Joe’s Five-Day, Cake-Eating, Shorts-Wearing Birthday Celebration

Posted from Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico.

Greetings from Glamorous Acapulco!  Well, maybe not glamorous – especially our dealings with it.  But more on that later.

We’re doing a quick post today because we’re not sure if we will have internet for the rest of the week.  It’s a heavy duty travel week as we plan to get to Guatemala on Sunday.  Honestly, you have no idea how massive Mexico is until you are actually in it!  It will take us a total of about 10 full days of driving to get from the Arizona border to the Guatemala border.

My birthday was yesterday (Tuesday), but the cake-eating began on the Friday before.  (Did you know that cake is my favorite food?  It is.)  Last Friday we worked on the farm, as usual.  But as our work day ended, the host husband told us that we were invited up to the house because the host wife made an early birthday cake for me.  It was also kind of a going away cake for all four of us workers, but I chose to call it a birthday cake.  Plus, they sang “Happy Birthday” to me!  It was incredibly sweet and special, not to mention unexpected.  The cake itself – get this – was a kumquat cake with a chocolate glaze.  The chocolate was a Mexican brand that has cinnamon in it.  The combination of kumquats and chocolate was outstanding.  I think we all had two pieces.  Aye carumba, it was SO delicioso!

On Saturday the four helpers (Erik and I along with our British co-workers) drove to San Blas for the purchases of 1) getting pesos from the ATM; 2) finding lunch; and 3) buying a birthday cake to bring home and eat.  We went to a cafe and had wonderful bean and cheese gorditas, and then we each had a slice of cake.  Erik and I shared two pieces: one piece of triple-layer chocolate cake and one piece of vanilla cheesecake/chocolate cake (yes, in one cake).  Both were wonderful.  Our English counterparts couldn’t come up with a better pairing so they got the same ones.

Outside of Birthday Cake Numero Dos.

And the jaw-dropping inside

After lunch we went to another pasteleria to buy an entire cake to take back to our place in Aticama.  (Let’s just pause right there and contemplate the glorious fact that Spanish has a word for “cake shop” that is different from “bakery” or “candy store” or “cafe” or anything like that.  “Pastel” = cake.  “Pasteleria” = cake shop.  No wonder they are so happy!)  There were THREE pastererlias all within two blocks in San Blas.  Aye yi yi!  At this second pasteleria we had a very hard time deciding which of the beautiful cakes to buy.  The lady working the counter was super sweet but didn’t speak a word of English.  Of course, we couldn’t see the inside of the cakes, so we did our best to understand what she was telling us.  We ended up getting a ginormous cake for $20, which seems like a lot of money to spend but this cake would have cost at least $50 in the States – no question.  The cake – sit down for this – was Tres Leches AND cheesecake.  The bottom layer was tres leches, the middle layer was an entire vanilla cheesecake, and the top layer was another tres leches.  It was incredible.  Our friends bought me a candle in the shape of a question mark because they were afraid 39 candles (There!  I said it!) would burn down The Cono.  The sweet pasterelia señora had so much fun with us that she threw in a set of magic candles (velas magicas) for free.  It was a very sweet gesture, but I despise magic candles – the kind that re-light themselves after they are blown out.  Oh, well – it was still way fun.  Back home we had a goofy dinner of things that were left in our refrigerators (since we were all leaving on Monday) and had cake.  Incredible, mind-blowing cake.

On Sunday, we continued cleaning the the Cono, packed up Uli, drank some tequila, and ate more cake.  There wasn’t much more than that that I can recall…

Monday morning we left the Cono, our friends, and Aticama at 7:00 and began a six-day journey to the border of Guatemala.  Monday morning we passed through Puerto Vallarta and saw many traces of Americanism, including Office Depot, KFC, and Domino’s – which, after spending 15 days in a small village, was a total culture shock.  The Starbuck’s was totally (and embarrassingly?) overpopulated with gringos.  We drove along the beach front, which really was quite gorgeous.  If you are interested, there were plenty of realty signs indicating sales of land and condominiums.  After seven-and-a-half hours of driving we arrived in warm and sunny San Patricio.  Trying to ease ourselves of car fever, we both quickly donned our swim trunks and headed to the ocean, a 60-second walk from Apollo.  The ocean waters are definitely getting warmer.  We had a lot of fun – once we remembered to keep our lips tightly closed – despite the fact that we were both quickly and effortlessly body-slammed by a giant wave within three minutes of entering the water.

Walking around and spending time in San Patricio, we liked the city quite a lot.  There were gringos here and there but also plenty of Mexican tourists.  In fact, the locals with whom we interacted (restaurant and store owners, campground personnel) didn’t speak English at all, so we felt like we were getting a more “Mexican” experience than we had closer to the border.  After a dinner consisting of a shared torta and drinks made from yaca, (total price: just over $5), we went back to the campground and polished off the last of the super colossal birthday cake.  That night the sounds of local fiestas, the bustle of the town, and the restless oceans waves seeped through our windows, which were open all night long because it was so balmy.

Just an itty, bitty section of the humungous Mexican coastline

Tuesday was my birthday and it was filled with new experiences.  The first of which was the fact that my clothing for the day included shorts and a sleeveless shirt.  I’m not sure that I can say that I ever wore that on my birthday in Wisconsin or Minnesota.  I may get used to these new birthday wardrobe options.  Another new experience on my birthday: spending seven hours on the road.  This leg of the trip was along the coastline, which is beautiful, but it was very windy and hilly – much like driving Highway 1 in California in areas like Big Sur.  But the endless palm trees along the beach made it different.  Our trip took us through dozens of small towns, all of which have topes, or speed bumps, at the entrances, exits, and often just in between.  The topes are fantastically effective ways at slowing down traffic, but they get old when you are constantly slowing down for them during a long day of driving.

Our Tuesday destination, Playa Azul, turned out not to be the vacation destination that our camping book lead us to think it would be.  The most obvious tip-off was the that we couldn’t help wondering if the garbage collectors were still on holiday.  There was trash everywhere: mounds of garbage bags piled up on the side of the road (the bottom bags all torn open by scavenging dogs and cats) and then litter all over the street, even in front of houses and restaurants.  The second thing to catch our attention, after getting our of Uli and having our clothes stick to us, was the heat and humidity.  The temperature was easily in the upper 80’s and it was sticky.  Our “campground” was another unexpected surprise: it was the dirt parking lot behind a decent looking hotel.  We inquired about rooms, and a room with a fan cost 400 pesos, so we decided to stick to the original plan and paid 200 pesos (about $14 U.S.) for a spot in the parking lot.  Since the lot was completely empty and would remain so, we had plenty of options.  But hey, it was one block from the ocean!

View of the ocean during dinner

Once again we braved the ocean waves and went for an afternoon swim as an afternoon respite from the heat.  While in the ocean, we literally had to watch our step as there were cute orange starfish all over the place.  We walked along the beach, checking out the restaurants, and decided to stop at one for beer and oysters and then another for birthday dinner, complete with postre (dessert).  There was no pastel on the menu but, like every good Mexican restaurant, there was flan, which is what we had.  After dinner we went back to our secluded parking lot and again went to bed with all the windows open, despite the garbage smell and 3:00 a.m. roosters.

Watch out for Apollo, you Acapulco cabbies!

On Wednesday we were again up by 6:00 and on the road by 7:00, this time headed to Acapulco.  The first six hours of the drive were similar to what we were used to: small towns with their topes, winding coastal roads, cars that will pass anything just to pass it.  Then around 1:00 we hit Acupulco, which we had to drive through to get to our campground.  Let’s just say that Mexican driving is different from American driving.  There are virtually no rules.  As long as you can get where you need to go without hurting anyone, it’s all good.  I drove through the surprisingly gritty urban center, miles away from the glamourous beach resorts which are often prizes on gameshows, and kicked some serious butt in my impersonation of a Mexican driver.  I held my own and got us to our destination… unfortunately, our destination campground, the one we researched in our 2008 Mexican camping book, doesn’t exist as a campground anymore.  After more than an hour fighting for road space with hundreds of Acapulco’s blue and white VW Beetle cabbies, my nerves were a little frayed.  But we found another campground that – get this – is a sort of winter haven for French Canadians.  It’s totally surreal.  Quebecois, with their Quebec license plates and murmuring their “language of amour,” populate this campground by the hundreds.  Who knew?  It takes them almost two weeks to drive here from Canada, and most of them stay for several months.  Who can blame them?  The weather here is fantastic (yes, I am wearing the same clothes I donned on Monday) and the RV park is actually rather nice.

And so tonight we are preparing for the rest of our trip.  Erik will try to research some of our upcoming campgrounds online, since we’ve been burned more than a couple of times by our Mexican camping book.  But things like this change quickly, so you can’t blame a book whose latest publishing was three years ago.  We will keep heading south along the coast and hope to cross the border into Guatemala on Sunday morning, meet our host family, and begin Spanish school on Monday.  Monday is five days away.  We are so excited!  ¡Hasta luego!

¡Feliz cumpleaños a mí!

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8 Responses to Joe’s Five-Day, Cake-Eating, Shorts-Wearing Birthday Celebration

  1. Christine says:

    Mmmmm…. Tres Leches…. I think I’ve got to learn to make that for my birthday…. and mixed with cheesecake??!? Little (or, by the look of that cake, big) slices of heaven.

  2. Ron says:

    Did you save your mom a piece of cake? It must be some of the German in you, that’s like desserts! Glad your b-day was new and different. What will you do for your 40th? Stay safe. I knew that messenger job experience would come in handy. Mom

  3. Ford says:

    Hi Boys,
    It is so much fun reading about your adventures. Your posts are always so happy and full of wonder, and I can’t help thinking about myself in your situation getting CRABBY about the lack of creature comforts and having but one (albeit loved) person with whom to process every damn decision. Do you leave out the gritty parts where you are pouting and whining, or are you really staying happy and full of wonder?

    Congratulations on 39! Just a warning for you…the trip from 39 to 59 (which is what I’m facing next birthday) is a rather quick one!

    Brahms and Ravel await us on Sunday as we regroup after our winter break. Dolce is preparing a wonderful Thuille sextet with piano to perform at Schubert Club in early March.


  4. Aunt Mary & Uncle Bill says:

    JOE!!! what a cake…told Uncle Bill, that is my kind of cake, with cheesecake in it, oh WOW…you would shared, right? Sounds like you had a great birthday….thinking of you….Stay safe!! Love to both…Aunt Mary & Uncle Bill

  5. Merie says:

    Sounds like a great birthday, and I totally approve of your festivity choices! Welcome to 39, Joe! May it treat you well.

  6. Don & Alicia says:

    Hey Joe, You did it up right for your Birthday, you know most people stop counting after 39. Many more Bdays. Stay safe The Nowacks

  7. Alice Williams says:


  8. Patrice pakiz says:

    Hi guys,
    I like the name of that place San Patricio… For some reason lately I’ve been in more conversations where people say they would never go to Mexico and I want to pipe up and say, “But my friends are having a great time there,” but I hesitate. They seem to enjoy bashing it so much. Alas. You certainly are having a memorable Bday. Orch starts up Sunday again. Change is hard!

    All the best,

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