While we mostly pet-sit, on the rare occasion we just housesit, which gives us lots of time to take advantage of our surroundings. In September, we were based in the Lake Patzcuaro area, in the central highlands of the beautiful state of Michoacan. Following are nine slideshows of our excursions around the area, several of those we made with our friends Bill, Barbara and Kahlua who were visiting from San Pancho, Nayarit.
Kahlua kicks back in the cool mountain air of Santa Clara del Cobre, far from her hot humid home of San Pancho.
A series of fortunate events this summer led us back to San Pancho and Casa Obelisco, where we were happily reunited with Kahlua the lovable golden doodle; Valentino the whiny baby (at nearly seven years old, the descriptor stands); Pico the “wild” cat who prefers to sleep on the dog bed, especially during storms; Horatio, the deaf dude with the monkey tail; and, new this year, Trixie.
When Barbara temporarily relocated to el norte for work a few years ago, she brought Horatio with her for company. But he was sad and lonely without the rest of his posse. On a pet food run one day, Barbara noticed an adoption fair at the store. One of the orphaned cats looked just like H. as a baby, she recalls. And, since Barbara has a long history as a collector of orange cats, she agreed to foster her. She couldn’t commit to a full adoption, however, in case Horatio didn’t like her. Well. “He went nuts” for her, she says. Love at first sight.
She and Bill gave the foxy feline a stripper’s name, they say, because of the way she lolls around with a come-hither-in-the-heather look in her eyes. When Barb returned to Mexico, she brought Horatio and his trophy wife with her. The other guy cats’ eyes popped out when they saw her — hubba-hubba — but only Horatio gets to touch his treasured trollop, protected from the riff-raff behind the iron gate of her new home. Even humans don’t dare lay a hand on her.
So the pampered puss lazes around all day, snacking on bon-bons and accepting tender kisses from her man. The solitude of her harboured haven, however, has piled on the pounds. She bores easily when presented with a string or toy mouse, so our attempts at exercise are met with a yawn followed by demands for more food. Her highness spends most of her days stretched out languidly on her voluptuous form while gazing vacantly into space, as though posing for a Botticelli painting.
It’s a first for us — a cat with a do-not-touch decree — so we must give her a wide berth, on tip-toe, careful not to unduly upset her delicate psyche. Just another adventure in pet-sitting . . .
Erongaricuaro is a small town in the mountains of Central Mexico, where roughly 5,000 hardy souls call this “Place of Waiting” home. Aside from the very basic street food sizzling in ponds of oil set up around the plaza, you can count on one finger the number of restaurants (the consistently reliable Doña Mary) here. Activities and amusements are almost as rare. So when you hear of something going down, even if outside the town proper, you jump at the chance to see it.
Donald, one of the very few gringos living here full-time, rang up one day to tell us we absolutely must go to the Hippy Fair in Uranden, about 15 minutes away. Now, ordinarily, the words “Hippy” and “Fair” would spin us in the opposite direction. But since so little happens in these parts we thought, ehh, what the hell. Let’s go, if only to gawk at aging gringos who have been so off-grid for so long they don’t realize the word “hippy” had faded away with their tie-dyed head bands.
Leaving the three dogs and two cats dozing in the sun, our duties done for the next few hours, we jump in the car and weave down the winding road toward Patzcuaro. Nearly 15 minutes later, we see rows of cars parked along the street. Off to the side, in front of a terra-cotta coloured building etched with a lively mural, stood a couple of big white canopies under which crowds milled about, perusing goods for sale. We pulled onto a grassy parking area, got out and joined the throngs. Mariachi music drifted from behind tall wooden double doors next to a small silver dome. We edged our way inside, squeezing through an even bigger crowd. We stopped dead as we gaped at the walls. Every square inch was covered with paintings of garishly attired skeletons and freaky grim reapers, their bony fingers thrusting from their dark robes and clutching tall scythes. These jostled alongside images of Jesus Christ and other religious icons and artifacts. Throughout the room, full-sized skeletons were dressed in formal gowns, shiny crowns perched atop their crazily grinning faces.
Clouds of smoke drifted from the floor above, so we climbed the well-worn stairs to find its source. A long line of people stood patiently waiting their turn for an agent (of death?) to shroud them in the choking incense, apparently sending their sins up in smoke. We looked at each other and at the same time said, “I don’t think this is the hippy fair.”
It wasn’t. We had stumbled into a temple devoted to Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, saint of the dead. Deeply frowned upon by the Catholic Church, this freak fest of a cult, which has seen a recent resurgence with several million followers, has its roots in Mesoamerican folk lore in which devotees believe Santa Muerte will deliver them safely to the afterlife. But we saw nothing safe or serene in those ossified faces and ghastly images that would convince us to entrust our souls to this creepy saint. There are many more such macabre shrines in Mexico City, but this incongruous temple of death out here in Santa Ana Chapitiro, in the bucolic Lake Patzcuaro countryside, was truly bewildering.
Back outside, brushing past the stands and shops selling reaper figurines, candles and incense for magic spells, we jumped back in the car in search of a more zen hippy fair to chase away the chills.
After caring for Tai in Patzcuaro, we slid on down the lake to Erongaricuaro, about a half hour away, as we’ve done several times before. Dogs Lucy, Xochi and Rigo, and cats Cosmos and Rocky, remembered us instantly. Although, cats being cats, they simply yawned and went back to their naps. The dogs, on the other hand, went berserk, especially when they remembered that we’re enthusiastic playmates.
Lucy the Lab, in particular, loves to play ball, but is obsessive. At all times she must be either 1) chasing it, 2) chewing it, or 3) sleeping with it. It’s safe to say it’s her life. Well, maybe second to eating, and the dish she eats out of. She loves mealtimes so much she’s almost chewed through her bowl. It’s become quite the work of art.
Xochi will join in the game of ball-throwing and catching, half-heartedly, only because she thinks it’s the thing to do. If her sister insists it’s the world’s coolest game, it must be. Sometimes Xochi seems unsure of herself as a species, and is constantly on alert for cues. So she’ll follow suit in activities like walks or ball-chasing. But most of the time she just goes through the motions. Sure, she’ll chase it, but half-way to retrieving it she finds a blade of grass much more fascinating. Sometimes — OK, rarely — she’ll get to the ball first, but instead of following Lucy’s lead and bringing it back to be thrown, she’ll stand there and chew on it, noisily, much to Lucy’s extreme frustration. Other times, just to drive her even nuttier, Xochi will lay down and rest her chin on the ball, with a look that asks, “What?”. Even though they’re roughly the same size (although Xochi’s long, graceful, ballerina legs put her slightly taller), Lucy will not attempt to extricate the ball from her. Instead, she’ll stand there, body tense and still as a sculpture, eyes fixated on the bright blue orb, waiting for just the slightest shift in Xochi’s body or attention, then she’ll zoom in and snatch it. Once in possession of her prize, she’ll prance away in glee, the universe unfolding as it should.
Rigo is not much of a ball guy. Well, unless they’re his own. Oh, wait, he doesn’t have any, he’s been neutered. Although you’d never know it based on his continued, tortured auto-eroticism. Yep, the poor guy still struggles with sudden, uncontrolled arousal. And now that he’s roomies with two beautiful girls, it’s, um, harder than ever to contain his feelings. Frustrated, he’ll often trot over to the wall, stand there and wait in vain for the invisible rodent that also taunts and torments him.
Cosmos has no doubts about his origin; he still thinks he’s a dog. He prefers hanging with the canines, even sleeping on their beds, whether they’re in them or not, much to their chagrin. He’s not quite the scrappy hunter of his younger years, managing to snag and present to us only one small bat our entire stay. We take pains to reassure him that’s quite alright.
Rocky is still frail and squeaky, but soldiering on in her own loner life, both belying and affirming her stoic moniker.
Eronga is the same: an oddly raucous town for its small size. Neighbourhood dogs bark through the night, roosters crow through the day, and fight club starts every night around 9, and continues to about midnight. At least that’s what I swear it is. How else to describe what sounds like bodies being hurled against metal walls, to a backdrop of hoots and hollers? It’s probably just a friendly game of pick-up basketball, but fight club fits with the edginess of the place, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
In the quiet afternoons, when the town (and the pets) slumber, we sit on the expansive lawn amid this sprawling garden of endless plant, flower and tree variety, including pomegranate, olive, tangerine, lemon, lime, cactus, pine and ash. We gaze out over the lake, to the island of Janitzio in the distance, breathe in the fresh, cool mountain air, and agree sometimes life’s greatest pleasures are the simplest. Like a rubber ball and a plastic dish.
Last summer at around this time, our days in Patzcuaro were spent trailing Tai with wads of paper towels, daubing up the blood spatter he left in his wake, and nights binding him in homemade diapers to spare the sheets. The poor guy’s ongoing battle with open, bleeding tumors due to his hemangiosarcoma diagnosis in 2014 was in full force. He didn’t appear to be in any pain, just kind of miserable, and who wouldn’t be?
He’d already undergone a few surgeries to have previous blobs excised, but damned if they don’t keep popping up, like bubble-headed whack-a-moles. After his parents returned and we’d moved on, he underwent more surgeries, after which he became quite weak, vomiting and collapsing on several occasions. It was scarily touch and go there for a while, but he emerged relatively unscathed, a few more battle scars to add to his body map of survival.
When we returned this summer, he was like a new dog. Sure, there were a few new bumps, but they were small and non-threatening. The brute of a ridgeback was back in fighting form. And back to his old tricks roaming the house at night, rearranging furniture and beating up blankets in the dark. One night I caught him red-handed. Hearing a scuffling in the living room, I snuck out of bed, crept toward the light switch, and, “Gotcha!” Frozen in the glare of the light, perched atop the chair, mid-punch to a throw blanket, he looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. He’d been busted and no explanation could get him out of this one. He knew it and, lowering his head and averting his embarrassed gaze, he leapt down from the chair, skirted by me and hopped into his bed, face tucked under his paw.
As mortified as he seemed at being discovered, the next night he was right back at it. I began to suspect he was sleep-walking. But other than canine narcolepsy and cataplexy, which I was surprised to learn are more common than you’d think, Tai’s behaviour didn’t stack up. Both are nervous system disorders; narcolepsy is characterized by brief loss of consciousness, and cataplexy displays as sudden muscle paralysis while still conscious. Tai just wanders through the night, looking for soft targets on which to vent.
If that’s the quirkiest of his behaviour, we’ll take it. As long as he stays happy and healthy, the furniture will have to as well.
We’ve spent most of this winter and spring on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, easily one of my favourite places, not only in the province or the country, but in the world. Kilometres of pebbly beaches, craggy cliffs above crashing waves, woodsy trails, and the small-town vibe that increasingly matches my own energy level are to die for — literally, since to breathe my last breath here wouldn’t be a bad thing. Preferably when I’m old and feeble, natch. On top of the scenic appeal, the friends we’ve made, both of the two- and four-legged variety, find us dying (figuratively) to return.
Speaking of four-legged friends, after cozying up to cats in Garden Bay, hanging with the gorgeous golden doodle in Sechelt, we wrapped our time here in Halfmoon Bay with Jake and Harley. Our first stint with this pack of wieners last year was short, roughly two weeks (chronicled here). This time, at nearly double that, we’ve come to know (and love) them more.
At age two, the little brothers still exhibit the usual dachshund traits — jealous, head strong, loyal, feisty and fun — but their personalities, on closer inspection, are really quite polar. Since Jake is the big (and bigger) brother, he pretty much calls the shots; Harley, the runt, falls in line. As if aware of his size and status, the little guy seems to be forever apologizing for his very existence. Submissively crouching, ducking his head, peering up with pleading eyes, it’s like he’s saying, “So sorry for being in the room, taking up space, breathing the air that could be used by somebody better. I know I’m worthless, but please don’t cast me out.” No matter how much you praise him, reassure him he’s a good little boy, he seems ready to accept blame for any and all transgressions, past, present and future, by him or anyone else.
Out in the big, wide world, however, he’s a different dog. Untethered from homebound hierarchy, he’s a free spirit. Plunk him in front of water and he makes a splash. Where Jake will often observe from a safe distance, Harley leaps feet-first into pools, lakes and sea with unbridled glee. On walks, it’s trailblazing Harley way out front, Jake hanging behind. Out here, beyond the fences, he’s free to be he.
Back at home, where Harley couldn’t care less about common canine behaviour such as ball-chasing (unless it’s to tick off his brother, then he grabs it and hoards it), Jake is obsessed. He doesn’t quite get the concept of fetch and retrieve, however. Hell, he doesn’t quite get release. He whines for you to throw it, and can’t understand why you refuse, regardless of the fact that said ball is clamped firmly between his teeth. Turn your attention to Harley, however, and plop! There’s the ball. He’ll even nudge it over to you with his nose. Here, take it, all yours. When you try, he pounces on it, gripping it in his jaws, beseeching you with his eyes to throw it.
So he’s not the brightest playmate, Jake isn’t, but to be fair, that’s not in his DNA. The dachshund — “half-a-dog high, dog-and-a-half long” — was bred in its native Germany to flush out badgers and other burrowing critters, the crop-ruining bane of farmers across the land. Their slim, sausage bodies are perfect for sliding down the rabbit hole. Training, however, is another animal. A stubborn breed, they’re notoriously difficult to house break and are quite averse to following instructions. They likely feel they can get by on their looks, that any misdeed they’ve committed will be easily forgiven by their sheer cuteness. And it works.
There are no badgers in these parts, but these doxies do snap to attention whenever they hear the slightest rustling in the garden, launching themselves into the underbrush after a squirrel or rodent. In the case of Jake, ball in mouth. Always. At the end of the day, when we finally pry it from his death-gripping maw, the dog-tired little wienies leap onto the couch, nestle at our sides, and burrow into our hearts.