New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Parental Fingers Crossed for "Parental Guidance"

My wonderful friend Sue, who frequently entertains me here in Tucson with everything from hiking to flamenco dancing, is the proud mother and mother-in-law of the couple who wrote the movie "Parental Guidance," which opened Christmas Day. She's had her fingers crossed for a couple of months, hoping for a big opening. She's been nagging me to be sure to see it. I just saw it this afternoon, and I loved it! And I'm not saying that just because Sue is my friend!

I haven't done movie reviews here before (although I've reviewed books several times: here and here and here and here). But my fellow blogger Ann Currie, over at "My Life a Bit South of Normal" recently reviewed several movies. It seemed like maybe she had a rare week with some days off from all the goings on and traveling she usually writes about, so she went to the movies. Click on the following links to read her thoughts on the recent movies "Hitchcock", "Flight", "Anna Karenina", and "7 Psychopaths". And bonus, because I'm so slow on the draw, these are probably all at the discount theater now, so you can get a bargain.

But, as Ann often says, I digress. I want to throw in a movie review, too. So here are my thoughts on "Parental Guidance."

The movie is very funny. I was predisposed to think it's funny because I really like Billy Crystal and I love Bette Midler. And they're in fine form here. The movie is very sweet. We have Billy and Bette as the grandparents from the opposite coast who haven't spent much time with their three grandchildren. We have Marisa Tomei as the adult daughter who feels some emotional strain with her dad and who parents in the totally modern over-achieving, high self-esteem, no-competition style. We have the three children, all funny and appealing. The youngest, the problem child with bright red hair, is especially funny. And we have the expected feel-good happy ending. Which really did make me feel good!

I saw it at a mall in Tucson on a Friday afternoon. The theater was quite full, with lots of children in the audience. Everybody laughed all the way through the movie. The kids laughed, too, and seemed to really like the jokes and any misbehavior by the red-headed youngest grandchild and by Billy Crystal. Towards the end of the movie, when we got to the scenes where each plot line had a happy ending, the whole audience said, "Awww" multiple times. And at the end, the audience stayed seated through most of the credits, and laughed and said, "Oh, how cute" about the family pictures included with the credits. It was as if we all didn't want to get up and rush out, because we'd enjoyed the movie so much and wanted to extend the feel good-ness of it for a few more minutes.

Don't be mad at me for revealing that there's a happy ending. It was predictable, and you would have known a happy ending was coming right from the start even if I didn't tell you!

So, if you want to prolong the happy glow of a pleasant visit with your family at Christmas, take them all with you and go see this movie.  Or, conversely, if you're feeling stressed by a dysfunctional visit with your family at Christmas, take them all with you and go see this movie and laugh at the generational and in-law jokes and de-stress yourselves.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Week at the Beach--Cabo San Lucas

So did "K" and I make it to Cabo San Lucas for our Mexican beach vacation? Yes! Yes, we did. And who is this mysterious "K", really? Tami! "K" is my long time friend, Tami, and now her mother knows she's been to Mexico and come home safe, so no more need for fake initials.

If you have no idea what I'm going on about, you can click here to read about our misadventures in planning this vacation. A series of events (sketchy timeshare sales company, too-short flight layovers in Dallas, break-away seats in American Airlines planes, threatened pilots' strike, monster-from-the-deep oarfish, and Hurricane Paul) conspired to make us ask the question, "Is this vacation doomed?"

Not doomed! We had a great time!

Our travel on American Airlines was smooth. The seats stayed firmly bolted to the floor. We survived the gauntlet of time share salesmen in the San Jose del Cabo airport trying to sell us discounted shuttle rides to the hotel, if only we would attend a sales presentation the next day. 

Just one little glitch at Mexican immigration.... The young agent who checked my passport kept looking back and forth from my passport to his computer screen. Meantime, Tami had breezed through at the next counter and was waiting for me. The agent asked me if it was my first time "here." I told him I'd been in Cabo in 1996. He just kept looking at the computer and at me and at my passport. Tami was still waiting, and looking a little nervous. So then I thought maybe "here" was the bigger "here" of all of Mexico. So I told him I'd been in Vera Cruz in 2009. And Oaxaca in 2004. Or maybe it was 2005? And LaPaz, and Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City. Oh, and I was in Nogales for one day a few weeks ago. Finally, I asked, "Is something wrong?" He said the computer was calling for a "second review," and walked away with my passport. He returned with a supervisor, who beckoned me into an office away from the line. Tami followed us over. Thanks, Tami! If I got arrested, at least someone would know about it. And she could get right on it after her week at the beach! The supervisor spoke perfect English and was very polite to me. He sat me down next to his desk and looked at the computer and at my passport and at me. He asked me if this was my first time "here." But after only a few minutes, he decided that they were looking for someone else with a similar name and let me through. Ay yi yi!

We loaded ourselves into one of the 8-passenger taxi vans and settled in for the 45-minute ride. As we approached Cabo San Lucas, an American man sitting behind me started a long cell phone call, in which he and another group of tourists were trying to find each other based on proximity to landmarks such as Costco and Walmart. "No, we already passed Costco.  Where are you? No, we already passed Walmart. No, I don't know where the Holiday Inn is." Just before we reached the road to our resort, traffic slowed to a crawl. No problem for our driver...

...He turned off into this dry wash and took us four-wheeling in the 8-passenger van!

After only a couple of minutes, we saw the resort ahead of us. The man behind me said into the cell phone, "Oh, there's a hotel. Heh-heh, I thought we were being kidnaped for a minute there. Heh-heh." Ay yi yi!

We stayed at Pueblo Bonito Blanco in Cabo San Lucas. It's a time share resort, so time share salespeople approached us. But they always let us go easily. My guess is they calculate that two single women will each have half of the money that one married couple has. (Or maybe 38.5%, which is one half of the 77% of men's earnings that women earn back in the U.S.) Whatever the calculation, it worked in our favor and we did not attend any "presentation" during our week of vacation.

The salesmen promise a big prize for attending only a 90-minute presentation. From past experience, and talk around the pool, I know that most of the "90-minute presentations" run about 4 hours, and you have to fight through multiple levels of sales people and their supervisors to get out of the room.

One guy offered $300 worth of free spa services. The spa was pretty expensive. Maybe if they'd made the presentation while I was actually in the spa getting a free facial, I'd have gone for it.

 The beautiful Pueblo Bonito Blanco.

I might go to the sales presentation next time if they trade me a week in that room on the left with the big shaded balcony facing the ocean!

 But our "junior executive suite" was very nice. Tami was excited to find herself in paradise when she woke up the next morning.

We spent our first day wandering the resort, and the resort next door, which is Pueblo Bonito Rose. It's newer and bigger (but not as charming). Rose and Blanco (and about a dozen other Pueblo Bonitos scattered all around the Cabo region) are sister resorts, so as guests of one, we could hang out in any of them. Some of the resort features that caught our attention...

 ...the sweet little koi/ turtle pond...

 ...the sweet little swans made of  folded towels...

 ..and this huge statue of Neptune...

...which had only a sweet little...

Anyway, the resort was beautiful. 

 It's right on Medano Beach, the biggest stretch of beach in Cabo, and the safest for swimming.

 Plenty of vendors selling hats, jewelry, sarongs, ceramics, time share weeks...

 Several nights while we were there, the resort staged special dinner events around the pool, like this Mexican fiesta, complete with folk dances and mariachi music. But every event was priced at $55 per person. Ay-yi-yi!

Luxury does not come cheap at Pueblo Bonito. But the junior executive suite does come with a kitchenette tucked in behind the front door. So we headed to Walmart to stock up on coffee and oatmeal and fruit so we could eat cheap for breakfast.

 Always Low Prices.

I know what you're thinking. "Walmart? Really?" I know! I always swore I'd never go into a Mexican Walmart. But when we asked Yair, our favorite reception clerk, where we could buy some groceries, he said Walmart. Tami was ready to go. I wanted to argue first. I pleaded for a local super mercado. I remembered one from that previous visit back in....1996. Apparently, it's gone. I asked Yair where the locals shop for groceries. He told me, "Mexicans need low prices, too." Actually, it was an interesting shopping experience. And the store was full of middle class Mexican shoppers.

 They had a wonderful Mexican bakery, where we bought our favorite pig cookies, and a bunch of other pastries. 

It was six days of delightful breakfasts, paired with coffee from Chiapas, and the local brand of yogurt, all consumed in the early morning sunshine out on our balcony. Delightful, and cheap!

Lunch and dinner were expensive inside the resort, too, so we made an effort to eat as many meals as possible in town, a 15-minute walk or an eight-dollar taxi ride away. We never did take a taxi--it would have cut into the savings on the meal. But on the third day, as we walked down the hill feeling really tired, a bicycle taxi was waiting for us. Actually, the driver was looping around the intersection waiting to nab the next tourist that walked by. It was cheaper than a taxi, after I bartered a bit in my horrible, but serviceable, Spanish. Tami briefly made some objection about feeling guilty about the driver working so hard to pull us into town. I quickly countered with support for small business opportunities in the local economy to make up for shopping in Walmart.

And we were off! This night, and several other times, too.

We found several restaurants we liked, and a couple that we returned to multiple times. There was a little place selling fish tacos for $4.00 apiece. Of course by the time we ordered two tacos and a drink and some chips and guacamole, it went higher, but still not as high as Pueblo Bonito! 

We ate at the Crazy Lobster, where they have a time share salesman with a desk right inside the door, and a funny bartender roams the tables trying to convince you to down tequila shots. We didn't sign up for a sales presentation, nor did we do any shots. But when Tami looked up to see the waiter standing behind her shoulder, she jumped, then looked away, then looked back, and her eyes got big. After we ordered our food and the waiter left, Tami said, "He looks exactly like my ex-husband when he was 23 and I first met him." Ay-yi-yi! The waiter's name was Alejandro, but after that we referred to him as Young Mexican Bill. We weren't thinking clearly, and we left the Crazy Lobster without asking Alejandro to pose for a photo with Tami.

Across the street from the Crazy Lobster is our all-time favorite Cabo restaurant--La Mesa Poblano.

The owner has placed Spanish Bible verses on the tables and on the waiters' shirts. I wondered if our waiter, Mauro, might preach to us while we ate, but that never happened. The owner, who is from Puebla, stopped by our table on two different nights and chatted with us about his family and business. They serve incredible food from different regions of Mexico.

 The mole poblano is to die for. I asked Mauro for extra tortillas so I could mop every molecule off my plate...

...and off the blade of my knife.  (I don't know how to make the accent mark over the 'e', but please understand I was eating a rich chocolate and chile-based sauce, not a tunneling rodent!)

We came back a second night, because I had to have more mole, and because Tami had made the mistake of not ordering mole the first time. Which she knew was a mistake because I let her taste a bite of my dinner. When we pulled up outside the open front of the restaurant in the bicycle taxi,  Mauro was eating dinner with several other staff just inside. When he saw us, he raised his arms into the air and shouted out, "Amigas!" 

 That's Mauro in bright pink.

Although he wasn't working that evening, we sent the other waiter to ask Mauro to pose for a photo with us. Everybody else at the staff table erupted into jokes in Spanish and loud laughter. I don't know the Spanish for "cougar," but I think that's what they were saying to him. I should have called out, "Somos las tias!" I think that would have meant we are his aunties. But I didn't think of it at the time. And Mauro was pleased to pose with us.

We came back a third night. I kind of wanted to eat  mole again. But there were so many other interesting choices. I had Yucatan-style tamales steamed in banana leaves. Also totally to die for. If you are ever in Cabo, you have to eat La Mesa Poblano. 

That night, Mauro waited on us again. Things were slow, so we spent some time chatting with him, with me translating between English and Spanish so Mauro and Tami could talk, too. That limited us to a pretty simple conversation. Mauro asked if either of us were married. We said divorciados. Then he asked if either of us had children. Neither of us do, and he looked so sad for us! He is 18, and is from Acapulco. He moved to Cabo looking for work, and to escape the drug cartel violence in Acapulco. We looked sad for him. Mauro was one of three young men we spoke with during the week who had moved away from their homes in Acapulco and in the state of Michoacan in order to escape the horrible violence. Two of them had their whole familes with them. Mauro's family was still in Acapulco, but his aunt had accompanied him.

It was also slow across the street at the Crazy Lobster. I could see they had no customers at all. So, as we finished our dinner, I said to Tami, "I dare you to ask Young Mexican Bill to pose for a picture with you."

"You dare me?" Tami said, looking across the street to the very quiet Crazy Lobster. "Won't that be weird? It's four days since we were in there." But Tami is not one to refuse a dare. And she really wanted the picture.

Hey! Is it too late to print Christmas cards? That would confuse the family and friends! Ho ho ho! Ay yi yi!

Alejandro (Young Mexican Bill) was a good sport, even though the bartender called him from the back of the restaurant by saying, "She's only seen you once and she already wants you!" The timeshare salesman stationed at his desk inside the entrance (who spoke excellent English as his main job skill) explained the whole ex-husband doppelganger thing to Alejandro, so I'm sure he knew he was in no danger. As we left, the timeshare salesman said, "I'll let you have him for a week if you attend a presentation tomorrow." As we hastily retreated amid much laughter at Alejandro's expense, I again heard the Spanish word for "cougar." Which I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that's what they were saying. Somos las tias! I promise!

And as if we needed more entertainment in those downtown restaurants, we met many, many roving musicians. They stroll up to the table and ask if you would like a song. If you say yes, you have to tip them.

If they ask you what song you'd like to hear, and you can't think of any Mexican songs, they'll sing "Cielito Lindo." The old Frito Bandito commercial used the tune of this song, so I guess the musicians figure Americans will recognize it. Or at least those of us over 40! Of course we remember it, but then some of us feel a little embarrassed, because those commercials became emblematic of negative stereotypes of Mexicans. Ay yi yi!
 This gentleman played "Cielito Lindo" for us. 

I tipped him 20 pesos. All the other musicians before that had accepted 20. He told me the price of a song was 50 pesos! We were speaking Spanish with each other. After I upped the tip to 50 pesos, he then asked me how to say 50 in English! So again, I was supporting small business opportunities in the local economy. And even providing some training!

I loved these guys, but Tami didn't. I accused her of being too cheap to pay, but she said it was more that it felt intrusive for strangers to interrupt your meal. Which led us to comparing all the friendly activity we've observed and participated in between restaurant tables in Mexico and all of the private, reserved, not-talking-to-anybody-but-the-waiter non-activity at restaurant tables in the U.S. It does seem like a strong cultural difference. But Tami was willing to humor me. After the first few days, I started looking for the groups with something to set them apart.

 These guys had an accordion!

Tami didn't care about the accordion. She was more interested in the guacamole.

But then, a few minutes later, another group sang at the table next to us. As the musicians stood with their backs to us, Tami suddenly was enjoying the music. At every chorus, the singer did that high-pitched, loud rolling "rrrr" sound. Who knew? Tami can make that noise like a native mariachi singer. And she was so into this song that she started throwing in her own yipping noises and "rrrr's". The guitar player looked over his shoulder each time, and saw me! The third time he gave me a big smile, but I pointed at Tami, who was quietly eating guacamole and pretending to be uninterested. Ay-yi-yi!

Next up for entertainment...

...scuba diving!

 Well, Tami dived.

 A perfect scissor step off the side of the boat.

I only snorkeled. And hung out on the boat in the sunshine. And relaxed while all the nervous divers getting their open water certification sweated inside their wet suits while they waited their turns to do the giant scissor step. Tami's already certified, but she seemed a little nervous, too.

We boated out to the iconic el Arco and on out through the rocks to Lands End.

 Really beautiful...

 ...and really busy. Cruise ships, dive boats, water taxis, pelicans...

Ay yi yi!

 After the dive, Tami told me she was very nervous, because it'd been a few years since she last dove. But Dive Master Julian had such a calming aura that Tami relaxed once she was in the water and really enjoyed the two dives. She highly recommends Sunshine Dive Charters. Their office is inside the old lobby of the Wyndham Hotel right at the marina.

 Walking away from the dive office...

 ...we came across this pharmacy in the marina.

And later on, out shopping, we saw this one. It looks like the "super" viagra contributes more to overall robustness....

...which made us think of the Neptune statue back at Pueblo Bonito. So robust, but lacking a bit.

Anyway, back at yet another sister resort, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach, things were hopping at the Sky Pool, an infinity pool perched just below the top of the hill that this resort sprawls up and down.

To get there, we had to take a 20-minute shuttle bus from Rose through town, then a golf cart shuttle from the lobby up a really steep hill. I usually hate hip-hop music, but for some reason (that does not include alcohol, since I wasn't drinking at the swim-up bar), it was kind of fun dancing around in the pool. Tami kept trying to tell me the words to the songs--she's much more in sync with pop culture than I am. But I really did not want to know the words, because then my feminist ire would be aroused because of course the words would be disrespectful to women. And it's hard to relax and have fun in the sunshine if your feminist ire is aroused.

We also did a stint lounging on the lovely empty Pacific Ocean beach at the bottom of the hill. But we didn't last long.

 See the couple under the palapel on the right? And see how they're both practically lunging at the poor woman in the lounge chair?

They were a Catholic married couple from Milwaukee who had just happened upon another couple from the same Catholic parish. The two of them talked really loud in a nasal Wisconsin accent. The wife was the stronger talker, but the husband talked right over her because, finally, here was someone who might listen to him, too. They went through all of the parish gossip, and some other stuff, too. The other woman, who was knitting a heavy sweater, made the mistake of trying to be polite by occasionally responding. After about 30 minutes, her husband stood up and gathered their things and hovered until she got up and they left. 

Tami and I stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact. A Spanish couple came by and tried to take the two now-empty lounge chairs. The wife only let them take one, because she had been waiting all afternoon to get a lounge chair and now she thought she might want to use it. (She never did.) Two more groups came and quickly went from the palapel. Then they discovered wasps nesting under the peak of the roof and demanded immediate action from the security guard patrolling the beach. I made the mistake of looking up at our roof to check for wasps. Then it seemed as if they might start talking to us. And really, they were so loud and unrelenting that it was almost as if they were talking to us. So we packed up our things and caught a golf cart back up to the sky pool to listen to some hip hop.
 Here's the traditional bunny ears photo, with Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach sprawling behind us. 

As long as we're looking at childish photo we are poolside at Rose reading the sunglasses-shaped poolside cafe menus. 

 And here's Tami participating in what we called "Night of the Typing Dead" at the pleasant little courtyard outside the spa that provided the resort's only free wi-fi.

I had such good intentions to log on every day and keep up with all the assignments from my online writing class. And I did it for three days. By that time, detox had become effective and I couldn't be bothered. Internet detox, that is. The first few mornings, we both missed our routines of checking Facebook and email on our smartphones. The first couple of days we also missed being able to quickly search for maps, directions, Starbucks, and whatever random trivia we disagreed on. At least we didn't need to text each other, since we were spending the week together!

But every night in this courtyard, screens glowed eerily in the dark and Americans hunched over them. Meanwhile, resort employees trying to sweep and mop the brick courtyard roped off a few tables at a time and shifted chairs around, and patiently waited for us all to get up and leave.

You can see that the detox really worked, since it's over a month since I last posted to this blog! Okay, it didn't work that well. The first morning after I got home, I woke up and checked Facebook on my phone before I got out of bed. I wanted to see if my friends were jealous after seeing the vacation pictures we'd posted! And then I texted Tami to ask if she'd checked Facebook yet, and did she see how many "likes" the accordion photo got.

But the lack of texting and posting left our hands idle. To the point that the resort's ceramics painting table started to look like fun. We were fresh from Tucson's Day of the Dead festivities. This made us think that we were a lot more artistic than the other tourists and we should paint skulls.

At first, it was fun. I was feeling that pre-Hispanic artistic vibe.

But at about this point, I realized my skull was turning out really ugly and it was taking way longer than I'd thought it would, and that I don't have any blood link to pre-Hispanic Mexico.

I was hungry. My blood sugar dropped. I begged Tami to let me abandon the project. She tried to touch it up for me. My blood sugar dropped some more. I could tell I was starting to go over the edge by the way Tami's eyes got big when she looked at my face. So we decided to cut it short and go get some lunch. I told the owner of the booth in Spanish that I wanted a discount because it was so ugly. He looked slightly alarmed until he saw that I was joking. Then he said he'd finish painting it for me if I tipped him. So, for the price of a song by the roving restaurant musicians, I hired an artist to ghost-paint for me. It was still really ugly when we went back to pick it up. But at least I got lunch and that made me feel much better.

Here I am with my blood sugar stabilized after eating fish tacos and drinking two limonadas. I know, again with the childish photo poses.

We got in trouble with guest services once for hanging a wet towel out on the balcony. We got in trouble with hotel security once when we put all our money and credit cards and passports inside the room safe and forgot to lock it and they sent two extremely handsome Mexican men to our room to open the safe and check the contents. We went to the waterfall pool inside the spa about five times on our three-visit pass. We kept exchanging our dollars for pesos, then we had to calculate how many pesos to pay everybody that kept quoting us prices in dollars. And a whole bunch of other stuff happened, too (including some stuff Tami didn't want me to blog about), but, wow, this post is really getting long, so I'm going to wind it up.

Also, I feel the need to text Tami to tell her to look at this post now that it's finally finished. And I have to check Facebook.

But I promise no more crafts projects! Although Tami's (right) doesn't look quite as hideous as mine (left).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tucson's Day of the Dead

Tucson, Arizona is close to the Mexican border, and never more so than on el Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2, and according to this Wikipedia article, can be traced to an indigenous, pre-Hispanic festival in Mexico. Skulls were kept to symbolize death and rebirth. Now skulls and skeletons are everywhere as symbols of the holiday.

The Day of the Dead is an occasion to honor and remember family members and friends who have passed away. Maybe even to encourage their spirits to visit the living and hear the prayers we offer for them. And, like many things in Mexico, the holiday has evolved to include a bit of humor. The traditions and activities are different from town to town even within Mexico. And they have danced right across the border into Arizona, where Tucson has developed its own traditions and activities.

The University of Arizona hosted an author reading by Luis Urrea. His "Hummingbird's Daughter" is one of my all time favorite books, so I had to go. Here's my review of it in Goodreads.

  The Hummingbird's DaughterThe Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's not quite magic surrealism, because the events are more concrete and reality-based than that. The narration is quietly hilarious. The tone, the events, the characters all beautifully capture the feeling of how magical Mexico is.

Hmmm...I think the correct term is "magic realism." Oh, well. And bonus, because it was all part of a Day of the Dead celebration, we also got mariachi music and Mexican folk dances and pan muerto, a sweet bread. They promised Mexican hot chocolate, but I'm not sure if it really counted, because it was a thermos of hot water with packets of instant Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

The mariachis were little! They were Las Aguilitas de Davis, from Davis Elementary School,  with musicians from grades 1-5. The music was quite good. And the kids were really cute in their charro suits and skeleton makeup.

The high cuteness factor makes Las Aguilitas a hard act to follow. But the university's Grupo Folklorico Miztontli held their own with beautiful Mexican folk dances, also performed in skeleton makeup.

And then we all followed the performers in a mini-procession from the basement of the bookstore to the auditorium in the Student Union Building, where Luis Urrea read to us. But really, he told us a story. I saw him holding the book and glancing at it for the words, but he performed it for us in such a way that the whole audience was transported to the home of the old woman and her family who babysat him as a little boy while his father was at work. Beautiful! I hate to admit this, but I'm not positive which book he was reading from--I missed that part talking to my friends right at the start! But I think it was, "Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life." And in any case, I am definitely planning to read more of Luis Urrea's work.

The next procession was more arduous. My friends Sue and Alice and I joined the pilgrimage from St. John's Church in South Tucson to San Xavier Mission, a walk of eight miles.

St. John's Church

We walked the eight miles to honor the lives of those people who lost their lives along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona in the past year.

179 crosses, one for each of the people who passed away. If the person was identified, his or her name was written on the cross. Many bodies were not identified, and their crosses were labeled "Desconocido", or "Unknown."

We gathered behind the church and the organizers told us some rules about crossing streets and made some promises about breaks and snacks and water along the way. Then they talked about all those desconocidos, who had been found alone in the desert and not identified, and that most likely their families don't know what has happened to them. We would honor them and bear witness that they had passed through this life by carrying a cross for each of them and thoughts of each of them on this procession.

 Lining up...

 ...lining up...

 ...and we're off!

Here we're passing out of Tucson and onto the Tohono O'Odham reservation.

About four or five miles in, Alice (above, in white hat and purple shirt) and I were trying to remember why we were doing this. It was hot, and the scenery we passed through was not as pleasant as our usual hiking excursions. But Sue (in blue) never wavered. 

 Along the way, we passed this altar for a deceased loved one.

 Our final rest stop. Notice the bottles of pain relievers there in front of the fruit and pretzels! Some good planning by the organizers!

And we could just see San Xavier Mission, only about a half mile away now. It's those white rounded towers poking up at mid-horizon. Yay! We're getting closer.

When we reached the mission, crosses from the previous several years were already laid out in this circle. As I walked up, it hit me hard that each of those was a person who was lost. And then I remembered what I was doing there.

Several people took turns reading the names of those whose crosses we had carried with us, including desconocido. As each was read, the person holding that cross placed it at the edge of the circle.

 One of the mission priests offered a blessing...

 ...and we were done.

 An altar set up by the mission priests.

That's me, Sue, and Alice hoping we can get a ride back to Tucson....which we did, thanks to Sue's persistence!

The event Tucson is most known for is the huge All Souls' Procession through downtown. I'd say this is also the event that most incorporates that Mexican humor. The procession started in 1990, when Tucson artist Susan Johnson was grieving the passing of her father. Inspired by Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations, she offered a performance to honor his memory. Other local artists liked it, and the celebration grew into Tucson's All Souls Procession. This year, organizers estimated 35,000 participants paraded over two miles through downtown.

I headed to the parade route with Sue and Alice and Tami (who lives only two blocks from the route and let us park in her apartment complex--score!) to bask in all the craziness. While, of course, offering our respects to the dead. And here is just some of what we saw in the dark of downtown Tucson on All Souls' Day....

 Waiting with the kids for the parade to start.

 An altar on a wagon to pull in the procession. They had photos of family and friends lost over the last several years taped to the outside and the Virgin Mary on the inside.

 Last-minute adjustments to the costumes.

OK...all of this and the procession has not even started yet!

Tami and I always get distracted by blinking plastic novelty items for sale at public events. So we ended up with these flashing hair bows. Or maybe they're butterflies? Anyway, they were really helpful for finding each other in the huge crowd in the dark. Also notice my cool necklace of skulls (I know, it's too little to see. Trust me, it's cool!)

The procession ended with the burning of a large urn filled with slips of paper carrying hopes, offerings, and wishes for those who have passed.

It started with a model of the urn...

  ...and strolling attendants in silver offering paper and pencil and collecting notes to burn later. I offered the names of two older ladies from my church who passed away this year and whom I've been missing. Both of them would have delighted in a night like this!

 A rolling altar in the form of a sailboat made of bones. My interpretation? The lady in the picture loved to sail and she died this year, and these are her children and they're missing her.

 A whole group in "house dresses" and pink bob-style wigs carrying large pictures of the family matron. Or maybe it was all for Celia Cruz? She had a pink wig like that.

 Good-bye to Neil Armstrong. I didn't capture it in a picture, but the astronauts had skeleton faces inside their helmets.

 Some bereaved pet owners commemorated their lost animals. Here, a dog.

 Speckles, the pet bunny.

 Maybe this cowboy lost his favorite horse this year. He built quite the contraption.

OK, and some people just made interesting stuff and marched in the parade.  Unless this girl really had a pet jelly fish.

 And some environmental politics--save the jaguar.

 And lots of Mexican-style skeletons and spooks...

 Alice and I saw something funny...I don't remember what exactly...but it could have been almost anything!

 This is the Seven Pipers band. They had a sign saying, "129 Days Until St. Patrick's Day." It's the whole American melting pot thing.

And there was so much more than this. And I probably only saw a third of it in the dark with the huge crowd.

So let me just close by saying how much I love Tucson! And I am dressing up next year!

Oh, and we did have Halloween first, just like the rest of the U.S.!

Here's Tami on Halloween dressed as a really cool guy from the '70's. You can tell it's authentic because she looks just like Ben Affleck as a 1970's CIA agent in "Argo." Also by the fake chest hair. Blecch!