What makes a book a Best Seller?

It takes a good writer…but more important, it takes readers – and lots of them.

Advertising helps to generate sales. Without that, not much happens. Advertising is not cheap, so writers must seek ways to get their books noticed without the help of a major publishing company. With that in mind, I hope you will continue to read this blog.

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My first book was published on Amazon in April 2017 just in time for Easter. After twenty-plus years of owning and operating a Four Diamond/Four Star country inn and restaurant in New Mexico, we retired to the Yucatan and I needed a hobby. A friend suggested I should write about running an inn and restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and the unique and interesting guests we had the pleasure to entertain during those twenty years. With hospitality running in my veins like the Rio Grande River, I was suddenly given a challenge and the opportunity to tell the true stories that we rarely shared with anyone – they were our little secrets.

In Tales from a Country Inn, I relived some of the strange, quirky, unusual and comical happenings we experienced with the famous, infamous and unknown guests that granted us with the pleasure, and in some cases the regret of their company. But in the end…I wouldn’t trade those twenty years for a million bucks. This is just the tip-of-the-iceberg.

Readers Praise Tales from a Country Inn

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I had not taken a writing class since my junior year in high school so I had a lot of catching up to do. I joined a writer’s class here in Merida and soon discovered that I enjoyed writing mystery – why not? Fiction isn’t as easy to write as some people think it is. Plot, outline, character development, voice, drama, suspense, and research are all part of what makes the mystery believable. Like a spider weaving his intricate web, the writer must connect all the threads that hold the story together.

I never set out to write a book. My goal is to create a story. A story can become a book or a book can be composed of several stories. Book one of the D.G. Heath – Mystery Collection is comprised of three stories.

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Cover – Mystery Collection

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Back Cover

Double Martini was originally a writing prompt (500 words or less) that grew into a short story.

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Web of Intrigue was written at the request of a close friend who expressed the desire to be a character in one of my stories. The story was dedicated to her. I used her personality, her ambition to enjoy life and her sense of humor to give voice to the character. I just hope her husband didn’t mind that I gave her a handsome Italian lover.

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Codes and Confessions started as a single story that developed later with a back story to bring balance and clarity. Weaving the two together was a challenge, and the first time I have attempted to braid two stories together. By the end of the story, everyone had confessed – or at least I think they did…you be the judge. This story was never shared with anyone prior to publication. I would very much like to hear from you with your thoughts. You are welcome to comment on this blog or to send me an email direct and perhaps your comments will appear in the D.G. Heath – Mystery Collection – Book Two next spring.

Thanks for sharing this blog with your friends and relatives and helping a writer to get started on the road to mystery, romance and laughter.

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Much appreciation,

D.G. Heath

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Happenings of the Season…

Summer is over in just a few days. Where did the year go? It seems that time moves a lot faster after one reaches middle-age. I’ve often wondered how anyone can determine just when middle-age begins. Perhaps it is based on the idea that we can live to be a hundred – making fifty the starting point. However, I firmly believe you are only as old as you feel. Old is a figment of our imagination. Many will disagree for various reasons – but an active life is important. And with that being said…I will get on with this story.

September started with a bang. Not only did we have Harvey, Irma, José and Katia all in the same month but there was a major earthquake off the west coast of Mexico. Flooding rain storms, disappearing islands, mudslides, typhoons in the Pacific and icebergs as big as Road Island…and there are those who still refuse to accept the idea of climate change. I doubt that Machu Picchu will ever be underwater, but Florida and Houston? – That’s another story.

But now for the bright side of this post…Merida has enjoyed the almost daily summer tropical rains, turning the tropics a lush green, keeping the air quality fresh, the sidewalks and streets washed clean and the nights’ a bit cooler. We can’t complain.

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The Symphony Season has begun (Sept. thru Dec.) with ten outstanding performances scheduled. We will have several visiting conductors and many soloist this season, with a special Holiday program in December. Opening night they performed compositions all written by Mexican composers and the young man sitting in front of me was one of them (Alejandro Basulto – Pueblos Mágicos ). I was so moved by the music, I had a vision which I wrote a poem about the next morning.

Pueblos Mágicos

By Alejandro Basulto

A visual tribute in writing by – D.G. Heath

 

Hushed silence blankets the pueblo in the early dawn

A crescendo strikes as the first sunbeam stirs the sleepy village to life and the day begins.

Thin and silvery, a gossamer spider’s web of morning mist covers the smooth peaceful water of the lily pond.

A songbird is awakened from his roost in the tall trees as he gives voice to the light of a new day.

Slowly, the hazy-veil of sparkling jewels laced with rainbow prisms and twinkling diamonds ascends from the surface of the pond, floating gently on invisible wisps of air.

Dazzling white lilies, surrounded by velvet green pads glistening with dew drops, silently stretch their petals to greet the sun’s rays.

A tiny frog hops from pad to pad creating ripples like gentle waves on the pond as a golden fish jumps in delight.

Swirling like smoke as it lifts, the magical mirage vanishes, slipping silently between the lush green leaves of tall trees.

A single butterfly descends on a lily, quenching his thirst with the flower’s fresh nectar.

Swiftly other butterflies, flitting and flying helter-skelter, merge with him for the morning feast on the pond.

As if on cue with the music, they take flight in unison, a mass of iridescent color in blues and greens dancing on air.

Swaying to the rhythm of life, they dart to the right, then to the left – first up then down flowing like waves above the pond, as directions change with mastered orchestration.

 

Wings by the thousands glitter and glisten in the rays of sunlight, moving with weightless grace as they perform their ritual dance.

Pueblo villagers begin to appear as they watch with awe the precision choreography of this mating flight.

Moving in mass not a gossamer wing is out of sync as the living cloud circles the air in a vortex of harmony.

Rising higher and higher they ascend in silence and burst like fireworks sending sparks in all directions.

Disappearing into the canopy and dense foliage of the trees rustling in the breeze, they have found their mate and the cycle of life begins again.

 

The first art gallery show of the season will be this Friday at the Galeria La Eskalera. The invitation arrived last week. It is listed as one of the five galleries in Merida that you should not miss – five stars by trip advisor – yelp and inspirock. Always a festive occasion well attended by art lovers.

September 15/16 is Independence Day in Mexico or “El Grito” as it is called by the people of Mexico. The celebration starts with numerous parties in all of the parks around town. At midnight in the main plaza of each city, the mayor, governor or most important government official will ring a bell and shout the words VIVA MEXICO! Then all the thousands gathered in the plaza will shout back…VIVA MEXICO! As loud as they can. This is done three times – fireworks go off and the celebrations with entertainment, bands, dancing, food and drink go on until the wee hours of the next morning. Then there is a morning parade on Sept 16th down Paso Montejo and the street in front of our casa all the way to the main plaza.

John and I had our annual appointment with our dermatologist. Next will be the yearly eye examination and last be not least a visit to our GP. We do our best to stay in good health and have always used preventive health care options. All was well for both of us – nothing serious to worry about. I usually by-pass anything that is cosmetic. Why bother at 75?

We are planning a trip to Campeche this fall and one to Puebla in the spring. I’m thinking Antigua, Guatemala next August for our 48th anniversary celebration and two birthdays – we shall see.

My newest book has been released on Amazon. And already picking up in sales.

D.G. Heath Mystery Collection

Three mysteries in a single book. Here is a quick overview of each story.

Double Martini – Dead men don’t send emails…or do they? When Laura Clark, a Silicon Valley CEO, and founder of her own high tech company, receives an email from her dead husband, she is forced to seek guidance from the realm of the spirit world, which draws her halfway across the globe to the bowels of the ancient mystic city of Istanbul and to a love and life from her past. Lara, with hope in her heart, descends into an eerie and mysterious underground cathedral with the echoing sound of dripping water veiled in darkness, seeking to find – but knowing not what fate awaits her.

Web of Intrigue – Carlotta’s scream, on a quiet morning, could be heard across the sapphire blue Mediterranean Sea when she discovers the body of her lover, cargo shipping giant, Ricardo Orcini, floating in the pool at his elegant Villa Marquesa, sending the sleepy Isle of Capri and Inspector Mario Regetti into a web of intrigue, suspense and danger. A renowned antiquities collector is dead. Murder, robbery and romance lead us to the Capri Palace Hotel, the stately Menton Abbey in England, private yachts, ancient hidden passages, and a dark grotto, as Regetti follows his instincts to solve the crimes and capture the spider in his own web.

Codes and Confessions – What is the story behind a mysterious art deco chest delivered in 2017 to New York interior designer, Joel Wilson? A note hidden inside takes him to England to search for answers and find information about a long lost relative who disappeared without a trace in 1939. Secrets, rumors, lies and confessions abound as genealogist, Karen Davies, digs into his family history and discovers the possibility of great wealth and inheritance to a title. Will he become “Lord of the manor?” Follow Joel in his quest to find the truth. 

Mystery Collection – Book Two will be out next Spring with three more mysteries. Good bedtime stories.

Later my friends – time to write.

David ( D.G. Heath )

Mystery Writing…

When I began writing four years ago at the age of 71, I didn’t have a clue what I should write about. Other writers and instructors indicated I should write about things I knew – things that I had had experienced…my family and friends, guests at our country inn, places I had traveled, where I had lived, and my work. It all sounded too easy. Would people want to know that much about me? Would my life (although a most interesting life, I must admit) – make readers want to purchase the book?

My first book, Tales from a Country Inn, took the better part of three years to complete – writing and rewriting, editing and rewriting then editing the rewrites became a mind boggling effort. I was combing through chapters in my sleep, knowing all the time that it would not be perfect – first tries rarely are. As a matter of fact…98% of what is written is never perfect. I’m an avid reader and I’m constantly finding mistakes that the writers, editors, publishers and printers have missed. Perhaps it wasn’t their mistakes but we have to be honest…nothing in life is (or should be) perfect.

I was given a writing assignment to create a fictional short story. Each person in class picked a topic based on a single sentence. I selected: Dead men don’t send emails…or do they? I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries, following Law and Order and CSI programs on TV. For many years I read Stephen Saylor’s fictional mysteries based on historical happenings in the days of the Roman Empire. Mystery Theatre and other BBC programs captured my attention and allowed me to escape into another world. I was inspired by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. Inspector Hercule Poirot was my hero.

Characters and settings are what moves the story ahead. Characters must be developed both visually and with voice to be real and acceptable to the reader. Characters can also hide their inner feelings and designs. Giving a character actions is not always easy – put yourself in their place – act out the part. What is their body language saying – watch their eyes, their ears, their facial expressions, their hands, arms and legs – give them life and movement.

Don’t put words in their mouth that they wouldn’t say. Know their level of education and how they would speak. Some characters have no voice (think of The Miracle Worker) – yet they speak with their bodies. In the movie Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts didn’t have to say she was a hooker – she looked, walked and dressed the part…you knew it before she climbed down the fire escape and before she spoke a word.

When you describe a scene put yourself at the scene. What do you see? Is there color – is it drab or spooky – is there action…who or what is moving? Use your five senses – see, touch, hear, taste and smell what surrounds you. That will place the reader in the picture. Try not to make a laundry list…incorporate what you see with fantasy, suspense, hunger and a need to remember important items that add to the story and may be used later.

Research: With the help of Google now days it is easy to research places, people, fashions, directions, history and even futuristic ideas. Cities of the future can be envisioned by using cities of the past. Check out the ancient cities of the Maya, Egypt, the Inca’s and Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon or perhaps some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s renderings that never got built (too futuristic or too costly) – just a few suggestions…let your mind wander in a world of fantasy and remember – you don’t have to build it, accept in your reader’s mind.

I tend to work on two or three stories at the same time. Well…not at the same time – but I go from one to another. Most writers develop “writer’s block”. Moving away from one story often allows the brain to free itself before coming back with new ideas. So to speak – it cracks the block and lets new light shine through the cracks.

This may be more than you wanted to know about writing, but it is my way of introducing my next book: D.G. HEATH – Mystery Collection. Three mysteries in one book – each with a different take on mystery. Available on Amazon this Fall.

Double Martini – Web of Intrigue – Codes and Confessions 

Let me know if I have been true to myself, my teachings and a writer worth reading. I hope you like mystery. I do.

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D.G. Heath

Grab Your Hard Hats!

When we first moved to Merida in 2013 we knew we would be doing some remodeling on our newly purchased home. We had learned from previous experience what it is like to live in a construction environment.

We had built our mountain getaway home and guest house in the Tehachapi Mountains of California in 1982 from the ground up – an experience that we will never forget. The knowledge we stored from that labor of love has come in handy when it comes to construction.

However, in the Yucatan, construction takes on a different meaning, with different materials, different tools and of course an new understanding of ancient traditions. When we had our country inn in New Mexico, we built and moved four times in sixteen years and never left the 225 acre property. Perhaps you might call us compulsive builders. We remodeled the inn and restaurant three times in 20 years – with the intentions of improving and enhancing the property each time.

So…her we are in Merida and our first project was to totally remodel our master bedroom and bath at the back of the house while we camped out in the guest room upstairs.

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                                                                 In the beginning

                       Letting in the light / adding pasta tile / Shower with a garden view

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                Fill for the new tile floor in the bedroom (needed to raise it 7 inches)

Living in Centro has its special quirks. We learned that all building materials (cement blocks, bags of gravel, sand and cement –  tools and equipment had to be brought in through the front doors (properties don’t’ have a rear entrance). This meant that all construction debris had to be carried out the same way in reverse – through the courtyard, kitchen, dining room and living room with constant traffic moving back and forth – got the picture?

Next in October 2013 we tackled painting rooms and installing marble columns in the living/dining room area and the back portal while having some custom furniture made for kitchen storage and master bedroom closets.

                                             The bleak but sturdy bare bones in 2013

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                    Starting to look better – The arch needs something to hold it up – 

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                      There – that’s much better but the process isn’t finished yet.

In 2015 we made the decision to put a plunge pool in the center courtyard. The hot summer months were taking some getting use to. This took a month of construction (again…in and out the front doors.

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                                          The small courtyard needed some work

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                                        The improvements made a big difference.

And now we are starting to remodel half of the kitchen which is suppose to only take two weeks. I took some before photos and then the after photos.

The work begins with demolition of the counters and preparation of the work area

                    BEFORE ABOVE

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     AFTER

      BEFORE –  Concrete sinks are not pretty and hard to keep clean

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A heavy gage stainless farm sink  imported from the US works much better and the tile back-splash with mosaic tile accents give it a punch.

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Shelf down lights are soft white LED – Cabinets are hard wood with stainless pulls.

We did not do this ourselves but it is our design and was well executed by our contractor – on time and on budget.

I hope this is the last construction zone we have to live in, However… if our ship comes in, we may bite the bullet and redo the guest bedroom and bath…but that’s another story.

Meanwhile we keep the hard hats handy.

Around the boot by water – Positano to Venice…

2008 Cruise 093Positano was our last Italian port before we reached Venice.  This cliff-side village south of the Bay of Naples on the Amalif Coast is a well-known holiday destination for European travelers and others with its pebble beachfront, steep rocky hills in the back ground, and narrow winding streets lined with expensive boutique shops and cafes. We opted to stay on board ship for another day at the spa and lunch in our open cabana. There are more than a few famous chefs in Positano and several Roman ruins.

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We made plans with our butler to have a small party that evening as we passed through the Straits of Messina on our way around the boot of Italy to the Dalmatian coast and Dubrovnik. We had purchased several bottles of wine in Athens and added a couple of bottles of Champagne from the ships supply. Our butler had arranged complimentary hors d’oeuvres, finger sandwiches and chips and dips for the party.

We invited six couples we had met during the first part of the cruise. The butler delivered our invitation to each of their cabins and suites while the ship was docked in Positano.  All six couples attended and everyone seemed to have a great time watching the sunset from our back decks as we passed through the Straits of Messina once again. I forgot to charge my camera battery so I didn’t get any photos that night.

We dined with three of the couples at dinner in the Tuscany restaurant on board. The social director made an announcement that there would be dancing on the pool deck after dinner and we were forced to go along with the group. John and two of the husbands didn’t dance so I was kept pretty busy with the ladies.  They announced there would be a twist contest and one of my partners begged me to join in the contest with her. I did… and out of the final three couples left on the dance floor, we were the winners by unanimous applause. We each got a bottle of Champagne as our grand prize. My tired feet were crying for rest so we said good night and trudged off to dreamland.

By the time breakfast was finished the following morning we had arrived along the coast of Croatia.  Six ships were already ahead of us at the docks in Dubrovnik, so the captain cruised further up the shore to a small town that I forget the name of. It was not on our itinerary, but they had buses there to transport the passengers down the road to Dubrovnik. John and I decided to explore the smaller town where the ship was anchored and miss the thousands of tourist from the six other ships.

It was apparent that the town was fortified in earlier times. There was a tall stone wall climbing the hillside that surrounded the village. (It may be difficult to see in this photo.) The buildings were made of stone and there was an old fort sitting on the hill.

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The Fort

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The Wall taken from the ship.

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Fishing boats and small yachts 

Narrow streets were lined with tall buildings, and the main square near the church was small.

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High doorways with steps indicated rising sea waters 

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There was a storm blowing from south to north into the Adriatic Sea so the captain didn’t make a stop in Split that evening except to take on some supplies and head off to Venice.

The following morning as we sat on our back deck having coffee and pastries we could see the storm approaching and watched as a huge water spout formed about five miles in the distance and began to follow the ship. The captain revved up the engines “full speed ahead” to out run the spout. It was all very exciting and everyone was talking about it a breakfast and lunch that day.

Arrival in Venice

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Morning line-up of gondolas near famous Harry’s Bar

On arrival in Venice we had out run the worst of the storm. There was a light drizzle as we disembarked and wheel our luggage onto one of the large canal boats called a vaporetto.  Soon we were crossing the Famous Rialto Bridge trying to find our boutique hotel.  Finally I stood under an awning with the luggage while John searched the narrow streets for the hotel he had booked only to find out we were a day ahead of schedule (due to the storm).

Somehow we missed the Captain’s announcement that guests were welcome to remain on board until the following day. However, the manager / owner of the hotel was able to find a room at another small hotel close by for the one night stay, We left most of our luggage at the hotel we had reserved and checked into the small but adequate hotel close by.

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A Vaporetto boat with the Rialto Bridge in the background taken from our terrace.

The following day we checked into the hotel near the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal from the main fish market. We had a room with a terrace right on the Grand Canal. Gondolas, vaporettos and other small delivery boats cruised past our windows daily. We could hear the songs of the Gondoliers as they glided silently on the canals. Narrow streets for walking, bridges crossing over small canals, discovering another palazzo around the next corner and having lunch at a sidewalk café, this is what living in Venice is all about.

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We have been to Venice three times and will always remember the little Hotel Fenice de Artistes and hearing a Vivaldi concert in a small chapel of St. Marc’s Cathedral – or running through the hundreds of pigeons gathered in St. Marc’s Square at six in the morning while listening to Gregorian chants echoing from the Cathedral.  As the sunlight begins to break through the misty morning fog, we sit at a small café sipping strong hot coffee waiting for the next vaporetto to carry us off to the airport and the final leg of our journey back to France and on to America.

Arrivederci !

Cruising the Mediterranean…

Have you ever wanted to take a Mediterranean cruise? It was our pleasure to experience just such a trip on Oceania Cruise Lines – one of the best cruise lines in and around the Mediterranean. There were several reasons why we selected Oceania that made the adventure enjoyable.

All restaurants on board were open to everyone – no assigned seating – all adults/no children – no formal attire required – dressy casual was the norm for dinner – and the ship stopped at all the right islands/with the best tourist destinations for sightseeing – plus only 684 passengers with 412 service staff not including the crew that operated the ship.

We booked one of the Owner’s Suites on level 7 at the aft of the ship with a large deck that spanned both the main room and the bedroom. I believe the ship only had six of these suites. We later found out upon boarding that the suite included a butler –who would have thought?

Once requested, coffee/orange juice and a ship’s newspaper were delivered at 7 am each day for the next 14 days. We dined at the Terrace Café on the back deck almost every morning. Room service was available but we liked meeting new people.  Tuscany was our favorite restaurant with its casual friendly atmosphere, excellent food and staff. The Polo Grill was fussy and fine, we ate there three times, but it was less casual with more of a club appeal.

Boarding took place in Istanbul where we spent five days at the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel prior to sailing. It was located facing the Marmara Sea and directly across the street from the Blue Mosque. Our room had a Turkish style Hammam bathroom complete with a marble bench and water basin with ladle for pouring the water over you. Fortunately, for me, it also worked as a shower. Our room overlooked the top of the restaurant where we had breakfast while watching dolphins playing in the Sea of Marmara below.

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The famous Blue Mosque

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Entrance to the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel

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The Hotel and a view from our room terrace.

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Our first port of call was at Kusadasi, Turkey to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Here, we were bused in to the ancient city of Anthony and Cleopatra. Ephesus used to be on the coast but the coastline has changes over the centuries. We had an amazing tour through the recently excavated “terrace houses” with beautiful fresco murals and mosaic tile floors. Archeological engineers had built Lucite walkways over the various excavated levels to help preserve these artistic wonders. Seeing how people lived during the days of the Roman Empire brought history to life.

Arches and the column lined, stone paved streets of Ephesus where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony once walked. I had to search to find shade that day.

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The amazing terrace houses – with murals still in place.

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Arched and painted ceilings

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Mosaic tile floors and indoor pools and fountains.

I’m reminded of some of the grand houses in Merida today.

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This is the front of what was the Roman library. Quite ornate!

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Entrance to the public restrooms

We also learned, that in ancient times they had live entertainment in the public restrooms where you could sit on a toilet and listen to music or poetry while taking care of business. There was running water below so you didn’t even need to flush. The Mayan palace ruins in Palanque also had similar facilities – King Ludwig came much later with running water in his palaces – But on with my story…

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The ruins on the Isle of Delos – Roman columns framing arches must have been popular.

The Isle of Delos was our next destination. This is referred to as “The Isle of the Gods” – it was believed to be the home of the Greek gods. No one is allowed to be on the island after dark – that must be when the gods had their parties – no visitors allowed.

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Houses were close and the streets were narrow.

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Four large cruise ships anchored off Delos. Ours was number five. – Very little vegetation on the island.

Due to shallow water around the isle, the ship is not able to anchor close so they ferry passengers in on the tenders (lifeboats). Here you need to take a guided tour or you won’t have a clue about what you are looking at.

We sailed next to Mykonos where many of the passengers went ashore to spend their money on lunch and shopping. We took advantage of the quiet time to have a massage in the ships spa and a private lunch in our reserved open cabana above the pool deck at the front of the ship. We could see most of the town from there and avoided the crowded streets, restaurants, and shops with their outrageous prices (our massages and lunch were included in our Owner’s Suite package).

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We cruised over night and were having breakfast the next morning as we arrived at the magical island of Santorini which had been created by a volcanic eruption. Like the teeth of a giant, the gleaming white town spread along the black volcanic rock smiling at us in the crisp morning light, dotted with domed caps of blue here and there. Several ships had arrived at the same time so we knew it would be like a colony of ants scurrying to take in all the important sites and devour the meat off the bones.

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Crisp white building like this church clung to the cliffs edges and stair stepped down.

Once off the bus, we stayed away from the tour groups and wandered on our own finding a delightful restaurant hidden off the street and down a couple flights of stairs. Sitting on a small terrace overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean we enjoyed a delicious lunch while listening to Greek music in the background. See below…

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Athens was next on the ships agenda. Here we decided to take a tour to the Acropolis with a guide who was out to give us the entire history of every Greek war that was ever fought – forgetting the romantic Greek poetry and stories of Greek gods.

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We left the group – did our own architectural tour and had a soothing, cool chocolate shake at the restaurant near where the buses were parked before the group returned hot, tired, bleary eyed and over educated on Greek wars.

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Yes…there was smog in Athens as you can tell from the haze in the background.

We bused into town and had lunch then wander through the famous downtown Palatka full of shops and winding streets where the gypsy women try to sell you beautiful lace while their children are picking your pockets with a professional touch. Six of our fellow passengers came back to the ship without their wallets – word to the wise – stay alert.

 

We purchased a few bottles of Greek wine at Ermou Spirits Cava wine shop and a huge bouquet of mixed flowers at a corner flower stall. Our butler got us a couple of vases for the flowers and we relaxed with a bottle of wine on our deck before dinner that evening with Carolyn and Sidney Schultz.

We met and had lunch the first day on board with Carolyn and Sidney from New Rochelle, NY, while waiting for the crew to deliver luggage to the cabins. Carolyn used to teach drama in NYC. One of her students was Bernie Schwartz before he became known as Tony Curtis. She was also in a Broadway play with Bea Arthur.

The ship traveled over night from Athens to Taormina, Sicily where we visited a church on top of the hill and participated in a wine tasting event before heading off again.

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2008 Cruise 101Taormina

Passing through the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily while having dinner, we arrived in Positano the following morning. Positano is a cliff-side village south of the Bay of Naples on the Amalif Coast of Italy. It’s a well-known holiday destination for affluent Europeans and others with a pebble beachfront and steep, narrow streets lined with expensive boutiques and cafes. We opted to stay on board ship for another day at the spa and lunch in our open cabana.

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We had made plans with our butler to have a small party that evening as we passed through the Straits of Messina once again on our way around the boot of Italy to Dubrovnik.

I will save the party, the dance contest, Croatia, the Dalmatian coast and Venice for the next blog post.

Until then Bon Voyage!

And the Rains Came Down…

Okay – I think I need to do some explaining here. It was my full intention to write a blog post about the Noche Blanca festivities here in Merida. However, unfortunately that ain’t gonna happen.  I will share with you the reasons why.

John and I are in our seventies (reason number one). Thus, we are old fashion “Early to bed early to rise” people (to bed by 11 pm and up around 6 am). We delight in all of the fun evening events that take place in this beautiful, tropical, colonial city whenever we can. The word “Tropical” is the operable word here. When the month of June arrives with the summer monsoons, outdoor activities are a hit and miss opportunity. Thus was the scenario last evening (reason number two – rain).

Our “good intentions” were washed away when it began to rain here in the city around 3 pm. At first it was a light drizzle – turning to a sprinkle – then a deluge…lasting a good three hours and tapering off to a light rain until around 9 pm. Thor struck his lightening-bolts and the thunder rolled across the darkened sky – quite a show of electrical power play. The poor turkey buzzards who usually weather a storm sitting on a tower atop the PAN party headquarters building across the street from us were nowhere to be seen. If they had been sitting on the tower we would have had fried buzzard to deal with. Imagine all those singed black feathers flying in the wake of a strike.

Our street can usually handle a heavy rain since the city has been cleaning out the storm drains here in Centro to prevent water back-up. However, crossing streets is like wading a small rushing stream – especially at the intersections.  Having a pair of rubber rain boots stashed in your closet is not such a bad idea. Although I must warn you about the buses, taxis, trucks and other vehicles who believe the phrase “full speed ahead” while driving on the rain filled streets. They are like speed boats living behind a wake three feet high and if you can’t jump that high you are bound to get drenched just walking down the sidewalk (reason number three).

Of course the temperatures were stifling and the 100% humidity made it a very sticky and damp evening outdoors. However, there are the true “die-hards” who braved the elements wearing their light weight plastic ponchos and rain gear to attend what few events were able to muster-up the courage to finally set up and stage everything by around 9:30 pm. (which lasted until about 2 am); while the leaves in the trees continued to drip-drip-drip on the party goers.

Needless to say – we stayed home, had dinner and watched a movie in the comfort of A/C. All that was missing was the pop-corn. Our pool is filled to over-flowing wuth the added rain water and this morning the palms and plants in our garden look happy and refreshed. Even the geckos were out racing and chasing each other. The parrots were up early squawking as they circled the air above and the doves seemed pleased with the drop in the heat.

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In case you wonder who is writing this blog – I’m the one in the blue Levi shirt (25 years ago when I was 50). John was and still is a great chef…Just one of the reasons we have been together for 48 years.

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Lamb Chops with a little 1982 Grand Vin Chateaux Latour

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No folks – this is not Soupa de Lima but a spicy tomato soup with creme fresh, with home made sour dough bread and a Savignon Blanc wine.

I just started a Facebook page but it will take me some time to learn how it works. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks.” – Unless you provide him with an operations manual written in “senior language” (i.e.…before all this technical jargon.) Right now, I can’t even remember the password I used because I didn’t write it down – so it may be a while before my Facebook friends hear from me. Please forgive me it you happen to be one of them.

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A gift from some friends, the Virgin of San Juan de Los Largos was the patron saint of the Rancho de San Juan Country Inn. Bachelor Buttons and Yellow Chocolate flowers add color at the base. She stood guard over the entry courtyard. Photos of any kind always make a blog post more interesting.

That’s a wrap folks. I’ll see what I can come up with for the next blog. Perhaps I will do a post on our  Writer’s Group TV filming next Monday 19th.

Oh…by-the-way, a big thanks to those of you who have read my book Tales from a Country Inn and posted your comments on Amazon…Muchas Gracias!

Saludos!

 

 

 

“Windows in the Earth” – The Shrine … at Rancho de San Juan Country Inn – NM

Eons ago a vast amount of New Mexico was covered by water as volcanoes began to erupt and seismic activity caused mountains to form and steam rose from the lava flows as the molten masses created a layer of black basalt rock on the sandy floor below the water’s surface. Mesas became islands or I should say islands became mesas as the waters receded and evaporated into steam. Over thousands of centuries this shallow expanse of water became the high desert of northern New Mexico – blessed with the beautiful Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain ranges. Deep valleys were carved out of the solidified sandstone beneath the hardened cap of black lava flows.

Chama River Valley

The verdant Chama River Valley flows from north to south, carved through the dark mesas seen in the background. Fertile farm lands are blessed with the waters from its mineral hot springs to the north.

Lava rock trapped the ash and sand beneath its hardened surface. Ancient people used this capped “Tufa Stone” or volcanic ash as dwellings. In Bandolier National Monument Park – you can visit these cliff dwellings today. They normally faced south and are depended on the warmth of the winter sun during the freezing cold temperatures of December through February.

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Puye Cliff Dwellings of the Anasazi Indians ( Ancient Ones )

This was Georgia O’Keeffe country – where we settled and became innkeepers in 1994. The flat topped mountain is know as Pedernal. It stands watch over Lake Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Georgia once told a reporter that God had given her the mountain because she had painted it so often. She was a New Mexico resident for many years, along with Mable Dodge Luhan and Millicent Rogers – all women who were involved with artist and the culture of the southwest.

Pedernal Peek

Pedernal Mt. with Lake Abiquiu in the forefront peppered with juniper trees pinon pine and cacti.

We were open less than a month, when a man appeared wearing Bermuda shorts, a Panama hat, a floral Hawaiian print shirt and sandals. He carried a portfolio in his hands like a traveling salesman – and sold us on the idea to create a shrine on our property. It wasn’t an easy sale, but we finally gave-in and commissioned him to create a hidden chapel among the giant sandstone butte formations on our 225 acres backing onto the tall mesa east of the inn.

The Shrine

Shrine Windows – There were six tall windows and a glass door.

It was supposed to be built in six weeks but ended up taking two and a half years. I have to admit, it was our fault. We encourage him to increase the size and make the ceilings higher. More windows were needed to allow the natural light to illuminate the interior space. What we wanted was a venue where people could have small weddings and other functions. What we got was a work of art – a unique space for meditating and a sanctuary that served for many occasions. However, it was a quarter mile hike up the side of the mesa on a rocky serpentine path – but worth every step, once you arrived.

Windows in The Earth

The sand was not solidified like rock but it was densely compacted and very firm for digging. This was not only and artistic architectural masterpiece but an engineering feat.

The artist, Ra Paulette, used shells, stones and semi-precious stones gathered from around the property and inlayed them in the sandstone as decoration. Mirrors were incorporated on flat surfaces where votive candles could be set to add light and soothing ambience.Sculpture 3

Inlayd shells and stones used as decoration around a larg sculpted Nautlious shell.

Many of our guests often referred the shrine to works and designs of Antoni Gaudi on a much smaller scale. Glass windows and a glass door were installed to keep the natural elements from causing erosion and weathering and to keep black bears, mountain lions, bob cats and coyotes from make it their den. – after all, we were living in the wilds of northern New Mexico 38 miles from Santa Fe. To provide housing for the desert critters was not our intention.

Sculpture 2Shell altar with mirror surface reflecting the sculpture.

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The “meditation chamber” had no windows. ( sorry – no photo) It was the shape of a giant egg with a round pedestal in the center. Standing in the center of the stone pedestal you could extend your arms in every direction and not touch the sides or the ceiling. The acoustics were so amazing you could hear you own heart beating. And if someone else was in another part of the shrine you could hear them whispering.

The shrine was used on numerous occasions for storytelling and small musical events. The artist carved a large chair for the storyteller while the guests would sit around to listen.The Storyteller's Chair

Storyteller’s Chair

A member of the Albuquerque Symphony carried her chello up the ¼ mile trail and played a concert in the shrine for 16 people. Another person gave a concert on his lap harp for a small group of friends before dinner in the restaurant.

In the Shrine

 

Meditation Room

The tall cathedral-like windows created a chapel-like effect for numerous weddings. Jessie Diamond, Neil Diamond’s son was married in the shrine and in the courtyard at the inn (a double ceremony). Older couples enjoyed renewing their vows in the shrine. Our cat “Scooter” attended the first wedding in the shrine – and they said he was as “quite as a mouse”. – Perhaps he didn’t make any sound but I wasn’t about to compare him to a mouse – I had to live with him for 19 years.

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Arches of stone and swrilling sand in a mystical Land of Enchantment.

This was just one of the many things that made the Rancho de San Juan a “Uniquely Different Experience.”

In closing, I should mention that the artist finally received the recognition he deserved for his magnificent creation. His life’s work was featured in an Oscar nominated documentary short subject film called “The Cave Digger” at the Academy Awards in 2014. There are several short films about other shrines he has created since. You can find the film on line.

Live everyday as if it were your last!

Enjoy and embrace life. Read my book, Tales from a Country Inn, available on Amazon, for more about the shrine and interesting guests.

D.G. Heath

Next Blog Poast – Noche Blance weekend in Merida – stay tuned for SNL south of the border.

Down Memory Lane…

Has it really been only four years? It all happened so fast – but this August 23rd will mark the date that friends in New Mexico drove us to Denver in the wee hours of the morning to depart on the next adventure in our lives. I was seventy-one years old and John was just three days away from turning sixty-seven. We had lived in the Ojo Caliente River Valley, 38 miles northwest of Santa Fe, since 1993 while building and operating our country inn and restaurant known as the Rancho de San Juan.

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Custom Bronze Logo by artist Star Liana York

I was going through old photos recently trying to justify what I need to keep on the computer and what I could delete and suddenly memories of former guest and the great elaborate parties we used to have came back to me in a flash and I thought it would be fun to share them with you – Especially those of you who were a part of our lives in those 20 years.

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This was the entry to the main buildings as you arrived at the Rancho.

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The custom made front door was 10 feet high with a fancy artistic touch.

The inn grew from 5 guests rooms in 1994 to 15 rooms by 2013 – and the restaurant which opened to guests and the public went from 4 tables in a one small dining room to sixteen tables in two dining rooms, a full bar and a chef’s table in the main kitchen area.

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The Chef’s Table in the kitchen area could seat up to eight people. This is where guests could watch all the action happening and chat with John about hwo the various foods were prepared.

Our Haviland china was custom made in Limoges, France with our logo in the center. Our main dining room would seat 24 in comfortable chrome and leather Bruno chairs and was a place for local artist to display their paintings and sculpture – with with French doors that opened to a western view so guests could enjoy the magnificent colors of a New Mexico sunset.

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The main dining room looking west.

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A different view looking north.

The entry reception area was a place where guests liked to gather for a morning coffee or evening cocktail.

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An antique oak mantel surrounds the raised fireplace

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The fountain patio was just through the French doors on the east where guest enjoyed having their breakfast with a view of Black Mesa

There was a six burner double-oven Garland range in our first kitchen which eventually became the breakfast and dinner prep kitchen (originally it was only 16 X16 feet).

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The main kitchen that came about six years later was done in Mexican tiles from floor to ceiling with an eight burner double-oven Jade range and warming station where the servers retrieved their orders.

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The warming station separated the kitchen staff from the wait staff so they didn’t get in each other’s way. There was a patio for outdoor dining when requested off the chef’s table area.

In the beginning, the restaurant didn’t have a name but it became known as Three Forks Restaurant at the suggestion of one of our guests – as you can see from this photo, the tables were always set with three forks (amuse/salad/entrée).

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We used Royal Danish pattern sterling silver. It was a very popular pattern in the fifties and sixties and is still made today.

The second dining room, used mostly for breakfast and cocktails in the winter had a southwest flare with a cabinet filled of our Kachina collection and a full view of the small bar with its Taos drum tables and wrap-around banco-seating.

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This area was our original bedroom until we needed to make room for more dinner guests and add our bar.

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The antique wood doors painted a turquoise blue were from Mexico and the ornate carved wood desk came from the American Conciliate offices in Mexico City.

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The bar would hold about fifteen people but we also had a covered portal with five additional tables for cocktails or breakfast outside.

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The back bar in this shot was an antique black oak English break-front, originally used in Geronimo Restaurant in Santa Fe.

We used two napkin folds. For dinner the staff was trained to do what I called the

Sydney Opera House fold – or the “Duck Tail”

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And the breakfast fold – which I called the “Bird of Paradise”

Many local artists were happy to show their art on the walls of the inn and restaurant. We had sculptures by Star Liana York, Doug Coffin and Gregory Lomayesva and paintings by Brian Coffin and his dad Doug, Shelia Mahoney, Bette Ridgway and Antonio Arellanes. It was like dining in an art gallery.

I will continue this little trip down Memory Lane in the next blog with some photos of the shrine we commissioned by the famous shrine maker “The Cave Digger” Ra Paulette.

Until then…You might want to read Tales from a Country Inn available on Amazon and join the thousands of guests who visited with us and enjoy some of their unusual stories.

Thanks for the company, (and the memories).

D.G.Heath

Saturday Night Live!…It’s Noche Mexicana

When you live three blocks away from live entertainment and its FREE… well who can resist? We have come to enjoy the amazing cultural exhibition of arts, music and dance on Saturday nights on stage at the Remate. However…that is not the only entertainment available. We are people watchers and Saturday night when the temperatures start to drop around 8:00 pm the families come out to enjoy an evening of dining, shopping and Ballet Folkloric performances with colorful costumes, guest singers and Mariachis on stage.  001

   Setting up the stage

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It’s only 7 pm – but the crowd starts to arrive and reserve their seats

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Later, around 9 pm there isn’t an empty seat to be found.

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And this is what they have been waiting for.

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Ballet Folkloric Dancers from Chihuahua entertain at Noche Mexicana.

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Many Ballet Folkloric groups travel around Mexico performing dances from their state.

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Colorful costumes reflect the state and and area they are from.

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The early shoppers arrive before dark to check out the stalls and visit with friends.

We are lured to this festive scene by the sound of lively music and the precision stomping of the dancer’s shoes on the scenic decorative stage. The seductive aroma of Yucatecan foods as they are cooked in the open air at individual stands tantalizes the taste buds as we are drawn into the mood of the evening. This is serious cooking folks.

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I started with delicious tamales served on banana leaves with sauteed white onions and pickled red onions. John had a plate with a selection of three large tacos. Sorry no photo he must have been hungry.

These stands are run by local families who have been doing this for years. Take your choice of homemade tacos with all the trimmings and salsas, or perhaps you would prefer a delicious pork or chicken filled tamale with black beans and a salad. Panuchos and salbutes with cochinita or turkey, pickled red onions, avocado and of course habanero salsa await the hungry mass of humanity.

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Homemade pies and cakes are very popular as are ice cream cones.

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Get there early to get a table – Coco-Cola chairs are everywhere and fill up quickly.

Adults of all shapes, sizes and manner of dress wander around.

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A trio of Fashionistas – Eat your heart out TJ Max!

Some kids have all the luck – their dad buys them a car.

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Young man out for a stroll in his red Mustang. 

Others are in tow while pulling behind them their plastic toy dogs, ducks, and horses

This young lady trains her pony on wheels.

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Toys on wheels and colorful plastic balls on a string are popular with the kids.

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Kids fashions straight from the Fashion Show Runway – They learn early how to shop. This mom has her hands full with two fashionistas – note the leg with a white sandal on her left.

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Handmade toys are a big seller – they don’t need Toys ‘r Us   –    Just look at the selection!- Yo-yos / spinning tops / paddle balls / puppets / guitars / building blocks, etc. etc.

This is a gathering of friends and families who are here to have a good time in the cooler part of the day. Occasionally you will see a young one who must have missed his or her siesta cradled in the arms of their mom or dad.

If you take a close look you might notice what’s missing…no alcohol, no drugs, no guns, and almost no smoking. There are smiles instead of frowns, laughter in place of anger, no pushing or shoving, people mingle like fish in the sea or stream…some moving upstream while others are swimming downstream. I call it polite harmony.

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If you listen carefully you will hear many languages spoken…Spanish of course, perhaps German, Dutch, French, Scandinavian, Italian, and maybe even English blended into this amazing melting pot of tourism called Merida.

Two and a half hours later we are ready to head home as more people are still arriving.  But we couldn’t leave without having an ice cream cone or a bag of churros, those delicious deep fried sticks of pastry covered in cinnamon sugar and hot from the pot.

028…or perhaps a delicate rolled crepe filled with chocolate or a salty string cheese. Ah…the deserts in life.

An evening on the town – drinks – dinner – dessert and three house of entertainment all for for about $10 for the two of us. Retirement comes easy in the Yucatan but we run out of time trying to enjoy it.

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Your carriage awaits – Cinderella !  Now where are those little mice?

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Ah…home at last – No that’s not us in the carriage but that is John’s shirt in the corner as he unlocks our front doors.

A glass of red wine for a night-cap and a recap of the evening’s events – then it’s off to dreamland between our cool, freshly starched and ironed sheets (I do them myself) as the moon shines through the glass-block skylights above the bed casting ghost-like angles on the walls.

This puppy is pooped.

Night all…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz