Camino Gear

As promised, here is my follow up post on the gear we plan to take when we walk the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied-de-Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in May.

First, here’s the photo layout:

Now here is what you see. Starting in the upper left corner (and moving clockwise) is my pack, an Osprey Kestrel 48. This is an overly-large pack for the Camino, but it fits me well, and if we need extra room I have it. On top of it is a Venture ID bag for our passports and camino credencial, the document which identifies us as pilgrims and gets us into albergues. Next is a Melt travel roller, a lightweight device for stretching; on top is my Diamond red light headlight, and below it is a pair of Keen travel slippers.

Moving due right is a soap/wash solution and the Brierley guidebook, and slightly right and up from that is a large travel towel (folded) with a pair of walkie-talkies. Above that is my emergency caffeine kit (24 packets of starbucks instant coffee), which is all that is standing between me and disaster if Judy needs a coffee fix some morning!

In the upper right corner is an Osprey 2 liter water bladder which fits into my pack with a drinking tube right to my face. Below left is a lightweight set of stuff sacks, a cocoon brand mummy liner (sleeping bag liner, no bag), a set of lower leg protectors (keeps rain/pebbles out of our boots) and an electric travel adapter. In the lower right corner are my Cascade adjustable hiking poles and gloves.

To the left is my lightweight, collared travel shirt and a long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, with my toiletries bag on top of them. Next left is a pair of running shorts which double as swim trunks, then my other detachable hiking pants and short-sleeve shirt. Curling back in to the center are two more pairs of quick-drying travel underwear and two sets of travel socks and silk liners. Above that is an over-the-pack rain poncho, and to the right is a Cool-rag brand towel, a travel utensil kit, and a blacklight flashlight.

And that’s it.

Not pictured are a small Android tablet and phone, and one set of gear I will be wearing (t-shirt, Keen hiking shoes, merino wool socks with silk liners, detachable hiking shorts/pants, quick-dry travel underwear).

Most of the gear is self-explanatory. We bought lightweight, quick-drying  equipment because (1) we’re carrying everything, and (2) you wear one pair, wash those when you are done for the day, then wear the other pair. We tried to get gear which is multi-purpose, like the detachable shorts or the running shorts/swim trunks.

Some things are unique. The Cool Rag is a towel which stays cool and moist in its container: on hot days you pull it out to cool off. The black light is great for identifying bed bugs, a nemesis when staying in dormitories. We found Melt rollers a necessity to recover from hard workouts. The headlamp is great for early morning (dark) starts, and can be used inside an albergue in the red light mode (without disturbing other sleepers).

We probably don’t need the 2 liter water bladder, and on some legs I won’t fill it, but it is a nice emergency item for us (or other pilgrims).

In yet another follow-on post, I’ll cover what I anticipate a camino day to be like.

Camino veterans, or those who are just meticulous planners, if you see something missing, please ask about it in the comments section!

A little Whiplash

So during the last 10 days, we left our relatively perfect lakeside weather for a quick Stateside trip.

First, we spent a cold snowy weekend near Cincinnati. We had pre-staged some cold weather gear there, so I was able to hit the sledding slopes with my Grandson Ian.

Sledding in my Hannibal Lecter outfit

We hopped over near to Baltimore, where it was even colder! There wasn’t enough snow to sled or make a snowman, but there was a steady wind. I didn’t stash as much weather gear. The granddog didn’t even want to go out for a walk at night. But Grandson Henry and I did get to build a fort out of the sectional couch, and defend it from the beasts (Granddaughter Quinn and Granddog Rufus) outside the walls.

Baltimore: not charming!

That cheap flight I mentioned last post got us to Playa del Carmen, where we thawed out. We were the only tourists NOT complaining about the cloudy weather with occasional rain, as the temps were all 70 degrees and up.

Beautiful view from the balcony, but notice the missing Sun
So we were forced to eat French food indoors (sigh)

Not looking for any sympathy, just noting what it is like on the road.  I do claim my “winter credentials” for another year! Winter is a season best only visited.

Whither the Weather

We had our annual poor weather one week ago, when the overnight temperatures plunged to the high 40s while the daytime highs still lingered around 70 degrees. We even had a Saturday which was overcast with some rain in the middle of the dry season! Which led me to fact-check one of the best arguments for living lakeside: the incredible weather.  Having spent almost an entire year lakeside, I feel I can now make a better analysis of the “world’s 2nd best climate.”

Let’s start with the biggest statistical category: beautiful days. About 80% of the time, I wake up and make my plans without considering the weather in any way. I take my dog out for a quick walk in the dark at 6:45 am while still in my pajamas, because, well it’s dark and the weather won’t matter (and no, there are no pictures; you can thank me later).

If we’re in the rainy season, I know the rain may be intense, but generally not last long. If we are in the dry season, it may seem chilly (50 degrees, remember, I am in my PJs!), but once the sun comes up it will warm up considerably, around 70 degrees at least. You don’t need a coat, or a sweater; you may want a hat or sunscreen, but that is about all.

What about the rest of the time? About 15% of the time it gets a little too warm and dry. This is at the end of the dry season, especially the month of May leading into the first few weeks of June, when the rains return. Temperatures can get into the 90s, with a blazing sun. Humidity remains low, so it is not too uncomfortable, but the sustained heat really warms up the brick-and-stucco casas, which will continue to bake for an hour or so after sundown. The predictable weather pattern makes this time of year a favorite for travel away from lakeside.

The final 5% is too cold, generally in short bursts in December or January. Once again, the thick house walls act to insulate, this time keeping it a little cooler than outside temperatures in the late morning. Now when I say too cold, let me admit this is VERY relative.  During any cloudy or cool day in the dry season, you can see Mexicans wearing ski vests, hoodies, or coats and gloves. Long time expats complain of “thin-blood” and similarly break out sweaters, long pants, and coats. You can easily identify the recent arrivals (like me) by our short-sleeves; new expats from the Great White North even sport year-round shorts and sandals (with white socks, natch!).

We still have no means of heating our home; we do have a nifty heated mattress pad, which means we get a toasty warm bed in winter. As I mentioned last post, we are putting in mini-split air conditioners in our living room and master bedroom, just for those few hot weeks. We have some warmer clothing which is mainly for travelling back to the States. That is all the accommodation to inclement weather we’ve made.

Whether our weather is the “second best in the world” or not, after a year I am prepared to say it is not an exaggeration to call it amazingly comfortable. What stands out is that any semblance of regular weather (say rain or wind or humidity) is so surprising as to require notice. Otherwise, it is just right.

One final note: I thought about including some photos of how folks dress around here, but then thought better of it. No one wants to be famous on the internet as an example of peculiar sartorial splendor!

A walk on the mild side

My dear wife Judy normally posts pictures on FaceBook from our weekly hikes through lakeside, but I asked her to share the shots from our most recent walk with me so I could offer some commentary here. Yesterday we jaunted almost 16 miles with backpacks, and here are some of the more unusual sights we saw.

On our way into town, we ran across some local celebrities: Vino Blanco and Martini, two burros who live at Yves restaurant, out for a morning walk. They are the subject of numerous local artists, but were kind enough to let us play paparazzi and photograph them!

W crossed the plaza, which was preparing for day 3 of the festival of San Andres. More on that holiday in another post.

This is Albert, a local crooner at several restaurants. We had breakfast while listening to him.

If you look closely in the background, you’ll see a man mowing the very little grass he has in his yard.  In the foreground, he is being carefully supervised by his brace of ducks, which have found safety in a corner.



This dog was out-cold, sprawled across the walkway. When Judy got her camera out, he jumped up and gave her the stink-eye. He seemed to be saying, “Who was sleeping? Not me!” Speaking of dogs, I have no idea what this artistic sculpture (below) is supposed to mean. However, I do want to show it to my dog to explain one possible punishment next time he misbehaves!

This horse is corralled in a small area next to the lake where he happily munches the local fauna before getting a drink. The only thing keeping him in place is the lake and a seawall…so I wonder how he even got there!

Ever wonder what the roof looks like under terracotta tile? This one was concrete.

Various cactus plants have colonized their very own–and very difficult– piece of cliffside.

Remember these? This one still works!

Recycling business. I just liked their slogan: “Nobody weighs, nor pays like us!!” Notice also the religious icon in the left of the photo.

When we got to the Chapala malecon, we had to take a photo of the statue of Our Lady of Zapopan, flanked by two Méxica warriors.

This is the fisherman’s fountain in Chapala.

 And I just had to have a big Limonade before we turned around and headed home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all; I’ll have another post soon about what it’s like to experience holidays in another culture!

Preparing for The Way

One blessing available in retirement is the ability to indulge new hobbies or interests. My wife and I wanted to travel, find a way to exercise together, and engage our interest in religious study and practice. A few years back, we ran across the Martin Sheen movie “The Way,” which introduced us to a concept which combined all three: the Camino de Santiago.

For those unfamiliar, the Camino (literally, “Way”) is an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain, leading 800 kilometers (~500 miles) from the French border to the town of Santiago de Compostela. This route is also known as the Camino Frances or French Way, and it represents the final leg of many other pilgrim routes that led from all over Europe, all ending in either Rome or Santiago. The reason for a religious pilgrimage to Rome is obvious, but Santiago may seem an unlikely choice. Legend holds that the town was founded after the miraculous discovery of the bones of Saint James the Apostle in farm field under a starry sky (James being Iago in Spanish, with compo for field and stela for stars, hence Santiago de Compostela).

Pilgrimages in Spain started during the 9th century, then spread across Europe in the 11th century. Pilgrims carried only their clothes and bare necessities, and offered prayers and penance along the Way. Villages along the Way provided hospitality (literally hospitals) where pilgrims were given food, water, and shelter for free or a small donation. The number of pilgrims waxes and wanes, but over the last 30 years the numbers have exploded to over a quarter million every year! While the largest number of pilgrims walk the Way for religious reasons, it has become popular for exercise, dealing with a mid-life or personal crisis, or to get back to nature.

Judy & I will be making our pilgrimage next Spring. We’ll walk between 10-15 miles each day, eating local foods, carrying a backpack and staying at a variety of different pilgrim accommodations. While we were in the States recently, we went to REI and got fitted out in all the right gear, and got briefed by our good friends Caryn and Mary, who completed a pilgrimage this year.

Pack, poles, hat, shoes

Gear is incredibly important: when hiking such long distances “ounces are pounds, and pounds are pain” as the saying goes. Unlike camping, where durability is key, weight is all important on the Camino. The rule of thumb is to carry no more than 10% of your body weight, and that includes your pack, clothes, food, and water. So we bought ultra-lightweight gear. We have personally-fitted packs and hiking shoes one size too large (because your feet swell when you walk day after day after day). Among the secrets we’re learning are the wonders of merino wool socks (not hot, very cushiony), silk sock liners (prevent blisters), wicking clothes (wear one set, carry the other), and how to use hiking poles (very important when going downhill).

We have started training lakeside, where we have the advantage of already being over 5200 ft in elevation, which is higher than almost any spot on the Camino. This should give us an oxygen advantage, much like that you hear broadcasters talk about when sports teams travel to Denver. We’re up to about 9 miles a day with packs, sometimes along a flat route and sometimes with some elevation gain. We will gradually add elevation and back-to-back hiking days.

I’ll provide regular updates as we train, and expect to keep the blog up-to-date during our actual hike across Spain. Buen Camino!

Judy modeling her gear

You asked for it…

When I was visiting NOB, one old friend asked for more pictures in my blog, so here is a down payment on that request. My dear wife just got a handy new camera, so you’ll soon see real quality photography. These are just the everyday views I have out walking the dog.

These ornamental grasses were “topped” just before we left; six weeks later, spectacular again
My dog insisted on being included; he enjoys hunting lizards in the hedge wall
Mountains right above my development
Mountains on the other side of the lake, which you can almost see just above the treeline, in the distance

Tlaquepaque and Tonalá

Most everyone who visits Guadalajara finds their way to two famous shopping locales called Tlaquepaque and Tonalá. Both were once small towns near Guadalajara, but as Mexico’s second largest city sprawled out, it subsumed them. Each retains some of its original character, but seem now to be just neighborhoods in Metro Guadalajara.

Tonalá  (“Tone-ah-LAH”) was traditionally an authentic artisan location, full of small shops and factories making unique arts and crafts. Tlaquepaque (“Tah-lock-ee-pock-ee”) was similar, but slightly more upscale, with more recognized artists, restaurants, and retail stores. Over the years, many of the artisan shops in Tonalá have moved, some to Tlaquepaque and some elsewhere in the region; they have been replaced by a potpourri of small shops selling a mixture of just about anything.

Stalls in Tonalá

Tonalá has no organization: you’ll find a ceramics store next to a religious figurines place across from a glassware shop, and then the same odd mixture on the next cross street. The streets remain open to traffic, so one need be cautious in window

More stalls

shopping. Some streets and the area near the plaza have stalls selling their wares, creating a tianguis or market atmosphere.  Tlaquepaque has a pedestrian zone lined with upscale restaurants, galleries, and numerous boutiques for high-end jewelry, couture, or objet d’art. If you wander off the more touristy path, there are still remnants of the original artisan workshops.


Pedestrian area in Tlaquepaque

Our good friend Lorraine showed us around on visits to both “towns” as we sought some authentic Mexican dinnerware. One thing she mentioned time and again was how much each place has changed: both are more commercial, more touristy, and less authentic than in the past. We eventually found a real ceramic factory (Ceramica el Palomar) off the beaten path in Tlaquepaque. The owners literally “turned on the lights” in their showroom for us; they weren’t expecting any walk-in traffic.  After we exchanged pleasantries and explained what we were looking for, they offered to take us on a tour of the factory behind the showroom. We found a nice set of dishes, each individually signed on the back (with a symbol) by the artist who made them.

Factory tour pics…

Our pattern: you can see the artists “fish” symbol on the mug

If the name Tlaquepaque seems oddly familiar, it might be because you have visited Sedona, Arizona.  On a trip there last year, we found an upscale arts-n-crafts mall called by the same name. Life imitating art imitating life, as it were.

If I had to choose between Tonalá and Tlaquepaque, I would spend the time and money in Tlaquepaque. If you want to have a real Mexican market experience, you should go to the Mercado Libertad, but that is the subject of another post, another day!

it’s not a trip without a restaurant visit: Judy & Lorraine

Nuestra Casa

I continue to experiment with this medium. I trust the photos I include are getting better, or at least they are all now “right side up!” Now I am tackling video. I apologize up front for the resolution: while I could take the video in HD, getting it uploaded to the cloud and then onto this site was impossible. I filmed it in HD and then retrofit it to a lower resolution to make it fit, but I think it is still pretty viewable.

For those considering visiting, consider this a preview.  For those who aren’t, see what you’re missing!


Once around the lake

We took a guided tour around our lake with Charter Club Tours, starting from Ajijic and going clockwise. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco

Chapala’s historic train station, which means no mas trains
Mezcala island, site of battle in 1812
One lane road into San Pedro Itzican…
High above the town






Many Mexican towns have an ancient name (Itzican) with a Christian name attached (San Pedro).

We don’t need no stinkin’ guardrail!
The eagle/snake/cactus melange, symbol of Mexico, and
Stained glass ceiling in Ocotlan city building








Painting of the earthquake of 1846, and
the miraculous sighting of the Christ crucified on the next day, which


led Ocotlan to build a new church. Note the the hedge spelling PRODIGO or miracle
Jamay likes Pope Pius IX, so they put this monument to him in their square

Most Mexican towns have a square that remains the center of town life. The squares were clean and full of people going about their business.

Why did the goats cross the road?
To get to the birrieria, of course (don’t ask)






Lunch with our guide/driver, Hernan, and Chris and Fran, tour friends. Judy had birria for lunch
Murals of the tianguis in La Morena house,
in La Barca. The bladders are full of Pulque, a fermented drink similar to Mezcal or Tequila






Lakefront in Petatan: thousands of Pelicans overwinter here, but now those snowbirds have flown
View of home, from across the lake. Our place is just below the small hill with a barren spot, lower right quadrant. Note how close the mountains are to the lake.
Jocotepec lakefront, and
view of the town

That’s all folks; hope you enjoyed!

Tourist Mexico or Real Mexico


As I have been talking so much about Mexico, I thought I would take the opportunity discuss the difference between Tourist Mexico and Real Mexico. When most Americans think of Mexico, what they picture is Tourist Mexico. Tourist Mexico comprises the many locations such as Cancun, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallerta and others which were developed specifically to entice cold weather visitors from North America and Europe.  My family has visited Tourist Mexico many times, as have many Americans.  But Tourist Mexico is not Real Mexico.  Tourist Mexico is to Real Mexico as Disney World is to the United States. Disney World is a fun place to visit, but if a foreign visitor thought it was America, they would be shocked when they got to Detroit, or Austin, or Peoria.

The place where Judy and I live is not Tourist Mexico. If you lived in those locations (say, Playa del Carmen) your life might be more like tourist Mexico then real Mexico.  Let’s see what the differences are:


Mexican cuisine is quite varied, with each region having specialties.  Mexican cuisine and French cuisine are the only two cuisines recognized by UNESCO as unique cultural heritages for the entire world. However, when you are in Tourist Mexico, you will most likely find a version of Tex-Mex, the food that passes generically for Mexican food north of the border.  It is more Texas than Tejas: heavy on spicy sauces, lots of beef, thick cheese. Burritos on the menu are a dead giveaway.  The emphasis is on quantity. Real Mexican cuisine tends more toward beans, queso fresco, fresh vegetables, and homemade tortillas.  If there is meat, its often chicken or pork, or whole fish. The emphasis is on quality and freshness. Tourist Mexico may serve up fresh ingredients, too, and if you look beyond the tourist menu, you can find authentic dishes.


Tourist Mexico has some of the best beach weather on the planet.  Its real, its tropical, and its magnificent.  Warm sun, soft sand: exactly what so many tourists come to experience.  Yet Real Mexico has an incredibly varied climate.  The Sierra Madre ranges runs the length of the country, providing wonderful vistas and active volcanos! There are extensive deserts, tropical rain forests, a Mediterranean coastal climate, and high temperate plateaus (like the one I live on). If you want the big city, Guadalajara checks in at over 4 million, and Mexico City at a whopping 21 million (biggest in the western hemisphere).


Here is where you will see the least change between Tourist Mexico and Real Mexico.  What every visitor notices is just how friendly the Mexican people are. Now you would think the Mexican people working in tourist resorts are paid to be friendly, but the amazing thing is they would be that friendly anyway!  Real Mexico is a lot like small town America 50 years ago: people greet each other on the street, and if someone needs help, someone else will offer it. Nearly all expats living in Real Mexico have a story of how some Mexican went way out of their way to be helpful.


Depending on where you’re from, you might find Tourist Mexico to be much less expensive than home; even if you come from a less expensive place in the States, you’ll probably notice some deals just because of the dollar-peso exchange rate.  Here’s the good news: Real Mexico is way less expensive than Tourist Mexico. In those areas where Tourists frequent, you will be able to use credit cards or dollars for your purchases, but you’ll get a poor exchange rate (consider it a convenience fee).  In Real Mexico, many stores and restaurants do not accept credit cards, and cash business is in Pesos only.  But the prices are often ridiculously low, especially for the labor involved in any product.


One last, big, area of difference.  Tourist Mexico has evolved to handle Gringo culture.  Things are done faster, portions are larger, deals are Gigante!  Real Mexico is very different: things are slower, and manana culture (“tomorrow, if ever”) prevails.  Portions are normal, and while bartering is a possibility, you don’t take advantage of the seller, because they too are making a living.

In Real Mexico:

A religious parade might break out at any time…
horses merge with horsepower (she just put away her smartphone, btw)

And in Tourist Mexico:

Are those golden arches? Look closely and you might see some Spanish!
Always more FOR SALE, but beware the HECHO EN CHINA label

I am not criticizing Tourist Mexico, just suggesting that if you only know Tourist Mexico, you should give Real Mexico a try.  And yes, those are my pale feet on the beach in Tourist Mexico:

I never said I didn’t like it!