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 :)

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