it is hard to get a grasp on but a significant amount of work appears to be done on a collective basis and a significant number of real and personal assets and income to be shared on a collective basis.
To purchase sea front property was and is a tempting idea from the viewpoint of nothing ventured, nothing gained. According to what we are told and independent research land can be bought in Mexico on the beach provided the correct legal procedures and conditions are fulfilled.
To greatly oversimplify, we are led to believe that for land within 100 kilometers of the beach, foreign nationals may own through a fidecomiso (a trust) set up through a bank and which provides for ownership of the land in all but name. The trust holds the deeds to the property, and you and/or other named persons which you specify are sole beneficiaries to the trust (and therefore, the property). You have full rights to do whatever you like with your property: it can be developed (in accordance with local planning regulationsn- if any), rented, leased, sold, or given away. (MexExperience on the Web has a page describing Real Estate purchase and sale issues.)

Title to the beach property at present if we understood correctly still has to be in a Mexican’s name. This is not evidently a problem. They are happy to serve as title holders and make sure the property is not misused in the owner’s absence for a small fee.

The rules on ownership although evidently being liberalized are subject to complete change when a new government comes in.  (That is another risk factor) And although I have no idea if it is true, some said the Familia, (which either means equivalent to organized crime or just the local informal power structure) so called, can exercise considerable control and if they don’t like you, you may have to leave. So one might fear that if political changes suggest this land of yours should be taken and given to a developer, you may up the creek.

For this parcel we looked at, electric to the land is not there. The challenge can be solved if one has the ingenuity to put in solar power and or use a generator. We are told that solar power materials probably have be obtained in the U.S. and brought down to the site. There is water at this site we look at, but for drinking one has to build a tank for pure water. Evidently there is sewage.
Another consideration is that in a hurricane any structure would be at risk and on this property then back flows from inland water, where a river runs along the beach inland a few thousand meters, possibly bringing snakes and other life may be a risk. Perhaps this is all a bit paranoid but, although the jury is still out, it makes one think it might be safer to rent.  Also we learned a little bit about house building also. Extreme damage occurred during a hurricane in Playa Azul during the 1980s, according to one seemingly knowledgeable Canadian, because of the way Mexicans build. According to him, the iron reinforcement bars within the concrete most structures are made from is not built in as watertight as desirable and when assaulted by water and highly driven wet winds oxidizes. This appears to cause the concrete to crack and the structures to fail. Whatever the case may be, many buildings along the beach and in town appeared abandoned. In addition our new friends after they bought and built found their neighbor was putting in a restaurant which has quite loud music not infrequently.  So one must think twice anyway…. even though this is a beautiful place!

When we arrived in Playa Azul, we found a number of open hotels. While exploring and driving along the beach road we saw a sign for Copacabanas, which on the name alone I voted to stop at. It was as close to the New York City Night Club of the past, somewhere I had wanted to get off at, as I could get. It turned out a lucky bet.

For  $18 (US$) a night, we got a fine cabana with kitchen and upstairs bedroom, on the beach, with beautiful sunsets, the pounding sound of the breaking surf all day and night, warm water swimming, safe if one keeps close to shore (but not safe further out at all), wild palms swaying as if troubled in the wind, pelicans patrolling the beach to sweep down and grab in their long beaks their prey from the ocean. Magpies, crows with long tails and egrets also.

Nearby to Plaza Azul is Lazaro Cardenas – one of the two largest ports in Mexico and bigger than many in the U.S. One sees daily on the horizon three or more tankers and container ships, perhaps two football fields in length — or more —- from bow to stern (we estimated), at a time. We understand there are cargoes from North of calcium or chemicals used in mining iron ore and cargoes of iron and we do not know what else between here and China. According to some, there is significant cartel influence and money laundering in this area. (Given the history of the Longshoremen in the U.S. this makes some sense to me) Certainly the news has covered a number of shootouts between local cartels, Federal forces and vigilantes in the Province. Anecdotally a big company refusing to pay informal taxes on the goods it traded found its offices all disabled or destroyed one morning, and a town not agreeing to pay some tribute may find the truck taking its wares to the port destroyed, a weeks work or more for the whole town gone Up the road in the river we are shown five crocodiles. Down the beach a mile we are informed that sea turtles come in to lay their eggs which are protected by the local people.

the evening we swing in the hammock. We watch snipes, crows, haws, seagulls, other birds on the beach, and watch the Pelicans glide pass overhead. We watch the fishing boats, beached in the day, be launched by two or three fishermen in the evenng, and push their way through treacherous tides out to sea. They are mere lights in the night, which they spend with nets spread beyond the breakers and close to the horizon. In the morning they came in and we obtained fish for the days meals. There is much time to paint. Strangely, as far as we can see, the moon is full three nights in succession.  ….There are crocodiles in the nearby river! Sea turtles also lay their eggs just up the way …

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We have seen considerably more of Michoacan, including Caracuero, to which before driving us a week after, our friend walked on the 15th Visita to Al Senior de Caracuero, the Black Jesus, one hundred and twenty meters from Tacamboro through mountains and valleys to Caracuero. Two thousand people we understand made the walk, in the end many supplicants walking on their knees as they came to the Iglesia which holds the crucifix with the black Jesus. We drove, ourselves, or were driven by our friend, through (with apologies for getting some of these names wrong) Tacamboro, Cuesta del Toro, Arroya Frio, Arroya de Apo, Loma Larga, San Antonia, El Limon, Las Cocinai, Nocupertaro any many other towns, most not on the map, through Avocado growing country, grape orchards, corn fields, on country roads and main highway to Caracuero.
Also we have visited briefly almost all the villages around Lake Patzcuaro, also most not on the map, Uranda Isla, barely an Island in the Lake, Huecaro, Tzentzuntzen, Tocuaro, where we drank some Pulque, a beer derived from the Maguey cactus, San Bartolo, Juaracuaro, Francesco Uricho, Erongaricuaro where also a local variety of Mezcal is made, Opondio, Ichuipio and Tarerio, called Puerto la Cielo, as it looks across the lake into the mountains and broad sky. The restaurant, overlooking the lake, had pictures of the restaurant, and of the owner, who joined us after lunch, and her family. The pictures were from 1959… The women in bobbs and American skirts… The spirit of the pictures indicated, unlike the present where Americans fear to travel, a more prosperous time when tourists and travelers could be expected… We went on to towns I think named Puacuaro, Del Sandio, Chupicuaro, with good beaches on the lake, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Patanbicho, where two peninsulas run into the Lake, and which are called ”Ojos de Agua,” the eyes of the lake. Also again to Ihuitsio where a coyote statue is in the center of Town and where also the impressive pyramids are, and a town with the hardest name of all to get down, Ukasanaʹstacua. We understand that much of this land, separated by carefully constructed stone walls, and featuring many small herds of steers, bulls, cows, and vaqueros on horse or foot, is owned collectively.
The Towns each hold histories and mysteries of their own we do not know. The style of building in all these and other towns seems to follow the Spanish model. The buildings line the public streets, privacy secured by high walls and strong gates, more often than not iron, then inner private gardens, and lastly the homes. The Moorish influence brought with the Spaniards, in the cities is pronounced in the Arches and I am told other architectural aspects.
On arriving back from the tour, we passed again by the first statue one encounters on arriving in Patzcuaro, I think called Tanean as well as Rey Tarejaqui. Again I may have the name incorrectly. But the man in the statue was a famous warrior king of the Puerepechas and in the statute is clothed as was the custom in an impressive long cloak. Around 1520, he or his father or son, (my fault for not being able to read the plaque well enough), although humiliated by the Spanish invaders, saved his empire from the ravages inflicted on the neighboring Aztec empire by making peace with the invading Spanish.



They are very good people, Mexicans, In a very sweet way they work together and it is hard to deny them. And they know the lesson of surviving by helping one another. El Burro needs an oil change and has been making increasingly loud noises from the rear in a high register which La Esposa hears but I deny exist due to my finely tuned hearing aids. It seems convenient for new friend, who is courageous enough to drive a coca cola truck through the mountains for his work, to fix or take to his friend who deals with frenos to check out. It is local and my experience with dealerships has been not so good before we left.

So the collective picks up El Burro and changes the oil for us, gas filter allegedly but I don’t think so, air filter but it seems to be a bit expensive and it seems to me and for reasons I can’t figure out in Spanish conversation we are being billed for twice. The real issue is the noise, ruida, which they say is the brake sensor but sensors as far as I recall don’t make noise. It is the back brakes we keep saying that need attention when our friend says it is the front brakes and looking at our book on the car points out something incomprehensible to the layman. He is about to take El Burro to his friend to take the wheels off manyana to see which brakes it is so we are going to leave the car with our new friend.

We really like our new friend and do not distrust him but feel probably we are putting pressure on him to please us. It is hard to know a lot of things. La esposa persuades me that night that we should go to the dealer because it is the back she is sure the noise came from, and I am also in agreement. So next cay we make an appointment with Pepe or Paco at the dealership and drive the car to Morelia some thirty miles away and leave it at the dealer on Calle Lazaro Cardinez. I call up the next day to speak with Paco at the Jeep dealership at Lomas Las Americas and Secursal Calle Lazaro Cardinez, in Morelia, the address given on the bill from last trip and where I called. When we arrive, they welcome us and we are to be in contact the next day. My notes say Paco is the guy to call, same guy we dealt with a couple of years ago, but his name was actually Julio, which I don’t remember. After the vehicle has been there at the dealership a day and night, I call for Pepe, quite sure that is the name. They suggest it is Paco. “Who?” “Paco. “We will find him.” Paco: “What? Yes, I am at Lazaro Cardinez dealership. I remember you but we have no vehicle. We have no Grand Cherokee.”

I double check. I am calling the right number. I know very well I brought the vehicle in! Maybe I talked with Pepe? And Paco is saying, “Yes, maybe it is Pepe.”

After several calls, and mixed up conversations in the nature of the Mexican phrase, Revuelto or Revuelta, meaning something between bent and or scrambled, I figure out Paco or Pepe remembers me from the call to set up an appointment, but not from being there before. I am calling the right number, but is the wrong place, at the wrong end of Lazaro Cardinez.

It is the other dealership I had been to before and left the car at this time as well, but not the same dealership I had set up the appointment with this time and which I had called to findout if the car was ready and been told there was no such car. “That is what I told you from the beginning,” says La Esposa. We ask the phone number for the other dealership, which Pepe or Paco or whoever he is does not know. Instead whatever his name is offers to be our interpreter with the other dealership.

We call on our own and reach finally Julio who is the person we dealt with two years ago and this year when we left the car off as it turns out, but not the one I made an appointment with, which explains, says La Esposa why they were surprised this year when we arrive with El Burro. Julio’s dealership is, like Paco’s either on or near Lazaro Cardinez, the same street, but the other end. I am relieved that, Yes they have the car and not so happy to hear, it is the rear brakes and they are all screwed up. We have El Burro back from the Collectivo, sweet guys as they in fact are, and a major bill to pay ahead and we feel more secure.

And yes we signed up for Spanish lessons today.

the Virgin of Guadelupe


We arrived in Patzcuaro in time for December 8, a festive day of the Virgin of Guadelupe, a particularly Mexican saint of which much is written among other places on the Internet, who stands high above the Altar in the dome of the Vasco de Quiroga Basilica, which along with side chapels has many golden niches in which Jesus, in various stages of his life, saints, monks, and some others are presented in full relief.

Our friends took us to the 4 AM to 8 AM Service, about 3:20 AM so we could get a seat after a bit of hot fruit Ponche outside, made by indigenous women. The noise from Town of drumming and a local variety of rock music downtown, which broke for an occasional thirty seconds now and then, pretty much assured we stay up all night, as far as I can figure, along with the whole town, the night before.

This mass is specially for protection of health during the coming year, healing and travel. An entire drum and bugle corps started the ceremony and then a full Mariachi band joined in, assisted by a lot of firecrackers outside.

Indigenous people from the surrounding Pueblos, among others, come to the service, apparently some walking three miles or more, and the Basilica was filled to full capacity, not even standing room, before long, the entrances of various groups sometimes heralded by balloons, drums or other festivity. I am told that the layering of Roman Catholicism of Mary, mother of God, onto the local earth or maize Goddess is a fact and the maize Goddess retains significance among the indigenous.

As I remember from years ago, the Mexican churches are very welcoming and open, children play, and many folk sit at or walk to and around the altar. A goodly number of women and some males prostrate themselves and walked the aisle on their knees to the chancel around the altar throughout the service. One stately very straight backed woman with ancient features as if out of Mongolia is clad with a floor length green cape hand embroidered with golden stars. The faith and music is touching and eventually brings tears to my eyes. I am unchurched but think the Virgin of Guadelupe is also called Stella Maris, the star who guides sailors and mother of God who intercedes even for non Roman Catholics over seas, but what I don’t know is immense. This perhaps reflect that I don’t undertand more than a few words in the service.

Only one local dog showed up for the service but seemed to have an excellent time strolling about. After the service, very impressive horses, ridden by local Vaqueros pranced and danced in front of the Basilica and Mummers some eight feet or twelve feet tall also danced outside and then into the Basilica. A second mass under the supervision of the junior priest was about to begin.


THE PASSAGE OF TIME – December 2015

The friends we made were not, of course, Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata, the great pictured heroes of Mexican history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. But forty five years ago, when I visited Mexico first, I recall drinking in the Cantinas with Mexicans dressed in the same customary white pants and shirt, instead of the brand named shirts and caps of today, and who wore sombreros not baseball caps.

Forty five years ago there was still the el paseo, where eligible young Mexican women, walked around El Zocalo and young men passing the other way could greet them and sit chaperoned on the side of the square and talk. The beauty and attraction of the deep eyed, dark skinned, long black haired and essentially modest young women of Mexico has not changed although with Western dress today it is even more apparent. (La Esposa says something along the same lines about Mexican males)

… Then there was no war on drugs as it exists today, and I could go with friends, made playing chess in the Zocalo, into the countryside where freshly picked psylocibe mushrooms, the root network of which can spread as many as five miles under ground, could be eaten This in a society that is probably considerably less drug oriented than the U.S. These substances are reported to have been around since the earliest times. Those varieties activated by psyilocybins are reported to have been used in every Mesoamerican civilization as a spiritual ally. The realizations in the realm of non ordinary reality they may induce today, as then, are extraordinary. Indeed, scientific studies are being published today corroborate the physical and mental benefits these substances can potentiate. Yet now in the US even more than forty five years ago, the conventional wisdom seems deaf and blind to the dimension of knowledge psilocybin experience reveals. Conversation here suggests that the proposition is more easily accepted in Mexico that that the stories associated the psylocibin experience viewed as science fiction today will be the science of tomorrow…

There is a difficulty today in keeping current with this blog, now that we have already arrived in the mountain town of Patzcuaro, Michoacan. We are above 7,000 feet over sea level here at Patzcuaro, We are again experiencing the Shangri la atmosphere of this magical place. What came before, the earlier weeks blend together. … Being here is enough. Why write?

Getting here was a worthy challenge. On the way, we were 8,000 feet above sea level, making drives which tested our intestinal fortitude.

During the day when we had threaded our way down the Mountain Route 175 from San Jose to the Pacific we had an incredible fish soup in Pachutla, the larger inland town of which Puerto Angel is a part, a large market town, active and bustling. One had to be careful to pick the small bones out.

I am told that Puerto Angel surely is not what it was twenty years ago, let alone forty five years ago, but it remains much as it was two years ago, and a place I would recommend and to which I will return.

The first night in Puerto Angel, we stayed for $400 pesos one night in Hotel Seroya in the center of town in a lovely suite overlooking the harbor of Puerto Angel, and had great meals at the two beach restaurants on Playa Pantheon which is on one side of the fishing harbor and a lovely beach. We were the only people there except one Italian student. The tourists do not arrive in mass until winter.

After a one night stay at Hotel Saroya, in Puerto Angel we confirmed our old landlord there whom we had contacted earlier of our arrival. He had led us to believe the house on the road to the lighthouse would be available. We found out it was not. So he rented us quarters for one week at Zipoleti Beach, the biggest beach and the one for which Puerto Angel is known. Our first day in our new quarters, after the night of a new moon, (when, as is their habit I gather) el scorpion looking for a mate, greeted us. We are informed that ordinarily they are scared to go outside when the moon light is strong.

Somehow during the week we remained in Puerto Angel El Scorpio’s possible reappearance interfered with our sleep, which was still scarce enough. Even at the beach for a week, the prior months and years of the protestant work ethic in which we lived left us with an unshakable subliminal apprehension that if we enjoyed an afternoon siesta, for example, the sleep police from Estados Unidos would not onlhy not save us but would arrest us because we were or might turn into something undesirable.

The tide continues to thunder in relentlessly at Zipolete, one of the many, many miles long Mexican Pacific beaches, and the sun continues to fade each evening into a horizon of blue grey clouds and a pale orange sky. Swimming at Zipoleto, especially when the surf was down, was much superior to but something like having a warm bath in a really giant outdoor jacuzzi. On the beach, a traveling vendor, having with a swift chop of the machete decapitated the head of a coconut and in my presence added rum to the juice that filled the inside of the coconut, had little difficulty getting me to purchase for far too steep a price a coco loco.

Again our beach of choice to swim at was not Zipolite but the much smaller cove of Esta Cahuite which is on a side road to the road into Puerto Angel and where, aside from some cavorting Mexican youth, a young Spanish artist on vacation and no others shared the beach with us. Today unlike during the past visit we made, the road from the highway down to Estacahuite has construction on both sides, potential new homes or hotels. I fear we have seen the best of this treasured secret.

Having unconsciously gritted my teeth and clenched my jaw during the mountain driving, consequences followed that made me bless readily available Excedrin, on which I lived thereafter for a full week.

Notable to us in Puerto Angel is the now newly completed Cell Tower near El Faro – the light house – at a house on the road to which two years ago we had stayed. Internet Service, Cell Phones and the Internet are now as common in much if not all Mexico as in the U.S. Times have changed and are changing at an exponential rate.

On the seventh day, we left Puerto Angel, and drove North along the Pacific Coast toward the busy port of Lazaro Cardinez in Michoacan province. We were planning to stay in Puerto Escondido and then Zijuatenao before making the last leg of the trip inland to Patzcuaro, but – after driving through both Pacific towns – stayed at neigherdid not. There were hotels and each was on the ocean. But one got the impression each was greatly over developed… Lots of traffic, lots of building, lots of houses… One wonders what the impact of over population, over fishing and the tourism of which we are a part may be for the fragile coast line. Inadvertantly we also drove through Acapulco, along the beach highways, lined by high rise resort hotels, at this time of year seemingly without clients. I imagine it is a lot like Miami.

After finding Zijuataneo not to our taste (which may be biased and uninformed), we thought to stay at the next coastal town, Ixtapa. We found again a long stretch of new road, remindful of Huatulco, the government national resort in Oaxaco where we spent a night two years ago, and again there were many high rise resort hotels stretching along roads to invisible beach.

We drove on. Interestingly, along the stretch in one small town, evidently devoted to oil production, there were a couple of road signs for “Neuroticos Anonymous.” We thought we would fit right in but did not have time to stop.

The coastal road from Acapulco to Puerto Angel frequently declares, in large signs featuring the Gobernor, it is being improved (meaning presently changes with no discernible rationale from two lane paved road to one lane dirt road) so probably before long, the road will be an easily driveable.

One of the two evenings we spent on the next leg of our journey, from Puerto Angel up the Coast from the Province of Oaxaco, through the Province of Guerrero, to Michoacan Province and to the Town of Patzcuaro – we stayed at one Hotel Munez in Magdelana. We had no idea where to stay but it was in town, along the route, and one that if we stayed at, we could avoid night driving. La Esposa asked the woman on the upstairs front escarpment of the hotel how much for a room. Two Hundred and Fifty Pesos the owner replied, so we drove in. Her son came out and showed me a room on the bottom floor, but with an unmade bed and obviously recently occurpied. I did not ask him the probable hourly rate but asked in halting Spanish, “Have you not even got a clean room?” The owner quickly came downstairs and showed us to the second floor, which had highly polished floors and was very clean, and a room with a king size bed, a TV, airconditioning, and good furnishings. We took the second floor room – same price.

The next evening, as we drove onward North along the Pacific, again we kept on too long and it got too dark comfortably to drive further. We did not want to drive at night and we did not want to have to stay in the big port town of Lazaro Cardinez. We opted to stop at the first town we could. Soon on the side of the highway, a sign on a large Archway announced that this was the entrance to the Town of Marqueza. Nearby was a police station, and a bus stop. Under and beyond the Arch an unpaved road stretched darkly into the night. A Truck driver who spoke some Inglese told us there were two hotels down that road where we could find the town, but who, thinking we guess that we were Acapulco types, allowed they were nothing we would want to stay in,. We said we did not care how big the hotel was. Eventually when we arrived in the town, no one seemed to know of a hotel. I think Posada is the word I needed. Eventually a gentleman walking down the street indicated in Espagnol that indeed there was a hotel some number of streets up the hill and some number or blocks to the right or was it left?

After driving up the hill and in a number of circles from one edge of town to the other, we found a tattered sign leading into the yard of the Hotel Texas, where a very friendly and enterprising young woman showed us a few rooms, one for $200 and one for $300 pesos a night, the latter of which had air conditioning. The owner’s smiling young son showed us our room, (which was cheerfully painted in colors of watermelons and of the ocean), turned on the hot water, and gave us a padlock for the door. I felt like discussing with him the Indian movie, the Very Best Marigold Hotel, but we shared not much language in common and I don’t think he quite fit the projection I was making onto him of the movie’s protagonist. We had a good night’s sleep.

Progressing from the Hotel Texas on the final leg of the trip to Patzcuaro, we reached a new Cuota, or modern toll highway just before Lazaro Cardinez, which leads inland from the Coast up to the Michoacan cities of Uruapan, Patzcuaro and Morelia. This highway is not yet clearly on the map This new autopista so called makes the trip from the coast inland to Patzcuaro, a drive through beautiful mountainous and lake country side, a trip easily done in less than a day. As we progressed, we noticed both a very large electro power plant nestled in the hills and also the beginning of pine forests out of which most of the houses in Patzcuaro are built.. After the earlier perilous mountain driving, I much appreciated the new road on this stretch, but also selfishly fear the ready availability of travel to Patzcuaro it brings.

While some of the journey to date seems to have been just hard work, long driving and tedium, it has also been amazing. For example, while to us, Zijuatenayo and Escondido, seem now to be but charming seaside places of yesterday, we also passed along the way and did not explore many new unknown hidden beaches we could have, by driving fifteen or twenty miles off on unmapped side roads to the Pacific, probably found small villages and as yet undiscovered beaches. And every day, hearing and attempting to get along in the unfamiliar Spanish tongue makes what may be hum drum interesting. As has been noted in the history of music, the nature and structure of the romance languages carries with it an emotional and romantic content very different from the Germanic and English languages to which as an American I am accustomed. …



The decision to drive isn’t taken lightly. I wanted and want to paint and to bring my easel and paints with me and in the end that tipped the scale.


Nice new car to go in with almost no miles.  Maybe ought to fly …

From Maine on the border with Canada to San Cristobal Chiapas on the border of Guatemala where we have just been is three thousand miles anyway. So check out your car first. El Borro our 2002 Jeep Cherokee. We went for a check up at the local dealer. No way is it safe to drive they said for $150. 163,000 miles on it then. Trade it in on a new car. Our local mechanic put $1500 in the exhaust and some other items and it has driven absolutely (almost) perfectly. Of course it is pretty dull being on the highway all this time, some seventeen days so far. You have to like to drive. We also took the East Coast gulf route as far as Vera Cruz which is not mountainous or full of zig zags on the mountain’s edge. Auto also allows one to pack up things it might be hard to ship or carry, like easels and paints and for a long trip, six months we plan, enough clothes. On the coast it is warm but in San Cristobal it is pretty cool, high enough to be in the clouds mostly. And it is a great way to find time to listen to audio books. Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, a historical drama of vast proportion about planters and slaves and revolution in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti and then Louisiana in the late 1700s and Great Books How to Understand Classical Music have made for an interesting trip. Also one can vary one’s plan.



Anticipating driving in Mexico…Do i really want to?

Crossing the Border at McAllen Texas you get across, noone asks for your passport or anything and you find you are in Mexico but it is a kind of a ten mile no man’s land. You can’t bring a car in without insurance and if you don’t have it and have an accident you wait in jail for the case to be done, I am told. [A situation I am sure most any of the 130,000 undocumented illegal immigrants trapped and living in the “golden cage” of the Rio Grande Valley between the Mexican American Border and unable to move beyond one hundred miles north and the 300 Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California Checkpoints for fear of deportation or other consequences if caught.



So my friends go to Sanborn’s the preeminent insurer which has insurance outlets close to every crossing. ($300 for basic liability for us) Once across there is a sign on a building somewhere you probably will see if you are looking out for it a sign for Immigracion but it is easy to miss and I guess you get picked up fifty miles down the line and have to come back. There after paying $300 you get back only if you return with the car you get a six month tourist visa. This is not very hard but still once you are across the border not many people speak much English at all. The basic words are similar in both languages but the speaking only deceptively similar. It is good to have a phrase book or dictionary or both. And of course a map or maps. We have a Garmin Nuvi GPS but it is all mixed up in the cities and the familiar voice leads one on wild goose chases to streets it says you are on but which don’t exist and when they are for real they are one way the wrong way so you could not take them if you wanted. Not a lot of help.


The Ancient Pyramids of San Antonio, Texas

Best to have some pesos before you cross the border as it is not always so easy to find somewhere trusttworthy immediately to change American money. The exchange rate now is good, 16 pesos to the U.S. dollar. (Although prices seem to have gone up in Mexico to keep them actually the same) Travelers checks no longer good. So get a City Bank or Bank of America credit card. You can then make withdrawals on your American account at the correspondent Mexican Bank ATM. But make sure your American Bank knows you are going to be using your travel bank card ahead of time or the ATM machine will have an automatic block with requires some real time on the phone with the Bank’s international help number to fix. Also your cell phone won’t work out of the country unless before you go you add a plan for the country you will be in. ‘There is a code to call go the US, “00″.

And of course before you leave, there are a lot of other plans to make like where to board your dog and cat. Plan on your loyal friend who says she will take your dog to tell you at the last minute she can’t and have a Plan B. And of course there is the taking care of the house issue. Last trip where this blog broke off in 2014, we had a lovely guy take care of the house, his only job to keep the freezers plugged in. Of course he did not and we lost $3.000 plus on organic lamb we had been freezing from our sheep …


Swaying coconut palm trees, cattle ranches, a long highway ahead, and behind.

Lots of oil refineries in towns on the Gulf. … Not for the coconut oil, which is also plentiful and great for hair and skin and very much available … The first day we made it to Tampico. An oil refining town, and busy and hard to get into at night. They say not to drive at night at all in Mexico so best start planning where to stop and find a place by 4pm.

Spreading Jacaronda trees, generously broad at the top, with red blossoms. Under this natural ceiling, everyone who does not have a double length tractor trailer truck or who is not driven by taxi or three wheel tuk tuk has a motor bike, darting in and out and around.

Sugar cane fields …


Not Unytypical driving situation

The next day we made Miniatitlan and neary Cuatzacualcos where we spent one night. Very indigenous population but very industrial town. Seems very hard working. We kept driving too long and have to come into town to find a motel or hotel after dark. Kind of like driving into the outskirts of New York City. First getting in, many streets going one way, a lot of sound all the time, horns, beeps, radio music, and the recurrent loud speaker vehicle. Finding a hotel with safe parking for a car not too hard but not to easy either, especially on a weekend. However, once found, the accommodation usually was good, with breakfast, desayuno, to boot.

Eventually we got to Vera Cruz and stayed again at El Faro Hotel, The owner, remembered us from two years ago very well. One of these gentlemen with a charming smile that registers for a long long time. It was good to see him again. We had breakfast at the famous La Paroquia, full of families eating with relish and fervor as Marimba players and other musicians feted anyone willing to pay a few pesos, all before murials depicting the pre colonial and colonial history of Mexico – on the one hand, battles and soldiers, and on the other an underworld of skeletons, virgins being served up for rape and bestiality, representing the Republic (about 1910?) I think and its fight for independence – pretty gruesome. When you tap your glass at La Paroquia a fellow comes by an pours first coffee and then milk from the spout of his pot a foot above down into your cup. As depicted, about the year 1500 Hernando Cortez set up headquarters here in Vera Cruz in his ongoing conquest of the country. There is a great fortress prison. The natives were not treated well. As we drove south from Vera Cruz we remained undecided whether to head to Merida, in the Yucutan at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and bordering Belize, or to San Cristobal de la Casas, Chiapis more Westerly and bordering Guatemala on the Pacific Coast. The earlier morning experience of incredibly good coffee at La Paroquia was followed by another liquid delight – fresh Pina, frozen Ice cold pineapple juice in plastic jugs – the taste not broken by any processing – bought and sold from the field on the cuota also in bags with straws at speed bumps also called Reductors, at which you practically have to slow down to very close to a complete stop or wreck your shock absorbers and maybe more.


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Entrances perhaps to the Underworld of the Maya 900 to 1200 modern era)

We stopped at the Tajin Mayan archeological site on the way. It is worth seeing. Aside from four guys spiraling down on ropes from a very high pole who charge 100 pesos to watch, the ruins themselves are impressive. The recesses in the great structures perhaps were gates to the complex underworld of the Mayas, this being one of their northern most areas of control. A great king ruled the whole Yucutan and Chiapas and the Peninsula and groups that spoke 127 different languages, having people run fresh fish from the coast to mountain to him. The classic period is 900 AD to 1200 AD, although less anthropocentric symbols than AD and BC are now used. Which makes sense as these guys had a civilization ranking our miserable orders of the 12th century in Europe. …A complex culture still being discovered about which about as much information is available as if we based our Western history on Pilgrim’s Progress and a few suriving cathedrals… The Mayan peoples are by our standards rather short, often not much over five feet tall. And have what we would consider baby faces. But they were pretty fierce, having over eleven ball fields at Tajin, where the players played with skulls for balls reputedly and if a team was of captured enemies, beheading the losers. And of course a ritual space is there for cutting the hearts out of living victims, the reward being they got a free ticket to heaven. Despite the promised reward, older and respected guys like me reportedly had to hold their arms and legs down during the ceremony. It adds a dimension to the popular Roman Catholic posters showing Jesus’ heart open and beating.

We decided instead of taking the Gulf Atlantic Coast down to Merida to take the Pacific coast up, putting off further research into the Maya, whose descendants people the Yucatan today. However, the decision was tentative and we went first to San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chiapis, where the Maya also lived. The ultimate choice to take the Pacific route up and not go to Merida was not to avoid any residue of the rituals of prior times but because the more subtle attack by Montezuma’s revenge hit and we figured the beach was a better place to get better than the jungle. The American remedies I had brought helped, but a Mexican Pharmacist gave a much stronger red pill remedy which worked wonders. It is a good idea to bring extra garbage bags and underwear on any trip, more than you think you will need …



Sometimes travelling down this flat close to jungle plain The Gulf coast with the cacophanous music in the towns at night, trucks with loud speakers advertizing candidates and goods of all kinds-loudly – trailer trucks passing, double length like great caterpillers. In front and in back squeezing you to pass when you don’t know what’s ahead. Vulcanizing shops by the hundred, radiator repairs, brake repair shops lining the road at the entrance to every town, mechanico taller signs. Taller does not seem to be in my dictionario? I should be grateful at the great performance of the jeep, but it all seems repetitive, and the fact it is almost impossible to communicate details when one hasn’t learned Spanish.

Ah well, if the Beloved wants us to let go and see beyond our blinders, one would be a fool not to. Even though your narrator, Don Wimpy, at the onset of nonstop diarrhea quite debilitated has his doubts.


The Maya are generally short of stature but make up for it also in unparalleled ability to weave.

In a Country where the worst of the cities still have streets full of pastel colored houses it is hard to remain depressed long.



The road to San Cristobal is a bit windy and a long way up hill to 7,700 feet above sea level. We passed some serious accident sites, one where a truck carrying some eight to fifteen cars had run off the road.

San Cristobal has itself become a sizeable place. Here as always, tourist traveler friends, head for the Centro Historico first. It is the real center of town.

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We found a great family hotel in San Cristobal. Most of the hotels are family hotels. It was called Miramar on Avenue Panaiagua. I took a good walk to find Santander Bank ATM and within four blocks was lost. It took three passes at 30 pesos each to get back to the Hotel, the street location of which I had forgot. Hard to find as taxi driver could not get my pronunciation of anything. San Cristobal is great for buying hand woven shirts, dresses, done in the style done by the weavers’ mothers and grandmothers before them. It is also a very beautiful town. We wished we could drive on and into Guatemala but not for now on this trip. Much to see we did not.

From San Cristobal we headed up the Pacific Coast to Puerto Angel where we had been before and has the curative beaches where the Pacific Ocean pours in in great breakers of luke warm water. Just short of Puerto Angel, passage on the road was blocked, for two days. We were in line with tractor trailers, cars, taxis, all. Apparently there were some armed troublemakers up the road. No one knew just what. Happily we found a motel and had a one night stay. Down the way we stopped for Tacos and Desayuno where we met some friendly Australian youth who were traveling as far as money and time would allow and headed to Guatemala. They had just come down from San Jose del Pacifico. Based on their story, we drove backward to Salina Cruz, and up inland to Oaxaca (Benito Juarez), a good day’s trip, and after stocking up on Mezcal at Matatlan, stayed again at a wonderful hotel in Mitla just before Oaxaca, where they served a great meal, and great Oaxaca coffee. This was much better than the first hotel in town we found but we stopped early enough to look around this time. We had seen the Mitla ruins before so headed on the next morning. And we headed to San Jose to Oaxaca taking 175 West, the back or inland route to Puerto Angel, our earlier frustrated objective. The road from Oaxaca to San Jose and on to Puerto Angel as well is sinuous. Just when you think you have stopped going up and are going down, or leveling out, you go up again. On any one of the countless hairpin curves, unexpectedly another vehicles appears in the opposing lane coming around the curve toward you, so you hang on and go at ten miles an hour not looking at perhaps the yard of two between the edge of your lane and a yawning chasm into the beautiful valley spreading below. Eventually we are driving literally into the clouds. Lights on. This is definitely driving where two hands on the steering wheel is important.


First we pass through San Bartolo,on Route 175, which lives up to its reputation as a center for Black Pottery, clay burnished with great effort and using certain things in the fire. There is a market called Negro Barra full of these items.

About 8.000 feet above sea level into the clouds

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We arrive at the mountain village of San Jose del Pacifico where the famous mushroom curandero Maria Sabena lived until her death in the 1980s. Psychedelic Mushrooms for sale are openly advertized for sale and legal as part of the culture we are told by a local guide a decade younger than me, former diver, chiropractor, tourist guide, now guide for lack of better word, who the next day we join for the Tamazcal healing ceremony involving burning wood to heat stones placed in the center of a sort of igloo (like I guess a Native American sweat lodge) and dipping various plants into already prepared plant teas then patting them on the hot stones to steam …… It is rather dark and claustrophobic at first… and preparation of the hongos He would have us meditate on inner time rather than wrist watch time… We are a mirror of the clouds, the animals, nature and they don’t need a watch… This season is not a great one for mushrooms but perhaps more of that later.

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Between this ceremony and the focus on driving, I have slowly lost much stress from the responsibilities of work accumulated over the past few years. I am ready to follow the repeated advice of Manuel, the family hotel owner in San Cristobal to RELAX, even when we left behind esposas passport at the Hotel when we first left. It was under some covers and having done the final check before leaving. And later another mishap when her money belt with all in it, (which hooked together badly) somehow got lost and appeared maybe magically outside the hotel door in Tonala, another one night on our path.


If Manana is good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.

Although the welcoming committee at the beach in Puerto Angel included a scorpion sitting on top of the mop in our accommodation and a cockroach in the shower, the luke warm surf and beautiful beaches from Zippolito ( heavy surf, some nudies, unfortunately it seems only gay males) to Esta de Cahuite (best of all) are simply great. I am already quite used to the tropical rhythm, sleep late, get up, do what has to be done, like buy fish, a bottle of wine or beer, maybe go to ATM, have a nap, go to the beach, swim to the heart’s delight, make an effort to paint, come home, maybe read or write, then sleep. we succeeded so far in learning a lot about Scorpions. There are a lot of these fellows in Mexico. Mostly they keep to themselves. But if you don’t want them around keep the door closed (so they don’t crawl in and bleach the floors. They also don’t like Lavender we learn. ) But the alternative approach is you can make scorpions pets and send them to your friends. I can think of a few people I would love to introduce the scorpion to, one in particular. Ours got away before we could get ahold of him and probably we would have and will if he shows up again hit him with a shoe. We have made a couple of friends of the human variety too, one young Italian and one young Spaniard travelling the world at their leisure …