Wednesday, April 9, 2008

So Much More Than Just a Tan

I arrived home on March 20 which I took to be a good omen -- the first day of Spring. In reality though, Spring seemed very far away. On the morning of leaving Chacala, as a last thought as I was heading out the door of Aurora's, I cut a stem of flowers from the terrace, wrapped them in some damp paper towels, and placed them in my suitcase. When I awoke that first morning home, I started to unpack and found them. It was a sweet surprise as I had totally forgotten I had done this. They were just as fresh as when I picked them. I had a little piece of Chacala right here at home on my kitchen table and I was thrilled!

I also had another surprise when I arrived home. My daughter, who was away in Alberta seeing her boyfriend off to Firefighter school, left me a little Easter surprise. Thank you Meagan!

Easter weekend turned out to be quiet which was a dramatic switch from the festivities of Semana Santa in Chacala! It was a welcome change though. I needed some quiet time to get adjusted. We did celebrate Easter the following weekend when everyone was home. Meagan made a gourmet feast as usual. We dined on Coq au Vin (sp?) with all the fancy fixings. Yum. In honour of my trip, she also made some homemade salsa as an appetizer which was the best I have tasted.

I can't believe I've been home 3 weeks and have not written a word. I do apologize to anyone who has been checking my blog on a regular basis. Thanks so much for your interest. I guess I needed some time to reflect on things and it took all of my energy to make the adjustment back to reality again. It ain't been easy folks. It is getting better now that the sun is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. I am returning to Chacala, hopefully as early as next fall. I am working to achieve that with everything I do. Every decision is based on that. I hope to stay for the whole winter next time. Other people do it ... and so can I!

My trip home was as smooth as could be. No surprises. Cundo (Trini's husband) picked me up as scheduled at 8 am in the airport van. There was an accident near Alta Vista and the traffic had slowed to a crawl but we made it in plenty of time. On the way to Chacala the first time, I didn't know what I was looking at out the window and only saw it as Mexican jungle. I was so pleased that Cundo explained everything that was growing at the side of the highway, ie. mango trees, banana trees, coffee, tobacco, papaya, etc. I didn't have time to feel sad at the airport. The flight was on time and by the time I checked in and went through security, it was time to board. Puerto Vallarta is so beautiful from the air. I was feeling emotional as I looked out the window. It hit me suddenly and I started to feel a bit choked up that I was leaving this beautiful paradise. The pictures never do it justice, especially with the wing of an airplane in the way.

My son, Ryan and his girlfriend Christine made the trek to Detroit to pick me up at the airport. Thanks so much Ry and CK!

I took some photos of some of the people who I got to know in Chacala. Trini and Cundo were really great. Whenever I had a problem, usually a communication problem, I went to see Trini who was always so gracious and helpful even though she was busy with her own things. She is due to have her baby in June. I left a little baby gift behind to show my gratitude. Trini mentioned that she read my blog so if you are reading this Trini .. thanks once again for all of your help.

Below is Juan, Cundo's brother, with his new baby son. Juan picked me up from the airport when I arrived in Chacala. Juan stayed with me that first night when I discovered I was to be homeless. We drove around until we found a vacancy at Casa Iguana. I saw Juan off and on in town throughout my trip and he was always so friendly and made sure he always stopped his van to see how I was doing.

I took this picture of Aurora a few days before I left as she was talking on the porch to some renters from Montana. She's such a lovely woman. I will forever remember her on the last morning I was at Casa Aurora. I had gathered up my suitcases and placed them on the terrace. Being the spoiled gringa that I am, I fully expected the driver to help me transport these bags to the van, which had grown considerably in weight since my arrival. Aurora picked up the heaviest suitcase and lugged it down a flight of stairs and out to the van. I was amazed at the strength of this woman! We had some trouble communicating but still managed to understand each other on a different level. I will definitely stay at Casa Aurora on future visits and I highly recommend it. Aurora was a very good friend of Andee's as was Trini.

These two women (and many others) are highly respected in the community and work hard towards making it a viable, thriving place to live. Aurora was featured in a CBC radio documentary last November about the Techos de Mexico program. She spoke about her family's decision to join the program and they have since had great success with it. The program was looked upon by locals with pessimism and skepticism at first but the wonderful landladies have proven the naysayers wrong. You can listen to the program through this link. Scroll down to the program named "Making Ends Meet in Mexico." There is a tranlated audio portion of Aurora being interviewed which is very good.

Andee posted in her blog about the program as well. If you want to read her report on the show, go to Andee's mylifeinchacala blog:

Please let me know if you have trouble with any of the links. I had trouble finding them.

Apparently, Andee's post about this subject raised some ridicule by one reader, who disagreed with the fact that she was encouraging people to visit Chacala and staying at the Techos de Mexico lodgings. Their thought was that many tourists would ruin the tranquility of Chacala. In typical "Andee" fashion, she defends herself well and explains why she is promoting short term visitors. It's an interesting read if you are inclined to find out more.
While I'm on the subject of Andee's blog, since I've been home, I've been reading it and am surely seeing it with new eyes. I recognize some of the faces in the photos and know a good number of the the places she speaks of. I started to gain a perspective of what it would be like to live in Chacala long term when I first starting reading her blog over a year ago. Now I know first hand what it would be like. Everyone spoke so well of Andee there. She is very much missed and I am certain that the numbers of tourists she brought to the town will drop as almost everyone I spoke to found out about the rental they were staying in from her blog. She was not a fan of having her picture taken which gave her writings a certain mystique. I often wondered what she looked like, and I'm sure I was not alone. If not for her, I would never have experienced this journey of mine. As a reader of my blog and Andee's (Maggie) suggested, I placed some flowers in the ocean in front of Chico's the night before I left. I only wish we had become amigas. Her presence was everywhere in Chacala. I could imagine her wandering the beach and the streets of Chacala with her camera. Thank you, Andee, for sharing the richness of your life in Chacala and in turn making my visit there so fulfilling. Even more than I had ever imagined. You were so right about everything. If there are spirits in the blog world, I hope you will forgive me for posting this ... :)

Andee ...
It took several tries but I finally managed to get a family photo of Kate and Luis, owners of Casa Monarca (the place that will forever be remembered as "The place where I found my mind!" Great, wonderful people. Can you imagine having this view every single day?! I highly recommend this place too. It was a great comfort to be there and I felt very safe. For some reason, a lot of ideas which pertain to my future, were sprouted at Casa Monarca.

When I first returned home, that first morning, I was struck by how dark everything seemed in my home. Well except for my yellow bathroom with the really great window. In Mexico, everything is about colour. I guess my eyes just needed adjusting. But it really did strike me. I have already replaced the living room curtains with a lighter colour. I think it was making the adjustment of having brilliant sunlight fill my room every morning at 6 am. There was still a lot of snow around. That was rather depressing. It's not so bad when it's fluffy and white and it's almost Christmas but this stuff was the leftover storm snow that was dirty and ugly.
I miss walking the beach every day but have been keeping up with my walking at home, although I miss a day here and there. I am determined to keep the weight off that I lost so effortlessly in Chacala. But walking here is walking for exercise. There's hardly anyone out on the street and if there is, they never make eye contact. There's nothing beautiful to look at. Of course, the pre-Spring season is pretty dismal in Ontario and I had to keep in mind that soon all of that would change. There are no leaves on the trees yet. It will get prettier soon. I miss the people greeting me everywhere I went and watching the activities of life in a small town in Mexico. There are more people walking around there for some reason. Everyone here drives.
I missed my family and friends here and it was nice to catch up with everyone. I missed my orange pekoe tea! Wow ... did I enjoy that first cup of tea when I got home. I didn't miss having to put my toilet paper in a garbage can rather than just flushing it down. I missed brushing my teeth right under the tap water and even drinking the tap water.
I have kept up with my yoga practice and have joined a class within walking distance from home. When I told the yoga instructor that I had been practicing on the beach at sunrise in Mexico, she was pretty blown away. In fact, the last class I attended, she announced that she was taking a vacation to Florida and was planning on practicing yoga on the beach there. I guess I inspired her more than I realized! The yoga here is not the same either. It is much more structured and well ... less fun. But it is good for me all the same.

Perhaps the biggest bonus about being home is the fact that everyone understands what I am saying and vice versa! I have registered for conversational Spanish which will make things a little easier next visit.
I must tell my scorpion story ... YES ... I did see one! Two nights before I left to come home, I was blogging and I saw something out of the corner of my eye, on the wall, where the baseboard would be if baseboards existed in Mexico. I got up to have a closer look and sure enough .. scorpion. Luis, from Casa Monarca, who knows about such things, told me that it wasn't likely I would see one since they came out of hiding in the rainy season. They were under the ground when I was there. Well, that particular evening, it actually did rain for about 5 or 10 minutes. It was so unusual for that to happen in March that everyone in town was talking about it the next day. So Luis was absolutely right! So what did I do about it? I smashed it to bits with my shoe! Just like that! I thought I would be more freaked out seeing one but I just did what had to be done. I was quite proud of myself too .. for not being a wimp about it. That night I did check my bed sheets but nada. I wish I had taken a picture but it was the last thing on my mind at that moment!

To this day though, I still check my shoes in the morning out of habit! I wonder how long it will take to stop doing that?

I have been proactive about my job search since I've been home but I am calmer than I thought I would be about being unemployed for the first time in years. I have always dabbled in various writing projects. Just before I went to Chacala, I had a short play produced which was staged at a Playwright's Cabaret here. That gave me a lot of confidence in my writing skills. Blogging is fun writing but I can write in various styles. I can lose myself in writing ... in a good way .. so I've decided to pick up some work doing it. I've been wondering if a person could make an income with blogging and my research has told me that it can be done. Apparently, blogging has become very popular and there are many opportunities. So if you are so inclined, I will post from time to time with links to what I am doing with my writing. I will be started a new blog on various topics of interest soon under the name of "Char Writes" at:

I have been thinking of writing an in-depth article about the Techos de Mexico program as well but not on a blog. Hopefully I will find a suitable publication that is interested in it.
In time, I hope to make a somewhat decent living at writing but am still looking for some part-time "no brainer" type of work to sustain me until that happens. Hopefully, if I get enough writing assignments on a regular basis, I could work from anywhere ... like Chacala for instance? :)

I have a business idea "brewing" for Chacala when I return in the fall and have made a very good contact there who supports my idea. I will write more about that in future as the plans come together. Let's just say for now that I am immersing myself in learning the art of roasting, grinding and brewing Nayarit coffee. The town is surrounded by rich, low-acid, coffee beans growing and not a cup of prepared coffee can be found!

As for my spiritual journey ... it continues. I read Allan Hardman's (Joydancer) book "The Everything Toltec Wisdom Book" and have found that it makes a lot of sense to follow this way of life. He is hosting a "Summer Celebration of Life" gathering in West Marin County, Ca in August and I am considering attending. You can find out more about this and order Allan's book at:

There are some lovely "lovers of Chacala" among this group and I can now fully understand what the attraction is, and how this place can feed any spiritual yearnings a person would have. It is finding the tools to continue with this feeling that is challenging. That is why I have decided to join this group. It just feels right for me. It's all about acceptance of self and believing in yourself .. and so much more that I have yet to discover.

Recently I have noticed an ad campaign about "Shreddies" cereal. The concept they are using to sell this time-honoured product sits well with me and my way of thinking since I've returned. They are marketing it as "Diamond-shaped Shreddies." It's the same pieces of cereal but if you turn them around and look at them at a different angle, you see something new and exciting!

I gained a lot of confidence from taking this journey. I listened to my instincts and they never failed me. I felt safe in Chacala and I let my guard down in so many ways. It makes sense to live there but for now I will make the changes that are necessary to make that a reality. I have a lot of work to do but I don't feel a lot of anxiety about the changes and work to be done.
Some days though, I feel as dark and gloomy as the weather but that is just life I guess. The sun gave me so much energy in Mexico. But most days are filled with light and promise. Please keep in touch and take good care amigas and amigos. Feel free to comment and make suggestions about anything I have said. I need all the encouragement I can get! I leave you with a few images I took from Aurora's on my last days in Chacala ...

Buenos Noches everyone ...


Charmalita said...

Testing comments ... 1-2-3 :)

Maggie said...

This is a great end to one part of your Chacala journey.
I followed Andee's blog and found it as I googled for images of Mexican gardeners.
Then I guess I found your blog through comments between the two of you.
You have done such a great job documenting your time in Chacala, what wonderful people you have met.
I can understand how you will miss the colour, plants and friendly faces.
Good luck with all your writing, new ideas and new adventures.
I live in Adelaide South Australia, am interested in community gardens, Kitchen Gardeners International, Botanical Gardens and am part of our Hills and plains seedsaving group.(we have a blog so you could search it under Maggie and have a look at our little garden)
I mention these groups as I have met very friendly people through gardening groups. Something that sometimes is not found much in busy peoples lives.
Some of your readers might be interested in growing some different plants, herbs or veggies.
I think the flower you bought home is a bougainvillea, I have a purple one in my garden as well as a Mexican plant called epazote.
The view from the plane looked great, all that wonderful ocean and hills.
Let us know if any one else is writing about Chacala, we are coming into winter here so it might warm us up a bit.
Cheers to you and all those lovely people in Chacala

Allan Hardman said...

Hello Charmaine. . .

It is great to see you back online, and writing more about you and your post-Chacala experiences. And, hey, thanks for mentioning my book, "The Everything Toltec Wisdom Book!" We will meet back in Chacala next winter, for sure, now that I have a house there.

I think there is a new kind of visitor being attracted to Chacala, different than the people that flood the other tourist areas looking for discos and bars. It will be a while, I hope a long while, before Chacala is overrun by them. In the meantime, we can enjoy ourselves there, and encourage like-minded souls to join us in experiencing a relationship with the Mexican people, their culture, food, and the beautiful environment they live in.

Keep on sharing.

Yours IN Love,

Allan Hardman

Maggie said...

Oh it would be great if some places could stay quiet, so people could just relax with the locals and appreciate their culture. The world is becoming homogenized, the same shops, the same food outlets and the same holiday apartments.
Maybe we shall get to visit Chacala or somewhere else before they all change too much.