Monday, March 17, 2008

Dodging Bodies at the Beach and Casa Aurora

The vacationers have clearly arrived in Chacala. I still have been walking the beach but it's a bit of an obstacle course. I am the only gringa there it seems. I'm pretty tanned now so I fit in. I guess everyone else went home or they are hiding out in their casas.

I'm settled in at Casa Aurora's now and it's a perfect place to spend my last few days. It's very relaxing here and the view is gorgeous. The patio is a little piece of heaven. It's situated above the town so I can sit and look out and hear all of the action in a peaceful space. I am so lucky. I'm on an upper floor for the first time and the breeze up here makes things a little cooler. Almost too cool. Today is was frio! I think just in the low 70's but it was overcast and breezy so it felt quite cool. Last night it was really cool. I wore my hoodie and warm pants to bed and used the extra blanket. It's cool again tonight too. I feel kind of sorry for the people down on the beach camping as they probably planned their vacations for months and now it is unseasonably cool. This is a totally open air space except for the bedroom and bathroom. There are screens on the open windows but no windows. (Know what I mean?) At one time I don't think there were screens at all. I think they just put them up for the touristas.

There are no vacancies now. I took this picture yesterday.

Here's my view from the patio and a few pics of the inside. I love my little cocina (kitchen) ...

There are three rental units here and Aurora and her family live in a separate unit, right below me. That's my patio above. Isn't is amazing?

And here's the one that shows the whole property. There's a unit on the main floor and one above on the right. I walk up a set of stairs entering between the two buildings around the back. I will have to spend more time here on another trip. I'd like to support the "Techos de Mexico" program fully next time, now that I know more about it. The plants are so well cared for. It's easy to grow things here. Just plant and water. And Aurora is a sweetie.

The noise from the disco last night was deafening. I woke up several times in the night and suddenly remembered I had brought ear plugs! After 2 am or so, I finally fell asleep and they were still going. I can't believe this is the same Chacala. It's 7:30 pm and they have started again but it sounds like a live band tonight with lots of brass instruments. Kind of almost like "oom-pa-pa" music like you would here at Oktoberfest. I'm liking the sound of it and may wander down there later just to check out the action. The whole town is alive with sounds and sights. It's kind of exciting ... just so different than what I have been used to.

I bought some fresh camarones (shrimp) today and will be cooking them up soon with some homemade salsa. I found a great little stand at the beach that sells jikema, which is quickly becoming my favourite fruit. They insist on putting that hot sauce on it but I just order it with lime and no mas (no more). I am going to try to smuggle some home in my suitcase. When it's cut up into slices, it doesn't take up too much room. Here's where I bought some today ...

I told that boy to say "queso" (cheese) ... and he did!

And low and behold, I do have a wireless connection at Aurora's. I asked her today because I tried to get online and it showed there was a network but I needed the password. She gave me the password later today. I went over to Kate and Luiz's Casa Monarca this morning and used their rooftop but I won't need to be doing that now. I am still going over to take a family photo before I leave. Luiz gave me one of his original art pieces before I left. He used to paint and sell his art before he met Kate and had a family. How sweet that he gave me one. I have it hanging in my bedroom at Casa Aurora's. Here it is decorating my "clothes closet" .. It will be framed and hung when I get home.

I've moved around a lot since I've been here but I've enjoyed the different experiences I've had in each place. It takes at least a day to get set up and get your bearings each time though. I wake up that first morning thinking "ok, where am I now?" I've been having the most vivid dreams since I've been in Mexico. I've written them out in a dream journal. A lot of them are things that I am dealing with from the past. Freud would be fascinated, I am sure!

I was walking the quiet road today, and Pancho drove by in his truck and stopped to talk until the traffic got so busy behind him, he had to move. He will be in town for a few days so I hope to see him before I leave. He has a new job taking photos for a website so isn't doing the yoga anymore. Thanks for telling me Pancho. I went to the beach at 7 friggin am for 3 days!

It's camerone time amigos (I don't know why this suddenly showed up in italics but I think I will leave it just as it is.)

I am so hungry now ....

See ya at home. I miss my hija and hijo, Meagan and Ryan.

Buh bye for now......


Side note to the above: the music changed drastically since I wrote about the oom-pa-pa. It's back to the thumping disco music of last night. Where are those earplugs? :)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Semana Santa - Just the Beginning

Well, quiet little Chacala is changing rapidly. Semana Santa has hit town and according to those who know, this is nothing yet. Supposedly next week, says Luis, "will be a nightmare". It's hard to find a clear path to walk the beach. The nerve! :) After having the beach to myself practically. Families from Guadalajara, Mexico City, Tepic and other inland towns and cities have set up their tents and are ready to relax and have a good time. I don't feel comfortable going up close to the campsites and snapping pictures of families but they have sure made themselves at home with propane stoves, coolers and all the fixings. It appears they are here to stay for the duration of the holiday. The Policia were parked in the campground today and I realized it was the first time I had seen them. There is no crime in Chacala that I've heard of.

Just beyond where the regular little tiendas are, there was a strip of stalls that remained dark and closed for most of my stay. Now they are alive with colour offering various fruits, tacos, beach souvenirs and extra banos for the campers I would imagine. Victor's pizza stand has been transformed into a cerveza stand!

Mmmmmm ... Mantecadas (muffins) .....

The kids are having a blast on these boogie boards ...

People are building little shelters along the road above the beach in anticipation of more folks arriving and needing a place to stay. What ingenuity.

It doesn't take much to make a home in Mexico.

Speaking of home, or my second home, I am leaving Casa Monarca tomorrow afternoon and moving to Casa Aurora. Aurora and her family have been long term residents in Chacala and have added to their property with rental units. This has been made possible by the "Techos en Mexico" program, which is government funded. It is a great way to add to the family income. There are many "Techos" home in Chacala which are rented at reasonable rates. I am looking forward to interacting a little closer with a local family. It will be a great way to end my stay here. I am a little sad to leave Casa Monarca. I have felt very much at home here.

A new fruit I have discovered is jikema (hee-ka-ma). What a delightful taste treat! I've been buying it at the roadside stands where they cut it up for me and offer to put hot sauce on it but I have been declining the hot sauce ... no gracias. It is mild in flavour and is kind of a cross between an apple and pear taste. It's crunchy and looks kind of like a turnip and has a similar texture. It's low in fat, and it loaded with potassium and Vitamin C. I think they are a little heavy for my suitcase ... too bad. Eating a steady diet of fish, vegetables and fruit and walking around town and the beach all day long has benefited my weight immensely. I have lost a substantial amount of weight and can feel it in my clothes. Wow. Amazing.

Tonight I went to a concert at Casa Pacifica on the rooftop. Paul Swan was playing again, who I mentioned in an earlier post. This time he had friends though. Someone printed out songbooks and we all had a great time singing our hearts out. It wasn't meant to be a St. Paddy's celebration but with the singalong happening, it kinda felt like it. In this picture, we are singing along to "Downtown", that old Petula Clark tune. It was a lot of fun. The guy in the hat claims all songs originate from Green Bay, Wisconsin! You had to be there, I guess. He was quite the ham and very entertaining.

I won't have internet access at Casa Aurora's but Kate and Luis said I could use their rooftop for access for the rest of my stay. I may or may not be blogging before I come home or if I do, it will be brief (if such a thing is possible.)

I have so much more to share! I will have to catch up when I get home.

Happy St. Paddy's Day everyone. I wonder what the equivalent to the Blarney Stone is in Mexico?

I have a massage booked on Tuesday at Majuaha with Carmen. I just couldn't resist that place. It will be a nice way to relax my way home.

I have been cooking up some pretty good business ideas here and have a lot of people's encouragement and support. More on that later ...

Tonight just around dusk, I noticed chickens up in the trees! I didn't know they could fly up that high. Some kids told me that's where they go to sleep.

There was a very strange creature walking along the wall at Casa Monarca tonight. It was something I had never seen before a little larger than a cat and long and skinny with a pointy nose and long tail. Now I am hearing fierce sounds outside, similar to raccoons at home, and I have locked my door and have no intention of going back outside until the morning!

Every moment here is a little adventure. Oh .. I will so miss this place (sigh). I've been wondering why my attitude has changed so much since I've been here. By attitude, I mean how I feel about life, how I feel when I wake up in the morning. I know I'm just on vacation. My feet are solidly on the ground about that fact. But I think the difference is the beauty that surrounds me everywhere on a daily basis. It gets into your soul. There are many beautiful places at home too but I guess I'm so far away from them that I forget the beauty until I make an effort to go somewhere peaceful and beautiful. In my own city, I don't see much but traffic and shopping malls on a daily basis. I guess we don't realize how this affects our attitude over time. I'd like to hear other people's thoughts on this as well ....

Tonight I was speaking to someone about this at the concert and he said being in Chacala was like being in the womb. It's safe ... it's warm ... and you feel cared for. I kinda liked that analogy.

It is now Palm Sunday (since I am editing this in the morning) and I'm going to church which I could throw a stone to. Kate tells me they have really big palms fronds here! Then Kate is giving me a ride to Aurora's but not without getting a family photo first! And then who knows? Someone said there's a transvestite show at the beach tonight. How's that for changing the subject drastically?!!

It's only 8 am but the fishermen are driving up the road from the ocean with their catches of the day. There have already been several trucks driving through town announcing something or other on their loud speakers. I did recognize camerones (shrimp). It's a little overcast but that blue sky and sunshine is peaking through. How can every single day be so beautiful? I would usually be going for my daily morning walk along the beach by now but I'm thinking I will forego that today with all the people jamming the water's edge. Besides I want to get packed up and ready for church. This time I won't have sand on my bum and feet when I get there. :)

Good thoughts to you. Thanks for reading ...


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Everyone's Leaving But I'm Still Here!

This entry is dedicated to the good people I have met during my stay here and a few iguanas ...

Leon (left), Magda (centre) and Allan ( (right) are enjoying their last night in Chacala at sunset. Leon just arrived a week before from Montana to apprentice with Allan but Magda has been here since December and Allan has been here since November. Allan asked me what I was going to write about in my blog once I got home. I didn't consider this until he suggested I post my thoughts on my "Re-Entry" into my old life again. I welcomed that idea. Allan had a good idea of how to maintain ties with Chacala. He bought a house the day before he left! Magda and Allan have been so kind since I've been here. Although I didn't officially study the teachings of the Toltec, I bought Allan's book and have been immersing myself in it on the beach since he left. Being in the company of people who live a truly joyful existence does have a way of sneaking into your soul. They hosted a fantastic farewell dinner party last weekend.

Here's the best fish dinner I've had in Chacala ....

Cooked on an open fire out back of El Faro by Leon the master chef.

While the women drank wine, munched on homemade salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips and chatted ...

I hope to get to San Francisco this August to attend Allan's summer gathering. Magda lives in Prague which is a city I've always dreamed of visiting. The beauty of travelling and making new friends is that sometimes these friendships are maintained and opportunities to visit new places present themselves. They are all welcome to visit me in Canada ... in the summer! I will miss these good folks. And I hope they enjoy being the stars of my blog ... :) Allan, if you're reading this ... I hope you had a safe trip back to Santa Rosa and thanks again for everything. As a side note, Leon stayed in my old place at El Faro. He too co-existed peacefully with the geccos who reside there. One of the little critters found its way into his box of Raisin Bran which he discovered as he was pouring it out into a bowl for breakfast! Yikes! That would have had me running for the hills! The good thing about staying though is that I was the lucky one to get Allan and Magda's leftover food ... including organic almond butter and real whole wheat bread and almost real mantiquilla (butter) :) The mantiquilla in Mexico is quite awful. It reminds me of that bright yellow stuff that came in gallon pails that we ate as kids and it tastes just as bad.

I am missing my orange pekoe tea too. The bag I brought is gone now. I told Kate that the other day and she was sweet enough to pick me up some black tea in Puerto Vallarta which is close but still not Red Rose. Only in Canada, eh. Pity.

An earlier story told about the grande tour of Las Varas I gave two ladies I met on the collectivo. Well, our paths did cross again in Chacala. This is a very small place after all. Lindy and Amy are from Port Townsend, Washington and stayed at Casa Aurora's, the place I will be moving to in a few days. We met on the beach at sunset and became fast friends. It was nice to meet two women friends for a change and not feel like the third wheel. Amy went through a similar experience of taking stock of her life and realizing how unhappy she was in her job. One day, she threw caution to the wind and quit. She said it was terrifying at first but has turned out better than she ever expected. She really gave me a lot of encouragement and hope about my decision. Muchas muchas gracias Amy. They both have such a warm, positive vibe that even though it was a short time, I feel that I have made two very good friends. They both are in love with Chacala too. Funny how some people come into your life and you just click. We went out for breakfast one morning at Majahua, which I wrote about previously. BUT! Did I ever miss a lot of Majahua the first time around. We discovered a path that went up into the jungle where Majahua expanded into a spiritual prayer centre, a wonderful spa, an outdoors art gallery of sorts and the whole place is kind of carved into the jungle. Whoever created this place is some kind of magical architectural god! We spent a lot of time there just kinda going .... ooooohhhh .... ahhhhhh .... wow look at that ... you get the idea. Here's a little glimpse but the pictures really don't do the place justice.

Amy in front, Lindy behind ...

Ummmm .. me thinks a massage booking is in order?

I have discovered more iguanas in the rocks along the path down to the beach. I really find these creatures quite fascinating to watch and they don't creep me out in the least.

And where there's one, there's always more. I had to be really still and quiet to take these and it took quite a while to catch them. The least little movement and they are gone. Am I becoming an iguana stalker?

There's a marina that I pass by every day where the fishing boats dock. These good fishermen give us the mouth-watering fish at the restaurants every night.

This guy is waiting for his fish dinner too ...

I finally found out when the church service was and attended Mass Tuesday evening. It was a spontaneous decision. As I was walking back from the sunset after meeting Lindy and Amy, my butt and feet still full of sand and the bottom of my pants still rolled up, I heard singing coming from the church and decided to just join in. I must be really relaxed eh? I didn't understand a word but the same rituals of a Catholic service took place and I found myself genuflecting, saying Amen and making the sign of the cross all at the right places. The communion host is still received on the tongue here but it is dipped in wine! Viva Mexico! "Peace be with you" is said as "La Paz". I even knew a few of the people in the congregation. I left when I thought it was over but as I was walking home I heard everyone singing so I guess I left too early. They really sing their hearts out too! They need to cushion those kneeling benches though. Ouch.

I just stepped outside for a break from writing this and saw a shooting star. I thought of the words of that Blue Rodeo song, "And in that second of a shooting star, somehow, it all makes sense." Somehow, this place does make sense. It does for me anyway. There was music playing from somewhere too. There's always music playing wherever I go, serenading my thoughts and dreams. I am grateful and feel blessed for every moment I spend here.

Everyone in town is gearing up for Semana Santa, the two-week Easter holiday. Schools are closed for two weeks and all the Mexican families who live inland come to the beach towns to celebrate. The little tiendas are packed to the rafters with food supplies and cerveza. There are little palapa stands showing up along the beach that weren't there yesterday. I can't imagine what it will be like yet but I hear it is pretty much time to party here. Someone told me today that a few discos will be set up with live music this weekend. I guess I will be able to get my dancing shoes on before I leave after all.

Es todo for now ....

La Paz to all friends near and far.


Update on Semana Santa ... this morning I walked the beach and one bus load had already arrived. Families are setting up tents and kids are playing in the waves. I will keep you updated with pictures as the festivities progress.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Feeling Less Like a Vacationer and More Like I'm Home

Here at Casa Monarca there's a resident iguana who hangs out in the drain pipe on the rooftop next door. Kate tells me she appears there on a daily basis because they feed her flowers which have fallen from various flowering plants. Kate assumes this one is the female because the larger male iguana is never far behind. Isn't he a beauty?

Here's Kate feeding Mrs. Iguana with a long pole ....

The other day on my way to Las Varas on the collectivo, I struck up a conversation with a couple of women from Washington State. It was their first trip into Las Varas and it turned out I gave them the grand tour with stops to the most important places like el banco, the internet place, the fish market, and the phone card store. Locals folks nod and say buenos dias/tardes/noches and we are getting familiar with each other. I guess I must look pretty comfortable around here because the fresh crops of newly arrived gringos approach me and ask me questions. I guess I look like I know stuff!

I thought this (photo below) was an inventive way of collecting change from collectivo passengers. It's a painted coconut with the top cut off decorated with colourful marbles. It sits beside the driver on a little stool. Sorry it turned out a little blurry but I loved the creativity. A far cry from the buses at home where you must have the exact change and your ticket or money is placed in standardized holders that beep. Ahhhh ... gotta love Mexico.

I've been getting into some serious relaxation at Casa Monarca. There's a sense of peacefulness here that has been really good for me and has given me a chance to reflect on some of things I haven't been happy with back home. One of those things was my job. Those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I dislike the job that I've held for 8 years. The last few months before I came to Mexico I was sick all the time. I would recover from one thing and a few days later, something else would start. I think I took 11 sick days off from work last November. I had a lot of sinus problems and my doctor set up an appointment for a specialist at the end of March. I haven't had one sinus problem since I arrived here. Stress that accumulates in a person's body can lead to serious health issues over time. Having said all of this, as my departure date of March 6 drew closer, I had a serious look at my options. I have 4 more weeks of vacation owing so I emailed my manager and asked for 2 more weeks. That was denied so I was forced to resign. I am actually relieved. I am feeling positive about new opportunities when I get home. I have asked around here for employment but there doesn't seem to be anything unless you can speak Spanish. You never know what will happen though. I've made some good connections so I'll just wait and see. There are opportunities to teach English. That is something I may consider down the road. Spanish lessons are definitely in order before I come back again.

So I extended my airline ticket, which really wasn't a problem and am staying until March 20. I will be here at Casa Monarca until the 15th and then I spend my last few days in Chacala at Aurora's which is owned by a local Chacala family. Very sweet people. More on Aurora's later ..

I've been settling in with my job decision for a few days now and considering options. Everyone at home is behind my decision. My daughter is confident that I will find something that will make me happier. When I asked my son if he thought I had lost my mind, he said "no, I think you have found it." Here's a few more photos of this lovely place.

Someday, I will look back at this and realize that Casa Monarca was where I found my mind. :)

I have gotten to know the folks from Boston in the next bungalow ... Dave, Jessica and their two girls, Vivian (4 years) and Maya (6 years). The kids are having a blast in that pool! We all went for breakfast at Casa Pacifica a few days ago and here's a pic ... Kate joined us too but her girls were in school. They are leaving to go home tomorrow morning and have had a wonderful time.

On Friday, I attended a "Meet the Students" open house at the school here in Chacala. The students who attend this school are a part of the Cambiando Vidas (Changing Lives) program which is sponsored largely by Americans and Canadians. The school is staffed by volunteers. True teachers who are answering a calling, not just going through the motions. Many children here never make it past grade school due to lack of money. This is a wonderful opportunity for them. Many of them have gone on to university. They are bright and full of hope for the future. The kids put on quite the entertaining show for us on the grounds of the school. Some of the sponsors were in the audience. It was really touching and very funny at times. Here's a few pics to share of the festivities.

Singing ...

Modern dance ...

A contortionist (man this kid was good!)

These kids were watching the festivities and I think are also students here. They were mentioned as part of a group of kids who go around and pick up garbage on a weekly basis around Chacala. Bravo! One of the classrooms is shown in the background.

Traditional dancing ... Ole!

These kids were terrific!

If the spirit moves you, you can offer a donation to this program or even if you want to find out more about it, go to ...

I find the water system in Mexico interesting. Here is a picture of a tinaco (tee-na-ko) which sits on the rooftop next door. All of the homes have a tinaco on the roof. The water is pumped up from the town water system to the tinacos and when a tap is turned on in the casa, a valve opens and the water flows to the tap by gravity.

I'm no engineer but this system appears to work quite well. Someone told me they are put on rooftops as a safety measure in case of hurricanes. The last hurricane which hit here was around 2001 and it apparently did a lot of damage. Luis told me his monthly water bill is around 160 pesos ($16 Cdn). I think I heard that right? I just paid my water bill for last month and it was $80!

I saw Allan and Magda on the beach the other day and Allan caught me again with that camera of his! Don't I look unhappy to be here? :)

The roosters are crowing but it's just after 11 pm. They will be back around 4 am and then again at 6 am. I have no idea when they sleep. While I was writing this, I heard someone practicing guitar from a distance but it was with an amplifier so I could hear it quite clearly.

It was another busy Sunday with the beach full of families. Everyone is gearing up for the upcoming holiday Semana Santa (Easter) where not a room will be found to rent in the whole town. Families from inland all flock to the beach towns for this holiday and the beaches are jammed with campers. I hear it's a lot of fun but a bit crazy for about 2 weeks. I will be leaving just before that happens. I think I am thankful for that but who knows.

Buenos Noches amigos and amigas ... sleep well. We now can enjoy an extra hour of daylight. I hope all that snow I've been hearing about will be melted by the time I get home!