Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Good Stuff

As I strolled the beach this afternoon, I reflected on the events of the past few days and couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I think this image adequately expresses how I was feeling ... Calm, contento, happy.

Today is my baby chica Meagan's 23rd birthday!! We thought she may have been able to visit this week but plans didn't turn out that way. I broke open my phone card and called her at home this afternoon. She's having a fun birthday so far by the sounds of things and knowing her, the celebrations will go on until the weekend. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MEAGAN!! Sending a big Mwahhh and hugs!

John came to visit on Monday. For those of you who don't know John, he's originally from my city of London, Ont. and we have been dear friends for 15 years. We actually just figured that out the other night. It was a bit of a surprise because he emailed Monday morning and decided to visit that afternoon. He has lived in Sayulita, Mexico for about 7 years now which is about an hour down the highway. I visited him there last year. There's a lot that has changed about John since he lived in London, but there's a lot that will never change. For instance, when he used to visit me at home, he always brought treats from the best homemade bakeries around and when he arrived on Monday, he did the same. Sayulita has a new bakery and those cookies were delicious. For the whole time I knew John, I don't think I ever did the dishes. It turned out he did the dishes the whole time he was here too. Here he is after our lovely fresh shrimp dinner at the casa.

Meeting up with John was yet another one of those mystical Mexico experiences. Will they ever end? We planned to meet at the bus station in Las Varas. I waited and waited and waited some more .... no John. I decided to do a bit of shopping and started to walk toward the main street. A truck pulled up curbside and there was John as a passenger and Pancho the yoga/massage/sweat lodge master was driving! It turned out that John knew Pancho when he lived in Sayulita and Pancho had seen him walking in Las Varas and picked him up. Pancho drove us back to Chacala and was on his way. John and I have done a fair bit of travelling together. We once took a road trip from Vancouver (when he lived there) to northern California. John has a way of finding all the back road treasures and is always knowledgeable about the most remote places. He's a tutor in Sayulita and now that people are finding out about him through word of mouth, he can't keep up with the student demand.

It was decided that I couldn't smuggle John home in my suitcase because it would kill him to ever return to London, Ont. But the bond will always be there between us, no matter what the distance.

After John left on Wednesday, I was invited to Pancho's sweat lodge. He is proud of this newly built structure which is on the grounds of Casa Pacifico. Larry and Carlee were up for the experience so I met them there. For those who aren't familiar with a sweat lodge, it is simply a domed structure built of wood with a central pit dug into the ground for hot rocks. They can vary in size but this one was small with enough room to fit 6 people comfortably. It is open to the sky until the canvas cover is put in place. They began centuries ago with the Native North American people and are used for spiritual ceremonies. Here's Pancho preparing the rocks in the fire before the ceremony, one of the sweat lodge with the canvas over it. and Larry and Carlee preparing to go in.

After the rocks are heated in the fire, everyone is seated on the ground on grass mats in a circle. You enter clockwise and exit counter-clockwise. When you enter the lodge, you say "All my relations" in honour of our ancestors. Pancho led the ceremony and another participant retrieved the hot rocks (volcanic rock from this area) from the fire one by one carried into the pit with antlers (I think deer but not sure?) The rocks are sprinkled with cedar. When the canvas is closed at the puerto (door) and it is dark except for the glowing rocks in the centre. Pancho then poured water over the rocks filling the lodge with steam. More rocks are brought in after each session. The sessions honour family, past and present, friends and self. The participants are encourged to speak about who they would like to pray for but there's no pressure. Each participant passed a gourd, which rattled, shook it before they began to talk, and then again as they passed it to the next person. After the circle of prayer is complete for that session, Pancho poured more water over the rocks and sang a chant which sounded native. The chants call to the powers that be to help the participants find an answer to problems or concerns. The lodge of course gets filled with more and more steam. And yes, it is intensely hot in there by the end of the 4 sessions.

Initially, I almost backed out. Those of you who know me, know that I am mildly claustrophobic and one look inside the sweat lodge had me wondering if I would enjoy it. I talked to Pancho about it beforehand, and he said I could sit at the door opening, try one session and leave if I had to. He really encouraged me to try and said that it would really help me. After the second session, there was no getting me out of there and no shutting me up! :) Pancho and Carlee kept checking on me the whole time. I trusted the universe which hasn't failed me yet since I've been here. I am so glad I tried it. After the ceremony, we drank water and shared kiwi fruit and watermelon and threw cedar into the firepit as gratitude to the powers that be. I felt lighter, cleansed and strangely calm when I left and slept like a baby that night.

Note: This is a simplified explanation of this ancient form of healing ritual. There are many parts of it that I cannot even begin to explain due to my inexperience. It really deserves a blog entry of its own, but I am playing catch up again.

Ahem... to change the subject drastically ... onto Victor's 36 hour pizza! Most of us expect a pizza in less than 30 minutes or it's free. Right? Well not in Chacala. Victor, the caretaker of the casa also has a little pizza stand down on the beach road. He's not there very often though. I noticed him setting up shop on Wednesday morning and asked if he would have pizza later. He answered that he would have some about 5 o'clock. I walked down at 5, no Victor, no pizza. After the sweat lodge, we walked over and Victor was there but no pizza was ready. He said to come back tomorrow at around 4 pm because he had to pick up cheese in Las Varas. I came back at 4, Victor wasn't there but "Dust in the Wind" was blaring from the speakers inside. There were signs that activity had taken place though. The little pizza stand was looking very nice with a planter on the counter and even a little table to sit at with a bright red tablecloth. He had hung an interesting painting in a frame above the planter. But still no pizza and still no Victor. After Chico's I went back and there was Victor, the aroma of fresh baked pizza wafted into the air. The place was hopping with 3 people sitting at the table, 2 people waiting on the bench, and 2 people waiting at the counter. I ordered 2 pizzas, one Mexicana and one pepperoni which I decided on after he brought out each one and had me inspect them to be sure. Trouble was, after all this waiting, I had no dinero with me to pay for the pizza! No trouble .. I will give him 25 pesos manana ...

Here's a glimpse at Victor's little pizza shop and his newly decorated counter.

I love the spontaneous creativity in Chacala, even if it takes longer, the end result is ultimately satisfying..

Today I bid goodbye to Larry and Carlee who are headed back home to Denver. We had breakfast this morning at Majahua, an oceanside hotel and restaurant. This gem of a place is expensive but it is undeniably special. Meals are relatively inexpensive though with breakfast totaling 210 pesos for 3 of us. Here's the view from breakfast in paradise.

And one of the seating areas with the stone steps leading the way and me and Carlee ...

I was sad to see them go. Such good people. We promised to keep in touch by email. We spent most of our breakfast talking about Canada's free health care system. I still can't believe the US hasn't caught onto that yet.
Manana is moving day! I will be saying goodbye to my sweet little El Faro and moving on down closer to the ocean to Casa Monarca for my last week in Chacala. I will be posting lots of pics of my new digs soon. I'll have to walk my suitcases one at a time but it's not too far.
And I really know that I've been here a long time when I tell you that I'm going away for the weekend. A vacation from vacation! :) John told me about a place called San Sebastian which is a few hours inland from here. It's a mountain town, one of the oldest in Mexico, nestled into the Sierra Madres surrounded by pine trees. The temperatures are a bit cooler there so I'm glad I packed my jeans and hoodie. There's lots of historical buildings, cobblestone streets and authentic Mexican living. We are trying to figure out a bus route there but it hasn't been easy to get information. We're considering renting a car since we don't have a lot of time. I'm looking forward to this little excursion very, very much and will be posting lots of pics soon!
Hasta luego good people.
Love to all ....

Monday, February 25, 2008

Later ... the Same Sunday ... Part Dos

After my entry earlier today, I strolled down to the beach to find it crowded and lively. A first since I've been here! It's been warmer the last few days and many Mexican families decided to go to the beach. I strolled the shoreline and every few steps brought a new story. Here's some young guys playing a game of soccer.

Kids were building sand castles and the little ones were especially cute to watch as they dodged in and out of the waves. They loved it and were just a little bit afraid at the same time. But madre and padre were always close by keeping their eye on them. Witnessing these images for some reason brought an overwhelming wave of emotion to my heart and I found myself wiping away a little tear now and then as I walked the shoreline. It was a very cool day all around and I am just so very happy to be here. That beach is a very special place. I can't stand to be away from it for very long. Here's a little nino enjoying her day at the beach. Ahhhhhh.

I see all kinds of beautiful children at the beach playing but I hesitate to take a picture because I think their parents would like me to ask permission first. For some reason, I just took these ones and right after, I saw a very proud padre standing there looking at me questionably. I walked over to him and said "bonito nino" and that I hope he didn't mind that I took the picture. He seemed to understand but didn't smile back his approval until I repeated "bonito nino" several times.

Trying to capture this beautiful day, I was snapping pictures everywhere and suddenly realized that the camera wasn't responding. I had a closer look and it seemed that the card on my camera is full ... no wonder. I thought this might happen. I have been emailing my son about it and trying to find a safe place where I can save all my pictures and delete them from the camera. I sat on some rocks at the end of the beach and started deleting doubles or bad shots I had taken. This freed up a little space until I could get home and figure out what to do.

When I got back to the casa, I started to get ready to go meet Larry and Carly. The tamale truck was passing by and I was waiting for them to show up ever since Allan told me about them. "Tamales Pollo" could be heard over the loudspeaker from the truck over and over again. I flagged the guy down and approached the truck. I have seen how you make tamales and have had them only once. The care the goes into these little creations is incredible. I bought 5 tamales from the truck for 16 pesos each. A madre and her sweet little girl sat in the back of the truck and when the madre opened the cooler to retrieve my tamales, the aroma was overwhelmingly ... bueno! I said aloud "Mmmmmmm" and madre smiled. The little girl who was about 2 and just learning to talk repeated every word I said. It was really funny! Here's the tamale truck and the madre and nino ....

Victor came knocking at my door shortly after wanting to use the microwave to heat up his meal. I let him come in and we talked for a while and I asked what it was he was eating. It was a kind of a stew with chicken and some kind of grits mixed with a nice spicy sauce, which he invited me to try. I asked Victor why there wasn't anyone at church today and he told me that they usually only have services on Thursdays if there's a special occasion in town. There's no regular service on Sundays because they don't have a big enough congregation in Chacala. If I went to Las Varas there would be a regular service on Sundays. Ok ... mystery solved. Chacala is a very small place with only about 300 people.

Ok so these little tamales are truly a work of culinary art. I had two while they were warm. Oh my, they were scrumptious. Here's what they look like.

Inside of the corn husk which are wrapped so carefully is a mixture of chicken and vegetables, kind of like a spring roll. What a delight! I put the remaining 4 into the freezer for another day.

I went to meet Larry and Carly and they weren't at Las Brisas. I could only guess that Carly is still not feeling well. It's not like we can call each other.

I walked back to the casa and recharged the batteries on my camera, deleted some pictures, and I'm good to go with the picture taking until it's full again. Then I don't know what I'm going to do. I listened to Simon and Garfunkle, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Serena Ryder very loudly on my ipod speakers and drank some Chilean wine. I want to say that I hope I didn't wake the neighbours, but I don't believe that's a problem around here.

There's a freedom here that becomes evident the longer I am here. There's so many rules that we live under at home. We just play the game without questioning the reasons behind the rules. I guess it is mostly for safety's sake. Living around here is like living when we were kids in the '60's. It reminds me a lot of that time.

On my way back to the casa, I took this shot of some dogs. These guys (and many more!) are lying around on every street corner and they never bark at me. I saw a woman washing down one of them the other day with a hose. She poured copious amounts of detergent on his back, lathered it up with the hose water and then rinsed him off. It was hilarious to watch.

So here's ... The Three Amigos. :)

It's almost 11 pm now and I'm getting sleepy. It's a late night for me! Manana, I have to make a trip to Las Varas for banco, pollo (chicken) and toilet paper ...

What a wonderful day in Chacala! I am so lucky. I still feel a pang of emotion from the day. It's all good ...

Buenas noches and sweet dreams to all ...


Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Tried to go to Church (for once) But No one Was There

It's only 11 am and I've been wandering around town for a few hours now. I've been going to bed early simply because I am so tired from days of discovering new things, trying hard to speak Spanish (which is very tiring on my poor old brain!) and all the fresh air and exercise, that I find it's hard to stay awake past 10 pm most nights. This is a definite change from home where I'm usually a nighthawk. The nice thing about it is that I get up early and even if I just hang out at the casa, I feel like I have enjoyed a full day. Why waste time sleeping? I can do that at home.

So this morning, I had planned on going out for breakfast with Larry and Carly (getting ahead of myself but will explain L & C later) but poor Carly isn't feeling well (a little of the Montezuma's revenge) and the restaurant we were going to meet at is closed on Sundays. It's a beautiful clear morning and quieter than the weekdays without the construction trucks driving by and generally just less traffic. My casa is on a dirt road and you can imagine the dust that a lot of traffic will stir up. I walked around town looking for streets I had never walked down before. A lot of the locals have outdoor kitchens and I could see madre or padre out doing their dishes after Sunday morning leisurely breakfasts. My destination was eventually going to be the church. When I got to the church, as mentioned, no one was there. I looked for a sign with the Mass hours posted but there's not even a sign to say what the name of the church is. I can only guess that I missed Mass or it was going to be later. Whenever I've travelled I try to make a point of going to a church service. No matter where I am in the world, I feel the same sense of peace when I enter. This is a lovely little church; open air as everything is. I sat in a pew for a little while, said a little prayer and then took these pictures and left. So I guess that was my own little private Mass.

I was getting hungry and decided I'd treat myself to breakfast at Las Brisas for an oceanside serving of french toast and bacon. There were a lot of people there who had the same idea. Being the weekend, there are more people around the beach. Not hordes by any means. This is what a crowded beach looks like on a Saturday in Chacala.

I mean, you can hardly find a spot to sit, eh? ;) Not complaining though! I remember 2 years ago in Puerto Vallarta when everyone was squished in like sardines. Besides the usual beach vendors (the guy with the hammocks is NOT getting the hint!) there were a few new vendors set up selling their wares. Yesterday I noticed a woman with a cart selling fresh fruit and popcorn. I thought it was a juice bar at first. Never assume anything in Mexico! I ended up with a container full of fresh fruit with chili sauce poured on top of it! Obviously I did not get my point across. The Mexicans put chile sauce, or any kind of hot sauce, on everything. I guess if it isn't hot, it just isn't good. What could I do but pay my 20 pesos and walk away. Oh well.

Here's a few other new vendors on the beach this weekend. Mango on a stick anyone?

Backtracking now, I did make it to the open market in La Penita on Thursday. I took the collectivo to Las Varas and transferred to a Pacifico bus and headed down the highway. The bus fare was 10 pesos ($1 Cdn) one way for about a 15 minute trip. This was my first excursion on my own and it kind of exciting. I sat close to the front of the bus, right behind the driver so that he wouldn't forget that I wanted out at La Penita. I didn't want any surprises. This bus was air conditioned and even had a movie playing, well kind of a Spanish opera video that looked like a really sad story. The driver did tell me when we were in La Penita and I quickly found a bunch of gringos hanging around at the corner and asked them where the market was. It's SO much easier in English. La Penita isn't huge but it was the largest town I'd been to since arriving, and it was a pretty bustling place. The tiendas are all very small and close to each other in these towns and the sidewalks are so narrow you have to move to the street when more than 2 or 3 people are walking. Most of them have awnings which hang out as far as the curb so it's rather claustrophobic so I prefer walking on the street most of the time. I finally found the market which was close to the ocean. There were a lot of people there, mostly gringos. This market was huge! The merchants selling the better quality handmade authentic goods were at the beginning and further on it turned into what looked like one of our flea markets at home. I was surprised there wasn't more fruit and vegetable stands. Gorgeous stuff everywhere. Have a look instead ... the pictures say it better than I could ever describe.

I had one of these mixed fresh fruit drinks. I don't know what kind of fruit it was but it tasted delicious. This guy was chopping up fruit like there was no manana!

Unlike Chacala, most of the vendors spoke a little English. The problem I have been encountering is that I ask "Cuanto es?" (How much is that?) and when they answer me, I don't understand what I am hearing back! The numbers are difficult to catch. At a store, you can read the price on the cash register but here this was not the case. At least here, they replied with the price back in English. I bartered for everything. Except the juice. My market treasures consisted of a long dress for me (black with colourful dragon flies on it), 3 other articles of clothing (which I can't name because then it won't be a surprise), a little Mexican pouch for my camera, a sweet little straw mat for the beach, 2 wine glasses (blue glass with hand painted stems), silver earrings, some Nayarit ground coffee, a few mangos ... and I did get that straw hat! All of this totalled about $100 Cdn. Amazing. I am loving the hat! It shields the sun on the beach so that I can read but lets a little light shine through.

After my market excursion, I decided to go down to the beach in La Penita. I had originally rented a casa in La Penita but wasn't able to go as early as January so had to change my plans. It's a nice beach but it pales in comparison to Chacala's. I think Chacala's playa is the best beach in Mexico. Here is the beach in La Penita.

Now for another one of those mystical experiences. Previous to my visit to Mexico, during the research phase, I found an online discussion board called "Jaltemba Bay Folk" which was created and is moderated by a guy named "Tom", who is a part-time resident of La Penita. You can link to it here:

This little discussion board was a plethora of wisdom for me before my arrival. I had posted questions on the board a few times but mostly sent private emails to Tom, which he responded to without fail. Since I was going to be staying in La Penita (at that stage of my plans), Tom helped me out with questions about the accommodations I had chosen and knew the owners and even the place. The name of the casa he and his partner Bruce live in is called "Casa Libertad." Why I chose to walk down the street where Casa Libertad was is beyond me but suddenly I saw it and recognized the name. Trying not to appear like a stalker, I took this picture.

You can see Bruce there out front. Just as I started toward the main street, Bruce walked out of the gate (probably wondered who this woman with the camera was!) I felt I just had to introduce myself and asked if he was Tom. He told me he was Bruce and that Tom was inside working. We chatted there for quite some time and then he invited me in to meet Tom, who was installing some kitchen cupboards. What a lovely welcoming casa. Bruce took me on a tour of the place and explained all the renovations they were planning. They live half of the year here and the other half in Alaska but have hopes to live here full time at some point. I told Tom how I had happened upon his place and thanked him for all of his help on the board and was on my way. Oh and I used the bano. Nice guys, Tom and Bruce. Check out the lively discussions on Jaltemba Bay Folk sometime.

On my way back to the bus station I decided to stop at the ATM in La Penita. I was surprised to find out there was no "dinero" in the machine. I questioned a guy standing outside and he said "mucho turistas!" :) He gestured to another ATM around the corner. I put my card in, entered my PIN, entered the amount to withdraw, heard all the usual noises, out came my card, but "NO DINERO!" At the last ATM, at least it told me the machine was empty, but this seemed like it was going to work but didn't! So now what was I to think? I asked a few gringos who were in line, and one guy said "that's not good." Gee thanks! I think I figured that out already! I found a young Spanish guy on the street (Geez, the things I do to communicate around here!) and asked him "Habla Ingles?" to which he responded "a little." I asked him if he could come in the bank with me and explain to the teller what had happened. Muchas gracias, young man. They told me to wait to speak to a woman behind a desk. She had a few customers ahead of me so I waited there for almost an hour. She spoke some English and understood my dilemma and told me to check my bank account and if the money had been withdrawn, that my bank would contact them and they would refund me my money. I left there a bit downhearted but what could I do. I had no money left after the market so cancelled my plan of having a relaxing drink and headed for the bus back to Chacala. I was able to get money out of the ATM in Las Varas. When I got back to my casa, I checked my bank transactions on the laptop, and halelujah, no money had been withdrawn. Whew. I was so glad to be back in Chacala. I felt like I was home and safe again!

The next day, I went to yoga on the beach at sunrise and met Larry and Carly. They are from Denver, Colorado and are very friendly folks. After yoga, a few from the group met up for breakfast at Casa Pacifica and we shared a table and got to know each other. We made plans to meet for dinner at Las Brisas that evening. Here's the sweetest couple in Colorado (drum roll por favor) ... Larry and Carly.

It's too bad the photo came out a bit dark on their faces. We've been hanging out these last few days and are planning to meet up for a few margaritas tonight if Carly is feeling better. The Mexican men were joking around with Larry the other night, saying in Spanish, but gesturing enough to understand that he was lucky to be accompanied by two lovely senoritas. :)

The night I came home from the market, I went for dinner at Chico's and this nice woman came over to my table and asked if I would like to join her and her husband at their table. This happens when you travel alone, and I'm grateful that it does. They were Pam and Bob from Long Island, NY. Really nice folks. Both teachers. I told them that one of my favourite authors was Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, Teacher Man) and Bob said he went to the school where Frank taught but that he wasn't his teacher but that Frank was a REALLY nice guy. :) Wow. They had visited San Miguel de Allende before they came to Chacala. I wrote about San Miguel earlier in my blog and would like to make the trip there but it might be too far from here. We shared our thoughts about the poverty in the area and decided that all we can do is observe and not judge. Bob asked me "so what do people in London Ontario think of Americans?" I pondered this for a moment and replied "it's like sleeping with an elephant." Hmmmmm. Not sure what they thought of that answer. There's no end to conversation with people I have met. There's so much to share, not only about Mexico and why we chose Chacala, but also about the United States and how it differs from Canada. Most everyone I have met read Andee's blog before they got here. Not as long as I had, but they knew of it and knew that she died. :(

Well, I still haven't been able to find anyone home at the laundry place, so I just had to take matters into my own hands the other day and hand wash 2 full loads of laundry in the laundry tubs out back. I really worked up a sweat and it took me almost 2 hours from wash cycle, to rinse cycle, to spin cycle to dryer (out on the line in the sunshine). Wow. The person who invented automatic washers and dryers was a friggin' genius! My whites are oh so white now though! :) I've noticed the kids white shirts are so brilliant white here. Even when I hang whites out at home in the summer, they never get that white. It must be the strong sun. Ok enough about blanco ..

I met a woman who is living next door named Teresa. She has lived here long term and is from Washington state. She was a teacher in Washington and now volunteers at the school in Chacala. She is fluent in Spanish as she is from Cuba originally. When I did my research before my trip, I found out that school supplies were needed here so I did a dollar store trip at home and brought along some notebooks, pencils, etc. I gave them to her the other day and she was very grateful and said they would be put to good use. I told her if they needed some help at the school, I would be happy to volunteer some day. So I may just be doing that next week. I won't be able to converse with the kids but could help in some way I'm sure. Teresa has invited me to hike with her one morning so I'm looking forward to that.

The value of being here for a month is that I have been able to make connections with people who live here long term. They're not turistas; they consider Chacala their home. One woman, Susanna, who has lived here for 11 years calls Chacala her "heart home." I'm starting my third week here tomorrow. Usually I have gone home by now. I figure that now I'm really in for "the good stuff" and will now only begin to understand why I have chosen to live this experience instead of looking at it from the gate of a resort or a gated community. I'll never be able to travel any other way after this.

I went to a little concert at Casa Pacifica last night. A guy named "Paul Swan" performed folky/bluegrass/blues songs on guitar and mandolin. Every one of his songs had an interesting story. It was reminicent of being at The London Music Club at home but only outdoors. There were mostly gringos in the audience and everyone enjoyed it very much.

Well, if you have read this post until the end ... congratulations! I appreciate having your attention for this long. :) I'm doing a bit of catch up.

It's Sunday afternoon now and I just stepped outside and many local families are out for Sunday drives or sitting on their porches visiting with family and sharing food.

Yesterday, a local family was having what looked like an engagement party at the beach. They had hired a brass band and the bride-and-groom-to-be were dancing. Everyone was having a great time.

I think I'll grab my straw hat and go walk the beach now. I still can't figure out what happened to church, though? I wonder if I'll still get brownie points? Lord knows, I need 'em!
Buenas tardes amigas and amigos ...

Senora Castillo :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eeks! The Critters are Appearing!

So who's this little guy?? Well, I found him in my kitchen when I just woke up yesterday and went immediately into scorpion frenzy. I didn't scream though. Surprise surprise. I stood frozen watching him from a distance and logic told me that scorpions don't stay around like this in the light of day. They're kind of like earwigs. You always find them where you least expect to find them, hidden somewhere in dark, damp places. Once I convinced myself of that, I moved in closer to have a peek at this little critter. He's a crab, in case you haven't figured that out already. A tiny little crab who lost his way back to the ocean. Smaller than a mouse even. I grabbed that colander that you see and trapped him under it, put a piece of cardboard under it and set him free into the Mexican jungle. My hija (daughter) laughed when I told her what I had done because she knows how I freak out at the tiniest mouse at home. Mice freak me out for some reason. They're too much like rats. Crabs are friendlier somehow. I haven't seen another one since.

Tonight as I was pulling the curtains closed in my bedroom, this little lizard jumped out and this time I did scream. This little guy has been around since I got here and we co-exist peacefully. Only because I know he's more afraid of me than I am of him. I've seen these guys in Florida and they are just a part of life anywhere in the tropics. But tonight, we were both surprised! He landed on the table in front of the window, stood on his back legs and just looked at me as if to say "who the hell are you and what are you doing in my space?" It was kind of funny after I settled down. He's gone into hiding mode now and I'm sure I'll see him again.

And then there's the mosquitos who kept me up most of the night last night. I have to learn to keep the doors shut after dark. I had one buzzing around my head all night. Or maybe there were more. I hope they are gone tonight. I have quite a few bites on me between the mosquitos and what are called the "no see em's" down at the beach. Even with the deet bug spray I put on religiously every day and night, they still seem to find spots I have missed.

So I guess being in paradise does have some drawbacks ... if you don't like critters.

Yesterday morning I had a few visitors knock on my door. The first was a young Mexican couple who wanted to talk about the bible. Ok ... they have them here too I guess. They probably could smell a recovering Roman Catholic from miles away! I kept telling them "no entiendo, no entiendo" but I should have stopped smiling 'cause they weren't leaving, whether I could entiendo or not! They yammered away in Spanish and pulled out the bible. Oh no! I got a little impatient at this point and told them "no gracias, no gracias" and gestured that I was closing the door. They got the point and handed me a little brochure with a picture of "Consuelo" on it, a beautiful senorita looking out at the ocean at sunset. I'm not sure what it means but I like the picture. Afterwards, I thought, maybe I should have given them a few pesos.

The second set of visitors who came knocking was a mother and daughter. The daughter pulled a bunch of link sausages out of a container. I looked at them but I thought it best not to buy any because carrying meat around in the hot sun wasn't such a good idea. Then the mother stepped up with a box of miel (honey) in little plastic containers. Now this was appealing so I bought one of them for about $2.50 Cdn. which would be a bargain at home. She didn't have change of 50 pesos so asked a few people walking by and got some change. There's no way I will even put a dent in that much honey. Maybe I'll give it to some kids around here. Again I thought I should have given her more money for it, but I'm never sure what to do.

My plan for yesterday was to go to Las Varas to el banco ... again! There's been collectivos driving by here to Las Varas every half hour all day long since I got here. Yesterday, I waited 3 hours, still no collectivo. So I went searching "downtown" for one and found a guy sitting there with no passengers. I don't get it. I jumped in and off we went. By the way the collectivo is just a van with the word Taxi written on the side. It costs about $1.20 Cdn for a 10 minute roller coaster ride to Las Varas. They never drive the speed limit. No seat belts either. There's usually a lot of people in these all happy and chatting away in Spanish. The teenagers take them back and forth to high school. They wear nice crisp uniforms just like we wore in Catholic high school. There's some really nice young people here, even though I have no idea what they are saying, you can just tell they are good kids. It turned out that 3 pm was not a good time to go to Las Varas. Most tiendas were closed for siesta. After my visit to the ATM I decided to stop at a little cafe that advertised pizza on the window. I sat down and asked the waitress for pizza. No pizza today. Just in the afternoon apparently. But wasn't it afternoon? I didn't get it. So she pointed to a menu on the wall and I chose enchiladas, pollo (chicken). They were scrumptious. A Mexican man about my age came up and talked to me in English asking me where I was from, etc. He had just moved back to Mexico from Florida where he and his wife operated a restaurant near Orlando. They decided to move back because in the US, "they work too hard". I think he is right. It's much better here in that way. People work, but they don't kill themselves doing it. I picked up some luscious strawberries and did find the calomina lotion at a drugstore. Ahhh ... relief.

After my mosquito interrupted night, I slept right through the roosters this morning and missed yoga at sunrise. I woke at 8:30 am but swear I only slept for about 2 hours all night. It was quite cool this morning, cool enough to have to wear long sleeves and pants. After breakfast, I decided to set out to Casa Monarca, a place Allan told me about and recommended. I wanted to find a place to stay for my last week here in Chacala and get it off my mind in case there are no vacancies then. I have to leave El Faro on Feb. 29 so need another place until March 6. I loved Casa Monarca as soon as I saw it. It's a large orange (go figure) 2 storey building with 2 bungalows on the main floor and an upper bungalow where the owners, Kate and Luis live. There's a pool, well kind of a soaking pool, and a large patio on the upper level that looks right out onto the ocean. It's clean and bright and I love the Mexican colours and style. Kate is from northern California and her husband is Mexican. They have a beautiful little girl named Sophie. Sophie was having a little book and toy sale of her own in the driveway. I bought a book from her for 2 pesos. I remember when my kids used to sell their toys like this and she had that same look of pride that my kids had. They have an internet connection too. I made the decision to stay there within minutes and gaver her a deposit. They seem like very nice people. I had thought of staying in Puerto Vallarta the last week but am enjoying Chacala so much I want to stay here until the end of my visit.

After lunch, I went down to the beach for a swim. The waves are so much fun to play around in.

When I walk the beach every day, the waves appear to be so far away from the shoreline and then suddenly one powerful one will appear and you're completely soaked. There doesn't seem to be any warning. I guess I'm in another world walking along there so don't really notice when the big one is coming.

The beach was completely empty today. I can't believe more people aren't here to enjoy this. They must all be in PV. Not complaining though. It's so peaceful to be here and choose whatever spot you want to sit down. I cannot get enough of that beautiful beach. There was an interesting cloud formation there today. It's nice to just relax and enjoy the simple things in life.

I saw this sign today that I hadn't noticed before near the campground. I'm not absolutely sure but I think it is advising what the safety of the water is in terms of undertow. Today is was buena!

And someone else decided to have an outdoor massage on the beach today! But I bet it wasn't with Pancho's special joy juice ...

I decided to take some pictures of "downtown" Chacala on my way home now that I'm getting to know the little tiendas quite well. Here's the supermarket where I buy everyday stuff. They have the best cheese on the planet. Andee talked about this place and said it was owned by a local family so I've chosen to do my shopping there.

Here's a few more shots of some of the tiendas in town.

And yes Meagan ... watermelons are in season here right now.

I took the back road home and saw these gorgeous flowers and found another magical tree! Actually Casa Iguana is just to the right of the flowers.

Tonight I was so thrilled to see the lunar eclipse Being here made it even more special. I tried to take a picture, but it turned out too dark. Allan and Magda shared the moment out front of the casa and Allan ever so eloquently described the moment. "Far Out!" :)

I noticed a setting on my camera that I didn't know existed until today. It was to take a picture of yourself holding the camera at arm's length. So here you go. I look like I am saying "I am so blessed to be here." Or something comparatively deep like that. Actually I took about 10 pictures but thought this one turned out best. I wondered if the people close by thought I was loco! Oh well.

Well, tomorrow is market day in La Penita. I hope to buy that straw hat.

Hasta luego amigas and amigos ...


Monday, February 18, 2008

Yoga at Sunrise

This was where we did yoga this morning at sunrise. I hadn't been down to the beach this early yet and am really glad I decided to get my butt out of bed and get down there. There were 6 participants, all pretty experienced, plus Pancho. He brought the little grass mats for us to sit on. Everyone was a little late which seems to be the norm in Mexico. We didn't get started until about 7:30 am. I was surprised when Pancho told us it would be a 2 hour class. The first half hour was just centering ourselves and relaxing. There's a tree just to the right where birds were singing their morning welcome to the day. I have never seen a sky so blue. There were a surprising amount of people walking the beach at this hour. Everything was perfect. Pancho talked us through the exercises, reminding us that this was work and not sleeping time. I think he was addressing me. I found it hard to concentrate on the poses at hand because I just wanted to take in the surroundings and I hadn't done yoga for quite a while. I'm sure I'll be a better student on Wednesday morning. The classes are Mon/Wed/Fri mornings and I will make an effort to be there as long as the roosters wake me up in time, which shouldn't be a problem. Next time I'll wear my bathing suit under my clothes for a nice dip when we're finished. I could get into meditation very easily in these surroundings. It almost feels like a natural thing to do. I felt totally rejuvenated when I was finished the class. By the time class was over the little town of Chacala was busy at work. Everything was closed when I got "downtown" in the early hours. One thing I've noticed here is that everyone is happy. The locals make sure to smile and say "Buenos Dias" when you pass them in the street. The children are never screaming and whiny like you see at home. They are all very content. My casa is one block from the school so it was great to see the kids walking along on their way to school. I took a little detour on the way home, just to shake things up a little. I was looking for a laundromat which I haven't been able to find yet. After one week and lots of sand around, my clothes are due for a good wash soon. I asked a gringo couple if they knew where a laundromat was and they went out of their way to show me where Patricia's casa was (note to self: yellow with a blue door.) She takes in laundry and had done some for them. They said it's hard to find anyone home there very often and to try in the evening. I went back tonight but no one was there. I can always go into Las Varas but would rather support the local people here if I can. I came back to the casa and made a wonderful breakfast of an avocado and cheese omelet with toast, orange juice and coffee. Yum. (It's always about food with me, isn't it?) I felt so calm all day just wandering around town and reading at the beach. I talked about the magic tree last entry so thought I'd share a photo of it. I sat in front of it at the beach today.

I'd like to find out what kind of tree it is. It sure stands out from the rest around this area. It's hard to see but the trunk is kind of twisted, like some plants I have seen at home. There's a rope ladder to the right that someone has put up. It is a very peaceful spot on the beach.

The picture shown above is Chico's. This is where I eat most of my meals when I decide not to cook. I've noticed that most of the restaurants have similar menus but Chico's is the best I've had in town. For about $7 Cdn you can get a fresh fillet of fish cooked on an open fire, with rice and vegetables, frijoles, a little salad and an awesome salsa with corn tortillas. The meal is always served with warm soft tortillas in a little basket. Yum yum. Very healthy food and more than reasonable. It seems that Chico's is always busy compared to the other restaurants along the strip at the beach, both with local and tourist patrons. This place was a regular hang out for Andee, in fact, her ashes were scattered in the ocean just in front of it. I think about her every time I sit there.

The other day I was strolling the beach and a young woman was trying to sell me some beaded jewellery. It's really nice handmade stuff but so far I just haven't taken the time to look at it closely. I showed my interest to her and we sat in some chairs along the beach. There are lots of bracelets and necklaces but no ankle braclets, which is what I would rather have. I gestured what I was looking for and she wasn't able to help me. Then she picked up the bracelet I was looking at and pulled out her bags of beads and made the bracelet into an anklet for me by making it longer. It was made to measure as she went back and forth between beading and measuring it on my ankle. She was a sweet girl and I appreciated her effort. I paid for the anklet and gave her a nice big tip! I asked what her name was and I think she said "Poco" but I wasn't sure. Here's what my new anklet looks like:

There are only a few beach vendors and they are very respectful and leave you alone if you just tell them "no gracias."

I am finding it difficult to communicate with the locals. They only speak Spanish. I do try to understand but usually end up telling them "no entiendo" (I don't understand). It can be frustrating only because I'd like to get to know them and this is a huge barrier. For instance, I have a little bit of a heat rash on my arms that is pretty itchy at night. I'd like to find some chalomine lotion because I find that stuff really works well. I know they have it here because I bought some on my last trip to Mexico. I go into a tienda and ask "Quiero Chalomine por favor" (I'd like Chalomine please) and point to the shelf behind the counter with pharmacy type stuff on it. She understands what I want but points to the clock and tells me to come back at 5 o'clock. I can only understand this to mean that a shipment will be coming in then? So I go back after 5 and she tells me to come back tomorrow at 6 pm and is very apologetic. So am I to understand that some will come tomorrow or is this her way wanting to be polite and not tell me that they have no chalomine and never will have any! So you see what I mean? There's a lot of things at play here. I will go back tomorrow just because I'm curious but may have to give up on the lotion and hope this rash goes away soon. Actually the salt water is soothing it nicely.

I don't think I've been anywhere before where the locals don't speak any English, even a little bit. Even the waiters in the restaurants don't seem to understand what you're saying and speak to you entirely in Spanish. It is a good way to learn though.

Tomorrow I won't have to be up with the roosters for yoga so will be going to Las Varas to look closer at the buses to La Penita so I am prepared for Thursday and also visit el banco ... again!

Gracias amigos and amigas for your kind comments and your interest in my blog. Here's what the sunset looked like tonight. I am so lucky ...