Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's not me, it's the Matrix

I swear I did write blog posts in the last 3 months, it's just that the giant computer that runs the software program we call "reality" failed to upload them from my brain into your optic nerves. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

In short: I stayed in Nicaragua for about 7 weeks, I loved it a lot, and sometimes I think it would be nice if I were still there. We left Nicaragua and flew back to the mother country in late June to see Sam's family, as they were having a small reunion in Northern Ontario. We spent a couple weeks in Toronto, a few more up north, and then it was time for me to come home to see my own family. I've been in Victoria now for a few weeks, laying low, doing a lot of reading, and contemplating my next move.

With several months left of the year I've allotted myself, I found myself a bit foggy about what I wanted to do with the time. The options limited only by my imagination and to a certain extent by money, I realized that I had absolutely no inclination to make any decisions about anything.

The Universe, being the benevolent consciousness I believe it to be, gave me a nudge in the right direction about 10 days or so ago, when I read the introduction (ok, the first three sentences of the introduction) of a book called "When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times," which a dear friend received as a gift from another dear friend. The author, Pema Chodron, wrote that in 1995 she took a sabbatical and basically spent a year doing nothing. The hallelujah chorus sang in my head. Note: for those of you out there who think that traveling is "doing nothing," you're wrong. It's quite a lot of work. Anywhoooo... after reading that, it seemed to me that a sabbatical sounded darn appealing and that is why I am moving to Galiano Island for the next several months.

That's right, Galiano Island. I have always wanted to be an earthy, hippie Gulf Islander, and now I am realizing that dream. I'm renting a small cottage on the very north end, as far away from the island's civilization as I can get while still being on dry land. I move in at the beginning of September. No, I'm sorry, but you probably can't come visit. I'll let you know, though.

I'm so excited about this move I can hardly sit still. This is my chance to be a hermit. I will live in the cottage in the woods, just 20 minutes along woodland trails to the beach, which can only be accessed through private property (like mine!) or by boat. There are about a million trails in the woods to walk on. The cottage itself has a loft and a woodstove and a bathtub, and who needs anything else?

I will be spending my days, unscheduled and without routine, participating in varying activities, including but not limited to:
-doing yoga
-eating again
-playing my flute (that's right, I have a flute.)
-playing my guitar (yep, one of those too.)
-writing (maybe even the blog from time to time)
-dancing in my living room
-dancing in the forest
-playing with the faeries


As you can see, I will be far too busy to entertain guests. I have a lot of spiritual growth to accomplish, not to mention books to read and fun to have. Eventually, I will need to go back to work and I plan to cram in as much of the good life as I can before that day arrives.

It turns out that I'm feeling rather impatient for my hermitage. I found the transition from Nicaragua to Toronto interesting, but not particularly overwhelming, largely due (I expect) to the fact that I wasn't yet "home". And while I have kept a fairly low profile since coming back to BC, I haven't found that transition too difficult either - until now.

The truth is, I've changed rather a lot in the last 6 or 7 months. Actually, I'm starting to think that I'm the same, but the rest of the world has gone a bit screwy. It's hard to tell sometimes. At any rate, I no longer see things the same way. I personally think this is a marvelous thing and am rather pleased about it. However, it does have an effect on how I relate to the world around me. Frankly, I'm getting edgy and restless. I would like to blame Mercury (being in retrograde and all) and I am perfectly prepared to accept that the movement of the moon, stars and planets does affect me. (And for you skeptics who think this is hogwash, I would remind you of the effect the moon has on the ocean - the tides occur for a reason, you know.) Right, where was I? Yes, Mercury retrograde. While this might well be part of my restlessness, I think that to be fair to that maligned planet, quite a lot of my mood is just to do with me. I've been "back" - (no, those are NOT gratuitous quotation marks - I can hear all my relatives muttering).

Geez... rather a lot of tangents in this. Ok, right, so I've been back in the country for nearly two months already, and after all those experiences - spiritual, emotional, physical - I understand that there is no going back. I can't return to where I came from - spiritually, emotionally, mentally and even physically - because that would undo everything I've lived through (I hope that explains the quotation marks).

So... I find myself feeling a bit at loose ends. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the friends and family I've seen since being here, and am having a wonderful visit with my parents, who are absolutely the most generous and hospitable parents I could have asked for. I've won several Scrabble games, which is very gratifying. But now it's time to move on again. This time, moving on isn't so much geographical, but it's no less important.

For the last 15 years or so, I've struggled with bouts of depression. Some of them were more serious than other times, but they were fairly constant. I spent a lot of my time alone, as many depressed people do. I hid from social interaction, sometimes acknowledging the depression and other times blaming being an introvert. It occurs to me that there is a very significant difference for me in choosing my Galiano hermitage. I'm not depressed. I'm not hiding from social interaction, while feeling left out of all the good things happening around me.

This time, I'm consciously choosing to explore my inner world through solitude. I'm happy with my life and myself and I want to enjoy it. It's like being a newlywed on a honeymoon - only I'm reveling in the joy of being with me, not a spouse.

I am extremely lucky to be in a position to take this time for myself. I am so grateful to the gifts of the Universe that have gotten me to this particular intersection of time and space. I have a very supportive family and group of friends (that's all of you!) and I've been fortunate to have a job that allowed me a) sufficient income to save money and b) a leave of absence. I do believe, though, with all my heart, that it's ultimately a matter of choice. I've made choices regarding my lifestyle, income, etc to take this opportunity. I'm willing to live very simply, with no income for a time, in order to have these experiences. I'm so glad I'm doing this for myself!

And while I was at least partly being facetious about not wanting visitors, I was partly serious too. I have chosen the Gulf Islands to be close enough to my loved ones so that if I want to seek company, I can - either by leaving my hermitage or by inviting guests to join me. There will undoubtedly be times that I want to share my space with friends and family, but there will be other times that I will be out of contact - just like when I was traveling and had no internet access. Thank you for understanding.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A not so perfect storm...

A brief update to say I am still alive and kicking despite the lack of communication for the last while. A proper update will have to wait until I have electricity and internet back at the Lodge. Here´s what´s new:

A few days ago (Tuesday maybe) we got hit by a major storm which flooded the lodge. Living in a place with solar panels, we rely heavily on sunlight to stay powered. Driving rain does not produce a lot of sunlight, so we lost power. When we lost power, we lost our ability to pump water from the well. So, until yesterday, we had no solar lights, no electricity, and no running water. We also had next to no dry beds. When we weren´t racing around trying to protect ourselves, our belongings and the lodge, we spent time crammed into the storage closet, which was the only dry space big enough for everyone. Fortunately, the cabins stayed fairly dry so everyone crammed into those to sleep.

We found out on Friday that down the coast of Nicaragua, the storm had been classified as a tropical storm and people were being evacuated. People in Poneloya, the town across from the island, spent their days huddled around radios waiting for news of whether we were going to get hit harder or get some relief but of course, we had no such access to information. Fortunately, the storm subsided and yesterday a generator arrived, giving us running water again. Also in the realm of good news, the fridge and stove run on gas, which we had, so were were still able to eat. And keep the beer cold, which some people considered very important :)

Today, the rain pretty much stopped and although it was overcast, it was hot and I now have a brilliantly red face from having actually stepped outside. Alas.

I have been meaning to write in detail about Surfing Turtle Lodge and our turtle conservation project, but that will have to wait for another time. For now, news of my well-being will have to suffice!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Islands of Paradise

When I last left you, I was on the hunt for a snorkel and mask in Utila. Having found what I was looking for, experience duly tucked under my belt (metaphorically speaking, of course), Sam and I decided it was time to move on from Utila.

Our original idea was to catch a sailboat to Roatan, another island in the Bay Islands, the day after we arrived in Utila, but it turned out that Captain Vern wasn't sailing that next day. We ended up staying a few days longer in Utila, since we were enjoying our stay at Rubi's Inn, so when we were ready to go, we were happy that Captain Vern had space available on his catamaran. I've spent very little time on sailboats, aside from searching them when I was a customs inspector, so was quite excited about the trip. We were exceptionally fortunate, as it turns out, because due to a war between a new tour company and the ferry company, Captain Vern was being put out of business and we caught his last sail between the islands.

The trip was incredible. I'm not sure how big the boat was, maybe 30 feet, beautiful catamaran and the weather was perfect. I didn't get the perfect picture, as Vern kept the engine running due to our fellow passengers having a flight to catch (seriously, people, when on a timeline, why take a sailboat? sheesh). But the sails were up, the Caribbean was that shade of blue that exists nowhere else on the planet, and I spent a great deal of time learning how to stand up and move around without falling over. I managed to drink most of a cup of coffee, with very little spillage, and eat a plate of bacon and eggs. I call the trip successful.

We arrived at Roatan at 11ish in the morning. Vern docks at a hotel in the West End of Roatan, a popular destination for divers and beach-goers, and got us a great rate at the hotel. We had a room right on the beach, facing west, so we saw a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, they were booked for the next several nights, so we moved to a place called Seagrape Plantation Resort, which was more expensive but absolutely perfect. Our cabin was also waterfront, with a "yard" of dead coral (it seems that the ocean just stopped rising that high, leaving behind lots of coral reef), and a sidewalk that extended right into the reef in the sea. We rented snorkel gear and spent time each day investigating the incredible sea life and coral reef right off our doorstep. I am hooked on snorkelling and think that one day soon I might have to take the plunge (so to speak) and try scuba diving. One day, I went out with the dive boat at Seagrape and snorkelled while others were diving, getting an even better view. I saw a sea turtle! It was fantastic.

Roatan is quite different from Utila. It's got better beaches, but is waaaayyy more expensive. It does, however, have the perfect beer cozies, and we are now the proud owners of neoprene wetsuits for our beer cans. They are tie dyed in bright, pyschedelic colours. I loved Roatan and think that for those looking for a relaxed, beach vacation, it's a great place to go. Utila is smaller, with fewer beaches, but is internationally renowned for its scuba diving schools, as it's quite inexpensive. You can learn to dive, accommodation included, for $250 for a 4 or 5 day course. There are dorm-style hostels in Utila for $4 per night. Our first night was a $12 per night ($6 each) hotel room with fan and private bathroom, the other nights $25 for a much nicer room, compared to $60 at Seagrape.

We caught a flight from Roatan to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, on Tuesday morning, and made our way to Los Brasiles, a small island off Ponteloya, near Leon, in Nicaragua, arriving Wednesday night. We are staying at the small eco-resort owned by a friend of Sam's, Surfing Turtle Lodge ( We will be here for a few days more, I think, and I will save my post about the lodge till we are ready to leave, as I want to a) have a full experience to write about, because I think this is a place worth writing about, and b) go swimming now.

Surf's up... catch ya later.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Life lessons

Things I have learned since leaving on my travels (in no particular order):

1. Being a social justice activist, feminist and social democrat has not automatically made me open-minded. On the contrary, I have (albeit unintentionally) used my political and social values as a justification for being extremely judgmental – without ever realizing that I was judging. (Note: I do not for a moment suggest this is the case for other folks with similar values. That’s for those people to determine on their own).

2. I am not a good listener. I have always known that I’m almost stupefyingly (how’s that for a word??) unobservant, but I failed to admit to myself that I also don’t listen. Apparently, however, what I lack in seeing and hearing, I make up for in talking. I am concerned that this is not a good thing.

3. Whether your personal spiritual or life philosophy tends toward the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc), karmic law (what goes around comes around), or Newton’s 3rd law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), my experience is telling me that these are a) all the same thing, and b) true. What you put out into the ether – call it positive energy, good vibrations, intention, whatever – will manifest. In a nutshell, you get what you deserve. Unlike observation number 3, this actually is a good thing.

4. Despite my best effort to tell new stories about myself, I am frequently reminded that I have to come to terms with the old stories first. Once again – you can’t run away from yourself.

5. It’s true. I really am the world’s biggest complainer. I’m sorry. I’m working on it.

6. My friends and family are always with me, no matter how far away I am geographically, and have never failed to come to my aid when I send out psychic cries for help. Thank you. I love you.

7. I have a lot of friends and family and loved ones out there thinking of me. It’s amazing. I am so grateful.

8. Money does not make people happier. People in so-called developing nations (seem to) have a joie de vivre lacking in our so-called developed nations in North America and Europe. Hey people – stop working so hard and start enjoying life.

9. I have a lot to learn re: number 8.

10. There is beauty in everything, even things that appear at first to be ugly or scary.

11. There are always things to be grateful for, and often the greatest challenges provide the deepest opportunities for gratitude (even if it’s after the fact).

12. A really cold beer on a really hot day is a joy not to be underestimated.

13. My life seems to revolve around eating. While this can be very pleasurable, I am not convinced it’s actually healthy – emotionally or physically. Hey, self: try looking for other things to enjoy once in awhile.

14. I’ll probably never be a vegetarian.

15. I have a capacity greater than anyone I’ve ever met for creating obstacles in the path of my own enjoyment of life. See number 5. And number 13. Friends and family have tried to point this out to me on several occasions, but… see number 2.

16. I take myself too seriously.

17. When bugs bite, it’s much, much better not to scratch the bites. They go away faster.

18. Bargaining with locals when buying goods can be a fun game, if you both understand what the game is. Haggling over what amounts to an extra $2 or $3 or even $5 - an insignificant amount for most North American travellers – can be petty and pointless, when it has a significant impact on the lives of the local population.

19. It’s ok to tip more than the suggested or customary amount.

20. Communication is not about language. Communication is about heart and spirit.

21. I am afraid a lot.

22. I have to remind myself every day that it’s ok to be happy.

23. I use the words “hard”, “too hard”, “should”, and “I don’t know” more than I’d like to. (I had to stop myself from saying “should”).

24. Despite all these shortcomings, I still think I’m pretty neat. I am not even embarrassed about using the word “neat.” And despite all these shortcomings… see numbers 6 and 7.

25. Life is beautiful.


P.S. 1 - Snorkelling is really fun. I even managed to dive under and blow the water out of the snorkel when I came back up, though I think that I probably looked totally graceless and also I don't think you're supposed to have to come all the out of the water to do it. Still, it's a start.

P.S. 2 - the bruises on my legs are REALLY ugly. Note to self: learn to dive.

The Mayan Tour... and beyond

Palenque is both the name of a town in Chiapas and the name of the Mayan archaeological site nearby. Being a major tourist destination, Palenque offers many options for accommodation, in every price range. We chose to stay at Mayabell, which is in the bioreserve and just a short walk (maybe a kilometre and a bit) to the archaeological site. Mayabell is beautiful, offering palapas for hanging hammocks as well as cabanas. There’s a swimming pool and a restaurant with very good food for low prices. We splurged and spent our three nights there in a cabana, which was much more expensive than anywhere else we’ve stayed, but very comfortable and dry – there was a huge thunder and lightning storm one night.

Sam has been to Palenque many times, so he entertained himself while I explored the archaeological site on my own. It’s an incredible place, well worth visiting (and I recommend Mayabell for its convenience and comfort too!). It’s set in the jungle, and although the actual uncovered site isn’t huge, the original Mayan city site, almost entirely still buried, is larger than modern-day Paris. A large part of what has been uncovered and is available to view is pyramid temples, which are absolutely incredible.

The Mayan civilization was very advanced and is fascinating to learn about (but too involved for me to get into here, so you’ll have to do your own research!). Although many people blamed the Spanish conquerors for the destruction of the Mayan empire, it’s actually believed by archaeologists that deforestation was the cause of its ultimate demise. The Mayans loved and were inspired by nature, but apparently cut down so many trees that they affected their natural environment, causing food and water shortages, intense social unrest, and the eventual end of the empire. There are still Mayan people living throughout the original empire, however, from Mexico down to Honduras.

My favourite part of Palenque was actually a giant ceiba tree, which the Mayans considered the tree of life, or at least a living symbol of the tree of life. I spent a few hours just sitting at the tree, which is enormous and incredibly beautiful. Also the Queen’s Bath, pools of water in a beautiful river (large stream, maybe) with a waterfall. Unfortunately, the river is now closed for swimming but apparently it used to be open to the public.

Sam and I also took a hike through the jungle in Palenque. I am clearly not the outdoorsy person I have pretended to be, but I sure learned a lot about walking through the wild on that hike. For example, when stung by a swarm of invisible beings, don’t stand still gaping at the part that hurts – get the hell out of there before they attack again. Sam is full of useful tips like that, which is lucky for me, since I seem to have lived far too long in the city and have lost all common sense. Apparently, Katie, you can not only take the girl out of Fernie but in fact, you can also take the Fernie out of the girl. Now we know.

After we left Palenque we headed to Flores, Guatemala, the lovely but touristy town near Tikal, another archaeological site. I really enjoyed Flores. It’s an interesting town to wander around in, with all the tourist amenities but also a lot of character.

Tikal, like Palenque, is an incredible site to visit. The archaeological site is larger than Palenque, since more has been uncovered. Some of the temples are just huge and climbing to the top made me dizzy. Tikal also is the home of a lot of birds and animals. Apparently the spider monkeys like to defecate and throw their feces on the heads of unsuspecting passers-by. I’m thankful that I was not given the opportunity to experience that.

One of the interesting features of the pyramids at both Palenque and Tikal – aside from the carvings of glyphs, which are fascinating – is that if you look closely you can see faces made from the stones. They’re different from the glyphs and not at all obvious to most people. You have to open yourself to receiving what the temples want to show you. If you just go to look at a pile of rocks, that’s all you’ll see. If you open up to seeing the spirit of the place, you’ll see a whole lot more.

One of my challenges in writing this blog is finding the words to describe what I have seen and experienced. It seems to me that places like Palenque and Tikal have to be experienced to be truly understood. You could google them and learn all about the archaeological and anthropological history in far more detail and with more accuracy than I could ever provide here, but you have to stand in those temples yourself to really appreciate the spirit of the places. It is truly remarkable to stand on stones laid centuries ago and sense the vibrant civilization that exists in another time, another reality.

To continue this tour of Mayan civilization, let us now proceed with the next leg of our journey… we left Flores and took a Pullman bus (more expensive but more comfortable than the Latin American chicken buses) to Guatemala City. It was a long ride, 9 hours or so, and by the time we got there, we were tired enough to crash for the night. Guatemala City is not a place I have much interest in spending time. It is hectic and felt a lot less safe than other places we’ve been. We stayed in a sketchy, not-quite-clean but very cheap motel and hit the road first thing in the morning, arriving in Antigua about 45 minutes later.

Antigua is beautiful. It’s another tourist destination, so lots of foreigners, and a great market where all the artisans sell their wares. Sam assured me that it was more expensive than the really big (but apparently crazy) market in Chichicastenango (just break it down syllable by syllable, it’s exactly as it appears) so we didn’t do any shopping. I did, however, by a wooden flute, hand-carved, from a street vendor. I am not yet performance-ready but I can make sounds. They’re not beautiful sounds, but they are sounds. I’m sure by the time I get home, orchestras will be beating down my door.

While in Antigua, we found a little pub with a pool table and a dart board, and it was during a game of darts (round-the-world) that I finally learned (at the ripe old age of 35) the meaning of the adage, “it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” I know this is something that every 5-year-old is taught, but I don’t think I ever understood it until that dart game. We had just been playing without scoring, throwing the darts at the board to practice technique, etc, and then Sam suggested we play round-the-world. This game involves throwing the darts at each number on the board, which go from 1 to 20. You have to hit the one before moving to the two, etc. Sam was on number 4 and I had yet to hit the one, and needless to say, I was getting a little irritated (despite my attempts at denial over the years, I really AM as competitive as the rest of my family). It was then that Sam told me that people who are good at games or who consistently win high-stakes bets are those who focus not on winning, but on achieving their goal, whatever that goal may be. A subtle distinction, perhaps, but oh-so-important! And a distinction that had never occurred to me before. With that advice, I stopped worrying about where Sam was on the board, and put all my focus on achieving my own target – and success! My game improved dramatically.

We never actually finished the game, because we were interrupted by a nice young woman who wanted to practice speaking English, so I can’t tell you who won. But still, I feel like I learned an important lesson, and if it is somewhat late in life, better than never, etc etc. I also think that (note to all you parents out there) adages like that are so often-repeated that not a lot of thought is put into the meaning of them – it’s assumed that, being oft-repeated adages, the meaning is obvious and understood. And maybe for 99% of people that’s true, but I am a bit thick-headed at times. It seems to me that it would be better for the children to whom such adages are told to also receive a real explanation so that they can learn the lesson at 5 instead of 35, thus saving them a few decades of frustration. Just a thought.

Where was I? Oh yes, Antigua. We just spent the one night in Antigua and then headed up to San Pedro La Laguna on Lago Atitlan (lago means lake). We took a shuttle to Panajachel and then a water taxi across the lake. We stayed in a lovely, family-run hotel that Sam had stayed in before, the name of which I never really knew. I signed up for 12 hours of Spanish lessons, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I emerged from those lessons with lists of verbs, manna for my grammar-loving spirit, which I fully intend to study. Really. Honestly, I don’t know how much I can say I really remember from those lessons off the top of my head (some, for sure, but not everything) but I came out with a big confidence boost, which is really what I needed. I also met some other travellers, which was fun. One woman, just a couple years younger than I am, had been struggling with the decision of whether or not to sell her house and go travel for a year. I believe since our conversations, she has decided to sell. I’m not sure her mother will approve, but I think she knew she wanted to do that and I was able to provide a positive affirmation that it really is a good thing to do!

San Pedro is a pretty popular destination in Guatemala. It’s in the Central Highlands, high up in the mountains, on a beautiful lake which is a giant crater, and surrounded by three volcanoes. The local population is indigenous Mayan, speaking both Spanish and Tzutujil. The women wear traditional dress and there are lots of traditional clothes and jewelry for sale.

I loved the people there. They are, for the most part, soft-spoken and gentle, and I found it far easier to understand their Spanish than people anywhere else we’ve been. I’m not sure if it’s just their way of speaking or if it’s because San Pedro has about a million language schools and they’re so used to non-Spanish speakers trying to muddle their way through conversation, but either way, I sure appreciated it. I was able to have actual conversations.
My teacher at the school was (is) a 25 years old Mayan woman, professionally trained as a school teacher for children. She has very little English, which was perfect, because it meant that all our conversations had to be in Spanish. She’s an excellent teacher, in my opinion. She spoke clearly and slowly, was very patient, and taught me a lot in just a few days. She also taught me how to say “thank you” in Tzutujil so that I could thank our landlady from the hotel when we left. I was thrilled to be able to do that.

We spent 4 nights in San Pedro and then headed out. We caught a bus to Antigua, which took the mountain road, instead of crossing the lake and taking a bus out of Panajachel. This bus trip taught me more important life lessons. Being of slightly less than superhuman intelligence at times, I had myself a lovely, large Café Americano an hour or so before we left. Of course, it was just about the time that we got on the bus and departed that the coffee made its way to that place of “uh oh”, and it was, by then, too late for me to jump out to find a bathroom. Since it wasn’t yet too urgent, and because who hasn’t had to hold their pee from time to time, I figured I could suck it up until the bus stopped. Well, the universe must have been trying to teach me these lessons, because I have never experienced such intense bladder discomfort in my entire life and hope never to again! The mountain pass is steep, windy, and very slow going. There is no place to stop, which means that when you have to go, you can’t, plain and simple. Not fully realizing what the road was like and how long it would be before we could stop, I asked the people in front of me (after reaching a point of total desperation), to please pass up the line to ask the driver to stop when he had an opportunity. It was possibly an hour later (or maybe 15 minutes, but it felt like eternity and I don’t have a watch so who knows) that we finally did stop and I was finally able to relieve myself – a phrase that I understand better than ever.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons from that experience: one, the slightly more profound lesson – sometimes when you reach out for help in a time of need, it creates a bond, a unity in the human experience. Rather than being annoyed with me for needing to stop the bus on an already-delayed trip, the other passengers on the shuttle were sympathetic, even empathetic, because everyone could relate. I suddenly felt a wonderful sense of unity and it’s comforting to know that at very basic levels, all humans can relate to one another, no matter what language or culture or background they come from. The second, rather more practical lesson: don’t drink large cups of coffee before getting on a bus, dumbass.

We reached Antigua approximately 5 minutes before our connecting bus to Copan, Honduras was due to depart. The shuttle out of San Pedro took nearly 2 hours longer than it should have, due to construction, a giant rock needing to be moved off the road, a parade, (ahem) bathroom breaks, and such things. We got dropped off at the bus company office, which was closed, and waited…and waited… and saw our bus drive by without stopping (though we weren’t entirely sure it was our bus). About a half-hour after we were supposed to be picked up, a woman returned to the office, seemed confused about why we were there, and explained that the bus had already left. But after a phone call or two, we were told the bus would be coming back for us, which it did – fortunately with enough time to spare for a trip to the bank machine (and the bathroom, natch). I felt a little badly for the other passengers on the shuttle, but since it wasn’t our fault that we had been overlooked, I didn’t waste too much time feeling guilty.

A word or two about buses – most people have heard the stories of the Central American chicken buses – crowded old school buses (they seem to buy Canadian Blue Bird school buses that have reached their 80,000 km limit for use by public schools) filled with people, their assorted bundles, and their chickens. These buses are cheap, but not comfortable. Although we are travelling on a budget, we’re not completely poor, and so have opted for slightly more up-scale bus travel. When I refer to the shuttles, I mean 12-passenger mini-vans with no air conditioning and no leg room. Also no chickens, so are slightly more comfortable (probably a lot more, actually) and with a lot less character.

Anyway, we headed out of Antigua aboard our mini-van, luggage safely stowed on the roof rack, and spent I-don’t-know-how-long sitting in inhuman traffic in Guatemala City. It was stifling. Since we were the last people aboard the bus, we got the bench with the window taped up with black plastic – so no air flow and no view. Eventually, we stopped for a quick break and the driver kindly closed up the windows and turned on the air conditioner for most of the rest of the trip. A great relief for all, I can tell you.

We arrived at the Honduran border after dark. One of our fellow travellers held things up by arguing vociferously with the immigration officer about whether or not he was, in fact, required to pay $3 USD to enter the country. There was a sign that plainly said there was a fee for foreigners, but apparently there’s some law or other that says once you pay it in one Central American country, you don’t have to pay it again. He was trying to argue the point, but needless to say, he lost. I figure for $3, who the heck cares? Not worth the argument, especially after a 6 hour bus ride in the hot, hot heat.

After he ceased arguing, everyone else lined up to pay their fee, get their passports stamped, and we carried on the last 10 kms to Copan. We checked into a hotel and found the restaurant/bar that is home to all the backpackers, where we enjoyed bacon cheeseburgers and cold beer. The next morning, we were up early and at the archaeological site of Copan by 7:10am. It opened at 8am, but we did the nature walk while we waited for it to open, which was lovely. I got bitten by an ant on my big toe and thought that my foot would fall off. So much for being an outdoorsy person. My self-illusions are crumbling rapidly. Sam got stung by a who-knows-what in the ocean the other day and barely blinked an eye.

Copan, in addition to being a site of Mayan ruins, is the home to a large number of Macau parrots. They are big, red and beautiful! They are also not at all shy. While the other forest creatures and birds take off at the sight or sound of humans, the Macaus just fly right around people’s heads. They’re quite a sight.

Copan concluded our tour of ancient Mayan civilization. We caught a first-class bus (oh, the luxury!) out that afternoon and headed to La Ceiba, on the coast. (Not to dwell on buses, but seriously, this bus was great! It was like being on an airplane, but with more leg room! There were even attendants!)

We spent one night in La Ceiba and then caught a ferry to Utila in the morning. Utila is one of the Bay Islands of Honduras, and is a popular destination for scuba divers. It’s a lovely, small town filled with foreigners here to dive. The local population is very different from other parts of Latin America we’ve been to. We’re now on the Afro-Caribbean coast, so the locals are a mix of Afro- and Hispanic peoples, speaking Spanish, English, and Patois (Patwa). Not the best environment for my Spanish practice, but it’s a lovely spot with friendly people.

We are staying in a hotel right on the water, with a dock to swim from. We spent part of yesterday diving off the dock – or I should say, Sam was diving, and I was attempting to dive. The bruises on my thighs would indicate some lack of success, though I seem pretty good at flopping. The only thing for it is to keep practicing… or to return to my previous method of jumping in feet first. On the bright side, I at least (mostly) overcame my fear of diving in head first from a height greater than 5 centimetres.

The plan today is to track down snorkelling gear so I can continue my fascinated gazing at all the sea life here. I’ve never snorkelled before, but Sam assures me it’s not that difficult. I have a glorious gift of turning simple things into major obstacles, but I really want to get a better view! We also hope to travel over to Roatan, a larger island nearby, on a sailboat, possibly tomorrow, so I need to go look into that too.

Which means, dear friends, that it’s time for me to call this an update and get moving. You’re now thoroughly up-to-date on my doings and happenings, so until next time… adios!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

3 months in, the sequel

Where to begin? The last few weeks have been action-packed. I think it’s safe to say that the “travel” part of our journey has really begun. We’ve been on the move a lot since leaving Bucerias. We’ve been paring down the backpacks to lighten our loads as the heat gets hotter, and I’m getting more accustomed to carrying around the weight on my back. I have come to realize that (as usual) Sam was right – no gym necessary to be fit and strong when living this lifestyle!

We caught an overnight bus out of Puerto Vallarta on March 26, arriving in San Luis Potosi at about 4:30am. We found a hotel near the centro, and the nice man behind the counter broke company policy, giving us a room without paying for an extra night, even though it was not yet 7:00am. We enjoyed a few hours of sleep and then got up to explore San Luis Potosi.

SLP is a large city, the capital of the state of the same name. We stayed in the centro, which was enough to roam around in an afternoon. There are a few beautiful cathedrals and several plazas, all beautifully maintained.

I find the plazas in Mexico a feature that should be built into every city everywhere. If I were an urban planner in Canada, I would really consider this approach. Typically, there is one main plaza or zocalo outside a main cathedral and surrounded by government administration buildings. The plazas themselves have benches and trees, sometimes fountains or small gardens, monuments, etc, and are used as gathering places for the populace. There are frequently vendors about, selling a variety of things that always seem so out of keeping with the beauty of the plaza – inflatable Disney characters and such things.

The cathedrals are also beautiful sights to behold. There was a time when I was quite put off by what I thought was an overdone, gross expenditure of money in a place of worship – perhaps due in part to my modest Protestant upbringing! When I walked into the biggest cathedral in SLP, though, I had a totally different perspective. Mexico, being a predominantly (80% or so I think) Catholic country, does not seem to have any qualms about publicly celebrating their faith. There are altars everywhere – bus stations, restaurants, front yards, etc – and bus and taxi drivers frequently have rosaries and crosses hanging from their rearview mirrors (which, frankly, I think are nicer than foam dice, but what do I know?). The cathedrals, like the altars everywhere, are a tribute to their faith in God. Unlike the modest Protestants, Catholics (at least in Mexico) seem very comfortable joyously and exuberantly displaying their faith and the cathedrals are a bold, even lavish, physical manifestation of that exuberance.

In many ways, I think the cathedrals are a reflection of the nature of the people themselves. My experience with Mexican people – not to over-generalize but I will anyway – is that they are full of joie de vivre in a way Canadians are not. They are happy, they enjoy life, they sing, they dance, they work hard in a way that makes it look like they are not working at all. They are not shy or modest or apologetic for being friendly, in that way that Canadians mistake for politeness (seriously, people, we don’t have to apologize for everything. It’s ridiculous.) The cathedrals are also not shy or modest or apologetic. The people build their churches to proclaim, loudly and proudly and with every possible fancy feature, that they love God and will put that love on display for the world to see.

Anyway, enough about that. We left SLP on Sunday, March 28 and headed to Real de Catorce, a touristy mining town up in the mountains. It was the beginning of Semana Santa, so very busy. It’s a pretty little town with very interesting history that we did not explore at all. Instead, after having a pretty decent Café Americano, we caught a jeep down the mountain to Estacion Catorce. The jeep ride was an adventure all in itself. Unlike in Canada, Latin America does not have a paranoid fear for everyone’s safety. Everyone rides around in the back of pick-up trucks, children ride on their parents’ laps in the front seats of cars, etc. This particular jeep had a couple of benches inside the back and a roof rack, which held the spare tire, sometimes luggage, and sometimes people. This time, it held people. Sam and I, along with four others, got the birds-eye view of the trip down the mountain from the top of the old, rickety jeep. I, of course, was clinging to the rails for dear life, but actually, I found that I enjoyed the trip immensely. There’s no way I would have seen so much from inside.

When we climbed off the jeep in Estacion Catorce, our backpacks sitting on the sidewalk beside us, a young guy in a pick-up pulled up beside us and asked if we wanted a ride out to the desert. (Apparently, it is quite common for backpackers to show up there looking for assistance in getting out to the desert. It’s where the peyote grows.) We hadn’t actually figured out what we were going to do, so being the spontaneous types that we are, we took him up on the offer. After a whirlwind stop for supplies, we were speeding along the highway, and 20 minutes later, we were standing under a tree (one of the few) in the desert.

Camping in the desert was fun, but very physically taxing. Because we packed our own water in, we were careful to ration it, which meant being at least slightly dehydrated from the heat most of the time. The sun is very hot and although Sam did find us a lovely camping spot with trees and some shade, it was still challenging to keep out of the sun. We did a lot of sitting still during the day, and saved the moving around for early morning and after sunset. Despite the physical demands, though, it was an incredible experience. We were there during full moon, and because there are few obstructions to the view, we were able to watch the sunset and the moon rise almost simultaneously. If you ever have the chance to experience sunset, sunrise, and full moon in the desert, take it! It’s not to be missed.

We left the desert after 3 nights. We headed from there to a small town called Cedral (Cedar), where we spent 2 nights, recuperating from the desert trip. We got clean, rehydrated, and rested, before moving on again. Cedral is small but such a friendly place. We ate most of our meals at the same restaurant, Almeita, which was owned by possibly the nicest man in all of Mexico. It was a modest place, with absolutely delicious food for incredibly low prices. We would have paid a lot more, though, just because of how lovely the man and his family were. Each time we walked in, I felt as though I were being greeted by a beloved grandfather. He clearly works hard – the restaurant was open even on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, from early in the morning till late evening – but he just as clearly loves his life and doesn’t resent working.

This is another difference I notice among much of the Mexican populace. Unlike in Canada, where it seems to me that we all work hard but wish we didn’t have to (I know I’m not alone!), people in Mexico seem perfectly happy doing what they do. That said, I haven’t really figured out the work ethic. On the one hand, I think about the restaurant owner at Almeita in Cedral, or Lolo, a ranchero who comes up to Tulan, clearing land with a machete for 8 hours every day and then walking back down the mountain to the village where he lives. They work very hard, seem perfectly content and don’t seem to question or resent how life is. On the other hand, I also see lots of folks sitting around the plaza drinking beer all day, and wonder if they work at all. Either way, everyone seems happy.

Yet another digression… anyway, we left Cedral and headed back to San Luis Potosi for a night, spending Easter Sunday there. We thought it would be much crazier, but it seems that Good Friday is when all the action is. Being good kids, we got up for church on Sunday and attended (part of) Mass at the big cathedral. Then we hit the bus terminal and went to Mexico City, D.F.

What can I say about Mexico City? It’s huge. Really, really huge. And city-like. Coming into the city, there are what looks like millions of houses lining the hills. The sight of these homes is, I think, part of why Mexico is considered a “developing” country. The homes, by Canadian standards, look like shacks and to a person who makes snap judgements without having any knowledge or information (not that I know anything about that myself), it would seem that they live in extreme poverty. However, entering the city, it is hard to understand how anyone can consider Mexico “developing.” It looks pretty well-developed to me. The city is clean, well-maintained, and every bit as modern as any other city I’ve been to. It’s got a population the size of (or exceeding) Canada’s and the Metro makes the sorry state of Vancouver’s public transit look like even more of a joke.

We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Mallorca, which Sam has stayed at a number of times. It’s reasonably priced, has the best shower we’ve had in three months, nice people, and walking distance to la Zona Rosa, which is a tourist zone with familiar fast food joints, good food and good coffee.

Our bus from SLP got a flat tire part way, so we arrived in the city much later than expected. We rested well and were up early in the morning to catch the subway to the Zocalo, which in that city is absolutely huge. We wanted to arrive before the crowds became unmanageable. I think we were sitting down to breakfast by about 7:00 or 7:30. We spent a few hours walking around and then headed back to the hotel. The next day, we took a trip to Teotihuacan, an Aztec archaeological site. It’s the site of several temples and pyramids. Beautiful and fascinating. We spent another night at our hotel, and the next day we caught a bus to Tepoztlan.

Tepotztlan is a beautiful community of hippies, spiritual folk, artisans, and local indigenous people, all blending harmoniously into a place in which I could easily spend months. There is a pyramid on a mountain (we didn’t do the hike), a temple site for the indigenous population that first built the city in the valley hundreds of years ago. We spent a couple days in Tepoztlan, resting and wandering, and then were on our way. Our plan was to head toward Palenque, a site of ancient Mayan ruins, in stages. We spent one night in Puebla, a large and lovely city (at least the centro). Our taxi driver very generously told us about and took us to a hotel that, according to the cards he had, was in our price range. Of course, it was quite a lot more expensive than we’d expected and the taxi driver got a commission for bringing us there. But it was a very pretty room, comfortable, close to the zocalo, and we didn’t really feel like trekking around looking for something that would save us $10.

The next day, we were back on a bus, this time heading to Veracruz on the Caribbean coast. It’s a port city, very different from the places we visited on the Pacific coast. Being a working port, more than a tourist destination, it had the feel of a much more blue-collar town than somewhere like Puerto Vallarta. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but we were both happy to be close to the sea for a night. Also, Veracruz provided us our long-sought dinner of pollo asado entero – a whole roasted chicken dinner, with tortillas and salsa and guacamole. Pollo asado can be found almost everywhere in Mexico, and yet since Sam first mentioned having a craving almost two months ago, this is the first time we’ve actually been able to make it happen. It seems that everywhere we’ve been, the pollo asado establishments are always closed when we look for them. A small thing, but we enjoyed it.

The next day was Sunday, and we headed to the bus terminal at noon with the plan of catching a 1:00 bus to Villahermosa. Of course, we hadn’t remembered it was Sunday, since we rarely know what day it is, and the bus was sold out. We had the choice of a 4:45 bus, arriving at 1:10am in Villahermosa, or a 6:00 bus arriving at midnight, which we took. We found a hotel across the street from the bus station when we arrived, watched a terrible Chuck Norris movie on TV (English with subtitles) and fell asleep. The next morning we were up and on a bus to Palenque.

Palenque is a post all unto itself, and this is already getting ridiculously long, so I’ll leave it here for now. We are heading out of Flores in the morning, catching a bus to Antigua, but we do hope to land in one spot for a chunk of time, which will give me more time to do this blog justice – and to (finally!) take Spanish classes, since I haven’t made anywhere near the progress I feel I should have by now.

Stay tuned for updates on Palenque and Tikal!

Friday, April 16, 2010

3 months in...

Ok, it's been ages since the last update, and due to low battery power (the computer's and mine), this will be short - but I promise to do a good update on the last 3 weeks soon.

We arrived in Flores, Guatemala yesterday at about sunset. After 3 months in Mexico, we're setting out in new territory (for me, that is, not Sam). I was warned that it would just get hotter as we went south, and it's true - and it's still early spring!

In brief, here's what we've been up to lately:

We left Bucerias and the Pacific Coast on March 26. We went to San Luis Potosi, camped in the desert, spent a few days in Mexico City, Tepoztlan, and Palenque, and now we're in Guatemala. It's been fascinating, as always, and with many learning experiences along the way.

As usual, I'm not sure what's next... but I have no doubt it'll be just as interesting. I promise to fill you in soon on the latest adventures... in the meantime, this brief note lets you know I'm alive and well until the juicy details get written.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two months later...

Since I've been getting non-stop requests for another update (ok, maybe 2 requests...) here goes...

It's been 2 months and change since we left Vancouver, which seems, as usual, like both the blink of an eye and a whole lifetime ago. Time is funny like that.

Since the last update, Sam and I have left Tulan, visited Sayulita (tourist mecca, but not my favourite spot thus far), spent several days hanging out in Puerto Vallarta, a few more days hanging out in Lo de Marcos, and then rented an apartment for two weeks in Bucerias (4 days to go...).

It all started with a craving for a bacon cheeseburger. Just because I've been feeling healthy and happy with my vegetarian Tulan diet doesn't mean I've completely changed, after all, and sometimes a body just needs bacon cheeseburgers. And beer.

Being an excellent guide and knowledgeable about such things as how to find a real burger in Mexico, Sam suggested we hit tourist land and go to Sayulita, which we did. The burger was excellent.

A series of events led us to Puerto Vallarta for a few days, which really is a lovely place, although also a tourist mecca. Forgive this digression, but I really do feel the need to share my observations about the Pacific coastal towns of Mexico (or what I've seen thus far).

Sayulita, a wildly popular destination judging from the enormous number of Canadian and Americans I saw there, is in my view a totally bizarre place. When we walked into stores or restaurants, people automatically started speaking to us in English. Even when we (and by "we" I mean Sam of course) spoke in Spanish, we still got English replies. It is a crazily expensive town - even the "cheap" hostel cost about the same as our perfectly decent (and private) hotel room in P.V.

Puerto Vallarta is, obviously, also a wildly popular tourist destination, but whereas Sayulita appears to have been built by developers specifically as a place for tourists to go (I have no idea how it evolved, that's just how it appeared to me), P.V. is a real Mexican city with a port and a local population in addition to the resorts that have been developed. So, while it is possible to find a Starbucks, Walmart, and almost any other American amenity one may be looking for in P.V., it is also possible to find a cheap hotel and an absolutely delightful comedor (cafe) with home-cooked, authentic Mexican food prepared and served by a señora with a kindly smile.

Lo de Marcos, on the other hand, does not appear to be a wildly popular tourist destination, but has by far the best beach of the three; affordable, modest accommodations; good comedors as well as an ex-pat breakfast joint with drinkable coffee, and no crowds of noisy tourists. No one spoke English to us except at the ex-pat breakfast place. The beer on the beach was 5 to 10 pesos less per bottle than any of the other beach establishments we’ve been to. The best part of Lo de Marcos, though, is that the local population is incredibly friendly. Unlike Sayulita, in particular, the locals do not appear to have become full of animosity and hostility toward gringos. On the contrary, we were greeted with friendly smiles and words by passers-by, and frequently offered assistance if we looked even momentarily indecisive about where we were going.

San Blas, where we spent our first beach vacation in February, is a bit of a mix of the others. It’s got an incredible beach, which was nearly empty the whole week we were there, some tourists but nothing like Sayulita or P.V., a sizeable ex-pat community (along with the requisite ex-pat bar, boasting live music and good steak), cheap beer on the beach (though not as cheap as Lo de Marcos). The town is larger and therefore offers a few more amenities than Lo de Marcos, but the local population wasn’t as friendly – not unfriendly, just more indifferent to the gringos.

For those of you out there who want to have a beach vacation but also experience a bit more of authentic Mexico, I’d recommend a visit to Lo de Marcos. Our hotel room had a small kitchenette and a pool (quite a treat), and cost $250 pesos per night (a bit less than $25 cdn). It was just a few blocks from the beach (everything is just a few blocks from the beach, it’s a very small place) and there’s good food everywhere for hardly any money. I believe I touted the surf camp in San Blas in a previous post, so won’t repeat that here, but it’s also a great alternative to the all-inclusive resort.

Anyway, back to the main point of this story. After we left P.V., we hit Lo de Marcos, escaping the crowds and having a very restful few days while we figured out what to do next. “Next” turned out to be renting a small apartment in Bucerias for a couple of weeks, to relax, read, and spend some time with a friend we have here.

Our apartment is great. It’s in a part of Bucerias that our friend jokingly calls “gringo-ville”, since it’s in the tourist part of town. It’s a quiet, pleasant neighbourhood, quite affordable (about $250 Cdn for 15 days), just a block and a bit from the beach. There’s a pool right outside our door, and we have the best unit in the place. We have the only patio, with a table and chairs and a tarp overhead in case it rains, and potted plants decorating it. Inside, we have a small kitchen with a gas stove, stocked with most of the dishes we need (we did buy a pot for cooking with), benches built into the walls, and the best feature, a king-size bed. The hot water works almost all of the time, a very nice amenity that took us two days to enjoy, since no one had mentioned when we arrived that the cold and hot taps are reversed.

I’ve been spending my days walking on the beach (deep sand really does give a better workout than walking on pavement), swimming in the ocean, floating in our pool on the little air mattress I bought, reading (English) books, and cooking. Sam informed me last night that my Mexican cooking has now reached the lofty height of ensuring my ability to catch a nice Mexican husband. I felt quite complimented.

We have a few days left here, and I’ve just started reading the first of an Isaac Asimov trilogy that is bound to take me several days to get through, so I’ll obviously be quite busy with that. It’s a hard life.

We’re not sure what’s next, but we do know that we want to get out of Bucerias and any other popular tourist destination before Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is always a gong show. Every Mexican in the country will be flocking to the coast for their holiday.

In the meantime, I have some reading to do.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March already!

I´ve been back in Tulan just over a week, following a hasty and unplanned departure from San Miguel de Allende. I had expected to be there until now, housesitting, but a change in my friend´s plans meant I wasn´t needed and although I was welcome to stay, I decided to go. I woke suddenly in the middle of the night last weekend, feeling overwhelmingly homesick for Tulan. I missed the night sky, cooking on a fire, spending my days outside, and a quick email in the morning solidified my decision to go back. i was on a bus to guadalajara and then Tepic Sunday afternoon and caught a lift to Tulan first thing Monday morning. I have been feeling happy and positive ever since I got back there.

I spend my time in the garden, the kitchen, or just sitting outside reading and writing in the sun. And I spend part of each day composing a gratitude list.

I am especially grateful to live in a place right now that allows me the opportunity to align my body ,mind and spirit with cycles of nature and to feel the flow of energy through me, guiding my movements and decisions. It is endlessly fascinating to watch synchronicities emerge as I just let things happen rather than seeking to control them.

The other day, on a quick trip to town, a book fell on my head from the overhead compartment in Daniel´s van. It was called The Chemistry of Joy: a 3 step program for overcoming depression through western science and eastern wisdom. Clearly, the book needed me to read it. I´m finding it incredibly appropriate and helpful for me . I have decided there is no such thing as coincidence. NOTE: i highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever lived with depression in themselves or a loved one. it´s the most helpful approach i´ve ever come across.

San Miguel was an important trip for me. It caused me to face my fears of being alone, and how i define alone, and in my grief and pain and fear of separating from Sam, even for a week, I found strength and self-acceptance that I have been searching for most of my life. although it might seem a rapid and unrealistic conversion, what I suddenly understood is that I don´t need to try to change, or seek change, or fight my emotions. change will happen without any effort, and the effort is more hindrance than help anyway. My emotions are my gift and my strength. they give me empathy and compassion for others and for myself.

So in this last week, I have found that i can give both sam and I the space we need to grow as individuals, and together, without fear of being alone. And I have remembered that as long as I have love in my life, I can never be alone.

today is just a quick stop at an internet cafe, then back up to tulan. Not sure what is next, but you´ll know soon after i do! this keyboard is sticky and gross (please excuse the spotty capitalization, the shift key sticks and so does backspace) so will leave it here.

Much love to you all. till next time!

Friday, February 19, 2010


Normally, this is the sort of thing I'd write in my paper journal, where no one else could ever read it. But this time, I felt compelled to bare my soul and put it out for all the world (or the 11 of you who subscribe to the blog) to read.

Dear Leah:

Stop being so hard on yourself! Yes, it's ok to be sad - you don't need to criticize yourself for feeling that way! Even more than that, you probably don't even need to feel sad! Let's take a look at this, shall we?

How many people are there out there who have told you they miss you and love you since you left? And now, add in the ones you haven't had direct contact with, but that you still know love you.

Now let's face it. Although you have a very large number (are you looking at that list?) of people who love you, and that you love in return, let's be honest here. Some of them are just a teeny-tiny bit critical and judgmental at times. (For example, just now before you corrected it, you spelled "judgmental" with an "e" after the "g" - if you hadn't corrected it, how many of those aforementioned loved ones would have emailed about that?!)

So, remembering that some of those loved ones are a bit judgmental, you can also remember that they love you! And when you look at the size of that list (it's a damn good list!), you have to think they can't all be wrong! If they all love you, even the judgmental ones, there's probably good reason, right? I bet you could even come up with a list of reasons why they love you. Not including because of how you vote, which I (even I!) think is a pretty lame reason to love someone.

Are you perfect? Well, I guess that depends on whether you are one of those "don't be so hard on yourself, nobody's perfect" types or one of those more Buddhist "everyone's perfect because all creation is perfect" types. But really, that's not the point. The point is, you have a few flaws. Who doesn't? According the former philosophy, those flaws don't matter. According to the latter philosophy, those flaws are perfect.

Aside from the flaws, you're pretty ok! Let's take a look at just a few of the relevant factors for today's lesson.

1. You can buy your own food in Spanish, and hand over the appropriate amount of money without staring blankly at the person selling you the food.

2. You can buy a bus ticket in Spanish, and while you might stare blankly at the person selling the ticket when they start issuing instructions, you still end up at the right place.

3. You have not only got great friends and family at home, but made a whole bunch of new ones since arriving in Mexico. (P.S. you might want to consider adding them to the list from above.)

4. You are able to ask for help when you need it. Don't underestimate the value of this trait! It's not weak to ask for help - it's a sign of strength to recognize when you need it!

5. You are able to fend for yourself when you think you need help, but actually don't, and there's no help to be had. This is very important. You are surprisingly resourceful.

6. You have improved your ability to stay focused in meditation from approximately 10 seconds when you first began to up to an hour or sometimes even more on occasion! Ok, yes, the average is probably about 15 minutes, but that's not so bad! If you can overcome the Sesame Street attention span, what can't you accomplish?!

7. You can write a soul-searching, soul-revealing journal entry, and infuse it with humour! That is no mean gift! (Ok, so you might be the only one who appreciates the humour, but who cares?! This is a letter to you anyway!)

8. You are able to appreciate the hard lessons in life, even when they really suck, because you know they make you stronger and wiser and generally better, etc. Sometimes, you can even appreciate those lessons before several years have passed!

9. You are facing a challenge that many people never attempt in their lifetime - the challenge to accept yourself, as you are, no matter what other people think.

10. You can remember up to five or 10 minutes after first thinking and/or writing it that what other people think is - hey, you're pretty ok!

I think a list of 10 things (even if some of them seem a bit contrived) that you can be pleased with is not too shabby. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you have accomplished a whole hell of a lot in the last year, never mind the previous 34 years, and that you ought be incredibly proud of yourself! I'll spare you the list of all those accomplishments, because you already know what they are. But the next time you start being so hard on yourself, I'm going to remind you about how you mustered up the courage to leave your friends, family, job, sell your apartment, your furniture and your worldly belongings to travel in a place where you don't speak the language... etc. You get the point?

So - get on with it already! Stop being so hard on yourself!

I'm just sayin'... give it some thought.


(seriously. love yourself. other people do, how hard can it be?)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

San Miguel de Allende

I arrived on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, which is inland in Mexico, far from the ocean but in mountains. It’s a heritage site, a very old colonial town, and very lovely (though I haven’t seen much of it yet). I am fortunate to be able to stay with a friend for a few days, then housesit for her for the next 10 days while she’s away.

Getting here was a challenge for me. Sam decided to stay in Tulan a bit longer, at least in part to give me an opportunity to visit with my friend without him. The idea of leaving him behind and travelling on my own was intimidating, to say the least, and I wasn’t at all sure I was willing to do it. However, fate being what it is, I followed the path laid out for me. I caught a lift into Tepic from Tulan with a friend, who also put me up for a night and took me to the bank and the bus the next day. I caught a bus to Guadalajara, but got stuck there for a night as I’d missed the last bus to SMA. I will confess that I was already emotional and overwrought and finding out that I was stuck threw me into a tailspin, resulting in the shedding of a few tears in the bathroom. I was lonely, scared and frustrated at my inability to communicate effectively (at least with words).

Despite my fears, everything worked out just fine. A very nice young woman happened to be at one of the bus company counters I approached. I am not entirely clear what her job was, but it appeared to be related to providing comfort and assistance to distraught foreigners. She didn’t speak English, but she did manage to communicate with me despite the language barrier, and while we did not resolve the bus dilemma, I was gently guided to a hotel across the parking lot where they had a restaurant, a bed, hot water (in theory, though I didn’t experience it myself) and an internet connection (of sorts). Though it cost more than I would like to have spent (since I hadn’t anticipated the overnight stop at all), it sure beat sleeping on a hard plastic chair at the bus station. I forced myself to eat a bit, then spent an hour or two online on skype instant messenger with friends who cheered me up no end, allowing me to return to my room in a much more positive frame of mind. I escaped reality briefly by watching “The Truman Show”, happily in English with Spanish subtitles so I could actually understand it.

Lesson learned: my worst fear was realized – I got stuck somewhere without Sam or anyone else I knew, without a capacity to communicate with language – and yet, I emerged from the experience perfectly fine. I got up in the morning, met a very nice gentleman from Victoria at breakfast who paid for my oatmeal and walked with me to get my bus ticket as he was leaving at the same time, got on the bus and had a perfectly pleasant trip to San Miguel. I arrived safely, and though my friend wasn’t home, her neighbours were and they kindly stored my backpack so I could wander through the town a wee bit and find some food (the bus company gave me a pre-packaged sandwich, but even my lowered standards couldn’t allow me to eat it). I found a shop that makes espresso drinks (insert hallelujah chorus here, thank goodness for ex pat communities!) and chocolate croissants and right next to it is a bookstore that provided me my long-desired English-Spanish dictionary and a copy of “El Principito” (the Little Prince). I arrived back home at the same time as my lovely hostess and all worked out swimmingly. Fear, clearly, is a wasted emotion. There is wisdom beyond wisdom in the Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and staying in the present moment – everything is perfect, just the way it is.

I am an incredibly lucky person, for any number of reasons, not least of which is this opportunity to travel, see the world, meet new people and discover new things about myself. But also, and I think more importantly, I am lucky because of the amazing people in my life. I have friends and family who give me support, friendship, guidance, lessons and more love than I could ever have imagined. For someone who has spent the better part of her adult life living with depression, and who spent the vast majority of her childhood believing that she didn’t have many friends, that love is a gift beyond measure.

Part of this journey for me is a lesson in receiving love. In my reality, the reality of depression and feeling friendless, there was never a lot of room for receiving love, because I didn’t feel that I deserved it. I either didn’t believe it was real when it was offered to me, or I subconsciously worked to sabotage it because I knew I didn’t deserve it, and then if the person trying to love me gave up and left, my belief in the inconstancy of love and my own undeservedness (is that a word?) were affirmed.

I have, I believe, a huge capacity to give love. I have no problem outlining the innumerable qualities in others that make them deserving of love, mine or anyone else’s. I can even list the qualities in myself that other people will say makes me deserve love – but believing in that is a whole other story. So in this time and place, I am opening myself to love – to give, to receive, to believe that it’s real and deserved and beautiful.

The magic of technology, in the form of skype, allowed me to have a long talk last night with a beautiful friend at home. Although I knew we had many things in common, I discovered through our talk that we share much more than common political values or a love of art, music, and writing. We talked about love and what it means, and about joy and sadness, and how lucky we are to be able to experience emotions. And in our talk, she gave me two gifts that I will hold onto. One of them was not new to me, I’d heard and read it before in a variety of ways from a variety of people, but there was something about hearing it at that moment that made it feel particularly valuable and hopefully this time, it’ll stick with me:

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel emotions and let them pass through us. We DON’T, however, need to think about them, analyze them, worry at them, become angry at ourselves for feeling them – we can just accept them, feel them, and then let them go. As someone who seems to default to sadness when I hit bumps in the road, these words of wisdom are invaluable to me, and I’m so grateful.

The second gift she gave me was a theory she developed as a child (and I hope it’s ok for me to publish this theory!): emotions are like a box of Crayola crayons. Some people only get the 4 pack, and while you can mix the colours, it takes a lot of work. Others of us, though, get the 96 pack with the built-in sharpener. We have the great fortune to have all the shades imaginable, plus the ones we hadn’t imagined. While this means, as she pointed out, that there are many shades of blue to experience, we also get to go to the other end of the spectrum. I am a 96-pack person. I have been through every shade of blue you could think of, but I also can leave the blue and jump into all the shades of red, orange, green and yellow (which I personally think is a very cheery, sunshiney sort of colour) and what a blessing that is!

I hung up from that phone call feeling incredibly grateful for the love in my life. Knowing that even though I feel far from home at times, that I can’t just drop by to see my friends or my family, that it costs a fortune to phone home (except for skype!), I am not alone. I am connected to everyone who loves me, because they love me no matter where I am, and all I have to do is receive that love and send my own love back to them.

I am so grateful for these gifts. So even though I am a little nervous about this leg of my journey, venturing solo into a new place, I am not alone. I have the ability to make new friends, learn new things and keep my heart open.

Like my night in Guadalajara, last night allowed me to experience the joy in sharing my sadness with friends, and having them receive that sadness and transform it into humour, happiness and love. As long as I open myself to my friends and family, to receiving friendship and love, I can feel the sadness and then let it go, instead of trying to analyze and rationalize it away (which, FYI, does not work). It’s ok to feel sad. But it’s so much better to feel happy!

Because I want to make the most of my time here in San Miguel de Allende, I pushed myself out the door into the rain this afternoon to explore a bit. I didn’t go far, but I did find the mercado (public market) and bought some groceries. Happily, my limited Spanish is sufficient for me to name the foods that I want and understand when I’m given a total cost. Tomorrow, I’ll walk a little further. There’s a lot to see and I plan to see as much as I can and fully experience what SMA has to offer while I’m here. In the meantime, I’m hungry and I have groceries to cook! Buen provecho!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beach holiday

Look at that, two posts in a matter of days... this one is short, however...

San Blas has been an absolutely lovely vacation. The beach here is clean, the sand is soft and white and lovely, the water is warm, the waves are high enough to play in though not high enough the past several days for good surfing. The bugs are nasty, but you can’t have everything.

We’re staying at a place called Stoners Surf Camp (I have not asked the owners to explain the name!), which was the first beach establishment built along this stretch a few years ago. They have 5 cabanas, two beachfront and three at the back. There’s a restaurant open till 6ish with cheap and tasty food and, of course, beer. We’ve befriended (I should say, Sam befriended and Erica and I joined in the fun) a couple of the staff people, which has been a lot of fun and also makes us feel more like family and less like tourists. We’ll be very comfortable to return here, I think.

Our cabana is lovely. It’s up high off the ground, with a porch to sit on., watch the waves, write, have a beer, socialize, etc. There’s electricity, which we hardly need, two pretty decent beds, and mosquito nets to cover the beds, an added bonus. The bathrooms are clean and while the showers have only cold water, it’s been warm enough that I haven’t really missed the hot water.

We’re expecting a visit from one of my cousins tomorrow, and then I think will head out on Saturday. The cabana is booked up that night so we need to leave here that afternoon anyway.

Since my life the past several days has involved nothing more than eating, enjoying a cold beer or two, swimming, and generally lounging around, I will leave this a much shorter blurb than the last one. Till next time!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mother Lode

Well, I'm back in civilization for a few days, and I'm sure everyone has been anxiously awaiting my news, so here's a very long update about my life over the last few weeks. I started writing it a few days ago while still in Tulan so some of the present tense might be a few days out of date. Enjoy the update!

I suddenly understand why there are so many travel writers and bloggers. There’s just so much to write about. I’ve been gone now about 3 ½ weeks, nearly 4, and I have so many stories to tell that it’s hard to know where to start. The people, the place, the life I’ve been living, the way the community functions… everything is the same and very different and definitely fascinating.

I know I talked a bit about my adventures so far in the last post but I think I’ll repeat myself somewhat in order to give more detail about what we’ve been up to since we came to Mexico. So: Tulan.

Tulan, as I’ve mentioned, is an 800-acre ranch in the hills of San Juan, north of Tepic, Nayarit, which is about 3 hours from Puerto Vallarta. It’s sub-tropical rainforest, legally owned by a few men who wanted to protect the land from development and/or over-use. It’s considered a very sacred, highly spiritual place by all who come here and certainly the men who own this land believe themselves more as caretakers than landowners. No one owns God’s country. We’re in indigenous territory, largely Huichol land in this area, but there are many traditions represented in this place. The ranch is surrounded by 7 peaks, pyramids, believed to have been sacred temples in bygone days. The hike up to two of those pyramids was a highlight of the journey thus far. It’s easy to believe, when climbing those mountains, that this is indeed sacred land and that spirits reign supreme in this place.

Our first two weeks in Tulan were spent surrounded by people. We arrived for the event we attended a few days early, and the majority of participants stayed for a few extra days after the event officially ended. I don’t think I talked much about the event last time so I’ll tell you a bit about it now. (One challenge I face is that I’m living in a place with no electricity, and certainly no internet access, so I can’t access my blog to see what I’ve already written. Sorry about repetitions, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.)

The event is called 7:7:7:7, organized by an old friend of Sam’s, arising from his spiritual path in a shamanic tradition. It’s held for 7 days in the 7th moon (based on the 13 moon calendar of Dreamspell, which is a modified Mayan calendar, as opposed to the 12-month Gregorian calendar most of us follow) for 7 years (this was year 5, the last year is 2012) for 7 generations (i.e. planting seeds of hope and community-building for future generations). Most of the people who attended the event, and certainly the ones who stayed on in Tulan, have some interest in living a different kind of life. Two references frequently made here are to “the 12:60” – which refers to the 12-month calendar and the frequency generated by living by that calendar in a society dominated by electricity and technology – and to “the Matrix” – which of course refers to the movie and the idea that here, in Tulan, we are outside the Matrix, we are aware that what other people perceive as reality is in fact an illusion.

The 13-moon calendar (the “13:20” frequency) is considered a more natural way of keeping time, based on lunar cycles. On average, a lunar cycle (from full moon to full moon) runs 28 days. There are 13 lunar cycles per year, at 28 days each, which totals 364 days, leaving one “day out of time”. The theory is that the body, mind & spirit flow more naturally when we follow the natural rhythms of the sun and the moon. The Gregorian calendar – the 12:60 – is viewed as artificial and it’s believed by many to be damaging to our bodies and souls to force ourselves into that rhythm.

At any rate, now that you have some background on the belief structure of many folks who attended the event, I can move on. The event itself, as I said, lasted 7 days. It wasn’t an overly structured event, more of a loose gathering of like-minded folks, coming together to share ideas, knowledge and spiritual ceremony in a beautiful, sacred space. There were usually a couple of workshops each day. For example, I participated in a workshop facilitated by Setting Sun White Bear (Steve), a medicine man from an Ojibway tradition in the Thunder Bay area. We learned his traditional teachings of the sweat lodge, then we built one, and then we held the sweat lodge ceremony. While it is possible to participate in sweat lodges (temezcal, in Espanol) at home, the chance to learn how to build one was an opportunity I didn’t want to let slip by. Other workshops included teachings on Sufi chanting & dancing, holotropic rebirth, history of Mayan tradition and culture (facilitated by a Mayan elder), among others. I attended some, and some I missed in favour of other activities.
(At one point during that week, as I reflected on what I would write about when I had the chance to update the blog and all the things that were happening here, I distinctly heard a certain friend’s voice in my head saying, “oh, Leah went to hippie church for a week.” It’s pretty much true. Hee hee – I’m just thinking now how many of you reading this are assuming I’m referring to you as that certain friend!)

The truth is that, while I didn’t noise it about too much in political and work circles, I’m a deeply spiritual person and I’ve never found that there’s much room for that within “the movement.” We tend to write off all spirituality as fundamentalism (I realize that’s a broad, blanket statement, but it’s been my perception and my experience, with exceptions as always). At any rate, I have been feeling the lack of spiritual expression in my life over the years (at least until the last year or so when I ventured out and found a group of like-minded souls), and this year of travel is at least in part an expression of my spiritual beliefs. It’s a journey into my own spirit and heart and a chance to learn about the beliefs of people I meet along the way.

The 7:7:7:7 event and Tulan more generally has been an ideal landing spot for Sam and me. For one thing, it’s given me a chance to get used to the idea of travel, of living more simply, of integrating with other cultures and belief systems. There have been many Mexican nationals with whom to interact and practice my Spanish (which I can safely say is progressing, but oh-so-slowly!). It’s clean and safe, giving me a chance to venture out on my own (such as going for a hike or just mingling with other people living here, not going too far) so that I can get used to the idea of being at least somewhat independent. Sam is an excellent guide – his fluency in Spanish and years of travel experience, not to mention the fact that he seems to be able to light a fire under any circumstance, are invaluable to me – but I don’t want to rely so heavily on him that I become afraid to try anything on my own or that I become burdensome to him.

To that end, I’m practicing my Spanish more and more with the Mexican guys who are also living here, Sam and I are camped in different spots so that we have a bit of time apart when we want it and I have my own little campfire (I was a Girl Guide, after all, and am perfectly capable of managing my own fire), and I’m taking an active role in our little community.

After the event ended, we headed into Tepic for a couple of days to do laundry, check emails, and have a hot shower. We came back up to Tulan a little over a week ago, to a much smaller, simpler community than the event we’d left behind. There have been between 5 and 8 of us over the last 8 or 9 days, with so much work to do that it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin. There are anywhere from 3 to 5 Mexican guys who spend as much time here as they can, working the land, building the garden, etc. Then there’s a young American woman and Sam and I. A vanload of folks who’d been at the event just arrived, bumping our numbers back up to about 8 from the five we’d dwindled down to

My participation in the community has largely focused on the kitchen. I cook for everyone who’s working in the garden, clean the kitchen, and have lots of time to wash my clothes, dig in my own little garden at my campsite, forage for firewood, etc. I haven’t been taking nearly as much time for yoga and meditation as I have intended but I get it in where I can.

Cooking for 6-8 people over a small fire in a barely-functional kitchen is a challenge that I think I can proudly claim to have met with success. Because there’s no electricity, we rely on foods that don’t go bad too quickly – lots of rice, beans, lentils, tortillas, guacamole and salsa, supplemented by the foods that grow here, like chayote and ojasanta, a leafy green vegetable that is highly nutritious and has a strong flavour with a hint of anise. I don’t seem to be suffering from the lack of meat in my diet (pause for the smug gloating of the veggies in the crowd, and the sceptical raised eyebrow of Tones…) Those of you who want to live without dairy, sugar, or wheat/gluten would also find the food here ideal. I’ve learned how to make salsa properly (at least, the way Juan likes it) and my guacamole seems to have been good enough already. The trick to salsa, for you foodies out there, is to burn the vegetables in the fire first – tomatoes, onions, cloves of garlic and jalapenos – then mash them with the mortar and pestle. The cilantro and salt get added after the fact, along with a bit of water to ensure there’s enough to go around (or maybe it’s a crucial ingredient, I should really ask about that). I have not yet mastered the art of making a decent tortilla, but to be fair to myself, I’ve only tried once. We have masa, instead tortilla mix (basically corn flour, just add water) and a tortilla making machine- place a ball of the dough on the wooden thingy (I have no idea what it’s called, but it looks a little bit like a waffle iron or one of those sandwich makers, but it’s smaller, square, wooden, and has a handle on it). Then close the top wooden square over the bottom one, push down on the handle and open it up – voila! A tortilla. Of course, the amount of pressure is important, as I discovered when my first attempt looked more like a crepe. My second attempt wasn’t nearly big enough. It’s not as easy as it appeared. Anyway, once the shape and thickness are appropriate, carefully remove the tortilla and place it on the comal (the hot, iron flat pan sitting on the fire waiting to cook your tortillas). This is also not as easy as I had assumed. My tortilla slid down awkwardly and did not lie flat. The last piece of information I will share about tortilla-making is not to walk away after you put it on the fire, as it will burn. Note: this is not appreciated by hungry Mexican men when it is the very last tortilla in the house. Oops.

I have adjusted to life without electricity and hot water very easily. I think it helps that I love camping so much so I’m not unfamiliar with this way of life. I’ve never camped this long, but we do have a house, a kitchen, and running water, so I can bathe and wash my clothes as often as I feel necessary. Generally, I wash myself in the creek every day – except the last 3 days, when it has poured rain in unseasonably torrential downpours. I figure as long as I can get into town for a hot shower every couple of weeks to give my hair a proper wash, I am content. That said, as I write this, I have no idea how long we’ll stay here. Now that the rain has stopped and the sun has returned (oh, blessed, beautiful sun!) Sam and I are preparing to head to the beach for a few days. We don’t know exactly when or where or for how long we’ll go. Probably we’ll head down in the morning, catch a bus to somewhere and stay as long as we feel like staying. Right now, the biggest decision is whether we pack up all our gear or leave most of it here. There are advantages to both. Obviously, the less we bring, the less we have to carry. But if we take it all with us, we are free to go wherever the wind blows us without having to worry about coming back to Tulan to get stuff. I am discovering, in living life as a vagabond, that you never really know what opportunities will come your way. We could meet a caravan of people off on an exciting adventure that we want to join, but if we don’t have all our stuff, we’ll miss that chance. That means carrying everything, though, and we are very high up and will likely have to walk down to the village of La Yerba with everything we’re bringing on our backs. Unless we get lucky and a vehicle appears. You just never know around here.

We arrived in San Blas Saturday. Fortune held and we got a ride here with Gustavo, another regular at Tulan. Gus comes once a week to bring supplies and work around the ranch. He and his partner were coming to the beach for the weekend, so the timing was excellent. They’ve left now, leaving Sam and I in a beautiful cabana on the beach, and Erica camping underneath our cabana.

I’m sitting on the balcony of our cabana, watching the sunset and a group of young folk play beach volleyball. The mosquitoes are fierce. So small they can barely seen, but they have a nasty ability to do damage. Sam just got a bite on his eyelid. Ouch. However, once it gets dark, they should disappear again.

This seems ridiculously long, so I'll leave it here for now. 'til next time!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two weeks later...

Once again, I find myself without enough time to do this post justice. It will be short, as I'm very tired and have an early morning tomorrow, and there's so much to say that I can't possibly say it all now.

The last two weeks have been spent on an 800-acre ranch of sub-tropical rainforest (it's the jungle, plain and simple) up an 8000-foot mountain. The ranch is surrounded by 7 peaks, some of which are pyramids that have been left untouched for centuries. A couple of days ago, we hiked up to two of the pyramids, blazing a trail with machetes (not me, but others) as we went. We left at approx 10 am and were back an hour or two after sunset, so it was quite the journey.

The land is beautiful. There are citrus trees of every kind imaginable growing all over the place, avocados, chayote (kind of a squash-like vegetable which grows on trees but sprouts roots when it falls to the ground so is the seed), coffee beans, bananas and plantains... it really is the bounty of Mother Earth like I've never imagined.

There's no electricity although there is some running water (cold, of course), so life is very simple. We cook on a fire in a little kitchen that is outside the house, but covered. The last week, from Jan 17-24, we participated in an event that had meals brought up so food was taken care of. Now, however, we've decided to stay on that land awhile longer (no idea how long, maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe longer?) so we're back to preparing our own food. We're in Tepic to pick up supplies - rice, beans, some produce, maybe some eggs - and heading back up.

The nights have been very cold and the hammocks, while very comfortable and convenient, don't offer protection from the cold air so it's been a bit of an adjustment. I bought a wool poncho (I can't wait to take a picture and send it, everyone should get one of these and I know just how to arrange that!) which helps enormously. Even so, I'm wishing I'd packed warmer clothes (not that I could have fit them into the backpack).

Now that the event is over and we are going to be living a very simple, quiet life for awhile (I think there will only be 5 of us up there), I hope to find more time for writing. So much seems to have happened since we got here that I haven't even been able to sort it all out in my own head and so am unprepared for writing about it. I hope to have more detail to share the next time we come into town. I also want to take some pictures of the land to share. It's sacred land, on Huichol territory, and a deeply spiritual, meditative place to be. You can feel the peace of the place the minute you arrive. In a time when famine has struck much of Mexico, it's also easy to understand the sacredness of such a bountiful place. There's enough food there to feed thousands, if only there were enough people to cultivate and harvest the food that's growing. Most of the fruit and vegetables fall to the ground and rot.

I wish I could write about everything all at once. I'm glad to be here. I've had an incredible two weeks and feel like a different person already. I've never felt healthier. Who knew a strictly vegetarian diet and not sitting behind a desk could make such a difference? Living outside is definitely a beautiful thing.

Of course, no matter how happy I am to be here, thoughts of friends and family at home are never far from my head and heart. I hope you are all happy and well and know that I'm thinking of you.

Till next time, whenever that may be...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mexico, day 2

Well, here I am. Safely arrived in Puerto Vallarta last night at about 5.00pm to a balmy 27C sunny evening. We caught a cab to a cheapish hotel, Hotel Azteca, about 350 pesos for the night. The room was small but had a fan and hot water, so we were happy. Had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant in the neighbourhood. We were out of the main tourist area, which was great. Breakfast this morning was even better. A very nice woman with a tiny shop made us Huevos Mexicana (i´m learning to eat eggs!) which was fantastic. The salsa was very picante (HOT!) but delish.

My compatriots are waiting outside the wee internet cafe in Tepic (about a 3 hour bus ride from PV) where I write this so it´ll be a short, and not quite so introspective (!) post as the previous ones. We are heading into the mountains tonight to a ranch, where we´ll spend a week or so in meditation. I´m really looking forward to the time to acclimatize and ground myself, preparing for the travels ahead. The water is clean, the food plentiful, and the people friendly. There will be a number of Mexican nationals there, providing me an excellent opportunity to practice my Spanish. I´m already practicing as much as possible. Last night Sam sent me out on several errands, armed with rehearsed phrases to practice on local shopkeepers and the hotel staff person. I´ve got a ways to go, but I´m determined to give it my best effort. With luck, I´ll be conversant in a few months.

It´s much cooler in Tepic than PV. I´m wearing the merino wool shirt (thanks J!) and hoodie I brought with me, and my vest is in easy reach. Glad I came prepared for cooler temperatures!

Time to go. Look for more in a week or so!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One week to go

As the departure date rapidly approaches, I find myself caught in a whirlwind of activity. Or to be more honest, I feel quite a lot like Pigpen from Peanuts... running around in a haze of dirt(chaos), madly trying to get things done but not entirely sure I've accomplished anything at all.

Today I checked off my list:
-travel insurance
-packing up the kitchen
-dry run at packing my backpack

And it feels like a million other things, yet for some reason, I can't actually identify them. Which is a bit scary, considering the state of my apartment (and my mind). With one week left to go - three days of which are visiting my parents in Victoria - I had hoped to be a little more organized than I am. I don't even have my new passport yet!

All that aside, however, I am becoming more excited about the adventure with each passing day. Nervous, too, without question, but after a good talk with a dear friend (thanks for dinner, SG!) tonight, I have affirmed for myself all the very good reasons I have for embarking on this journey.

"No plans for the trip after the first couple weeks? Isn't that a bit out of character for you?" she asked tonight. And yes, it does seem so, doesn't it? I'm not known for my wild spontaneity, I confess. But the lack of itinerary is part of what makes this trip so exciting for me.

The truth is, I don't actually care where I go or where I end up. If I decide I want to stay in the first place I land for the entire year, that's ok. This trip isn't-- as mentioned in my first post - about geography. It's about spirit. Wherever I go, I'll find myself.

I was just thinking about how to articulate what I'm looking for in this journey, and I discovered that I can't articulate it at all. I just know that I need to go. I have lost sight of what the meaning of my own life is here at home. I am tired. My work and activism no longer have the significance, the excitement, the sense of justice and purpose that they used to have. And so I am setting out to learn something new about the world and about myself.

With one week left to go - at this time next Wednesday, I'll be in Puerto Vallarta - I don't feel like I'm organized. But I do feel ready for whatever is to come.