Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Pre-Christmas Escape to the Back of Beyond

What does a hostess do the day before she’s expecting houseguests from New York and thirty plus people for a dinner buffet? Run away! Run away! That’s what I did, and I’m not sorry one little bit. Tuesday was a day to remember.

What had started as Oh Lucy, why don’t you and your family come over, meet Carol and Bernard, and we’ll do a turkey or something, was growing exponentially. Larry was getting a wild gleam in his eyes and I was looking nervously at the number of potatoes I had on hand. We had both collapsed on the couch in the house where Lucy’s folks were hosting a little “drinks party” – that’s what the British call it. They were planning an outing for the next day with
Vicente Peña’s new comfy little tourist bus, a visit to an Indian village up in the mountains north of Tepic.

“Why don’t you come with us?” Auntie Karen asked me, she of the perpetual stand-out-in-a-crowd white hat. No way, I thought, but as the plans progressed I realized this was an excursion I didn’t want to put off any more. "Count me in!" I said.

Our route followed Highway 200 northward. I’d been to Tepic when we signed the papers to buy the house. The lawyer’s office was just off what I thought was the main square. I hadn’t been impressed. For good reason.

That wasn’t the main square. THIS is the main square. We stopped and looked all around.

It has a beautiful cathedral

with an impressive mural on the ceiling above the main entrance.

The inside is lovely.

and there are banners hanging beside the front entrance.
Across the street there are fountains, trees,

and a huge Christmas tree courtesy of the Coca-Cola company.
Further along in the main plaza there is also an artisans’ market, classy shops, and the food market

where you can buy menudo and pigs trotters,

quail eggs, rattlesnake skins,

and chewing gum shaped like little shoes.

There were also mandarinas – fat and juicy tangerines that smell like Christmas trees if you close your eyes while you peel them.

Tepic is a city of some 450,000 people, and is the capital of the State of Nayarit.

It’s most famous citizen is the poet Amado Nervo (1870 – 1919).

His massive portrait presides over people waiting in line at the Capital building. It would be fitting if they’re getting marriage certificates because Nervo’s poems are romantic, moody, and full of sensual images about first kisses, first loves, first touches, first glances. He was a diplomat, representing Mexico in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo.

We worked up a good appetite visiting the square, and headed happily for Maria’s brother’s restaurant – Quetzalcoatl, one of the first if not the first vegetarian restaurant in the city. It has been going strong for over twenty five years. Maria and Juan have the closer-to-us restaurant
Rincón del Cielo up at Punta Raza. Good cooking runs in the family genes. Even strapping Sam, Lucy’s brother, chowed down eagerly on the buffet. We spent much more time than Vicente had allotted for lunch, as everyone kept going back and trying something else wonderfully tasty.

We went through several pitchers of green juice – a mixture of pineapple and parsley.

We had another hour and a half drive before we reached the large dam that holds back Lago de Agua Milpa. The lake isn’t huge, but it holds three times the amount of water as Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake in area. Agua Milpa is deep, with an average depth of 200 meters. That’s well over 600 feet! It’s even deeper these days, as there was so much rain this past year.

Those wooden frames out in the water show where last year's embarcadero was, now under water. For the first time in the twenty year life of the dam, last summer authorities had to release water into the valley below to keep the lake from overflowing. The resulting wall of water was ten meters high and cut right through a small mountain in its way.

Our intrepid group set out in a minuscule boat for a twenty minute ride across the deep, intent on seeing Indians where they lived, rather than in the square on market day in La Peñita.

The village of Potrero de La Palmita lies on the shore of the lake where the Rio Grande Santiago (Mexico’s longest river) meets the Rio Huaynamota. There have evidently been a lot of changes in the last few years.

Potrero de La Palmita is not a Huichol village, but primarily Kora, and they are much more social. Evidence of this is that they have opened a guest house for those seeking “alternative tourism.” That’s when you really want to get away. They do NOT have a website, but I picked up a brochure.

You reach the guest house by following a newly constructed rock ramp up from the shore.

The accomodations are stark, but the view is amazing. And the Kleenex box they provide is a work of art!

On past the guest house, it is another short hike to the village.
There is a new health center.
An ancient generator that was only used in emergencies has been replaced by strategically placed solar panels. Here is a small one just outside one of the typical houses.
Most of the houses are built up on stilts to protect the occupants from snakes and scorpions.

The word went out that we were there, and the women of the village gathered at the market center to display their handiwork, mostly weaving and beadwork. We had come intent on buying, and were careful that every woman sold something to our group.
I made the major purchase of the day – a beaded image created by Teresa, shown here with one of her children. It took her three months to complete this image, made with the tiniest of little glass beads. I paid her asking price of 800 pesos, and watched the excitement of her children and other villagers. Vicente told me this was a major cash infusion to an economy that really needs it. Tour operators from Puerto Vallarta have quit sending trips up this far, as it is such a long trip. The guest house business has not kicked in as yet either. He assured me that spending money with the women is what makes a real difference for good in the village, as every centavo will go for the benefit of feeding and clothing the children. And Penelope, this is where the three boxes of clothing you sent to me in Lubbock and we carried down with us last September ended up. Best to get them out of our basement and onto bodies that need them, and it was fitting to get it down just before Christmas.

It was almost dark as we made the return trip back across the lake, the lights of the dam finally coming into view as we rounded a corner. This is where you can see stars and stars and stars. An hour and a half later, closer to Tepic, I reached Larry on a cell phone, warning him not to look for us soon.

There was one more stop in Compostela where we had coffee in a second floor shop facing the lit cathedral. It is a very old town, founded in the late 1500’s as the capital of Nueva Galicia, a territory which encompassed basically all of Western Mexico. But the resistance from the native tribes towards the Spanish and their modern ways was so intense that Compostela was essentially abandoned and the government was moved east to Guadalajara. The Huichol and the Kora never were conquered by the Spanish. They never gave up their traditions, their way of doing things. So today, we tourists go to visit them and buy their beadwork. Sort of makes me think twice about holding on to “the way we’ve always done it.”

So here’s a new tradition fit for the time and place where we live now: Merry Christmas! – two days late. A
nd PS -- the Christmas Eve party was a great success anyway.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Virgin Territory

Friday a week ago, December 12, was the Festival Day of our Lady of Guadalupe. As part of the celebration, I was asked to read aloud a part of the book I'm writing, Virgin Territory. It's about moving to Mexico and discovering the heart and power of virginity.

The event took place at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery. Juan Gonzales filmed the event for You can find some of the clips at the following link.

The ancient meaning of the Greek word translated virgin in the New Testament, didn't have anything to do with physiology. It didn't mean being chaste or physically untouched. Rather, being a virgin meant belonging to oneself. A virgin was someone who had authority, who was the author of her own experience because she was not defined by any human relationship. She was un-captured, intact, self-complete, whole, self-governed. Virginity was power.

While the book is the story of my own spiritual journey, I hope it conveys that everyone, man or woman, revolutionary or rebel, has an “inner virgin.” The spontaneity, liberty, autonomy and free expression The Virgin represents has stirred individuals and movements throughout history. Father Hidalgo raised Guadalupe's banner when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and the Virgin of Czestochowa inspired Lech Walesa's Solidarity Movement. The image and ethos of The Virgin may be just what we need in our own revolutionary times of change and challenge.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Perigee -- Up Close and Personal

It's been a full moon weekend. Friday night it was official. The moon was big, full, and closer than it's been for fifteen years. My friend Agneta conducts new moon and full moon ceremonies, and promptly at 5:15 there were six of us gathered on the beach near our house. It was still daylight, but Agneta had lit a fire and was explaining to us that the the previous two weeks (kicked off with a proper new moon ceremony) had been a time for defining our intentions and nourishing them with prayer, and that the full moon was a time for rejoicing and grateful acknowledgement of the good already received and that which was expected to mature during the waning moon.

It was a fairly simple ceremony. Everyone had brought something to make noise with -- a drum, rattle, or a piece of wood and a stick -- and there was something cathartic about just making noise when that big orange disk edged up from the horizon. The firmament is so very close here, its depth reflected in the vast ocean as well as stretched across the sky. There's something inside me that yearns to acknowledge its presence, glory in its magnificence, and it's really a treat to do it with unbridled enthusiasm in the company of good friends. Our little crowd grew with the arrival of Lucy and her family, so there were twelve of us that circled the fire and took turns saying what we were grateful for.

Then someone said, "Let's sing something!" And the only song that we Americans, Canadians and Brits could agree on that we all knew was the Coca-Cola advertisement from the 1970's! "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony...." Agggh! What hath globalization wrought??!!

So next time maybe we should try this alternative: "When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see..."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Checking in and catching up

Oh my. Where to begin? Had to reread the last entry to remember what I’ve said. What was that I said about being happy to once again be “communicado?” Puras papas, as they say down here. Lies, lies, lies. So, catching up:

We are still very happy to be down here. The weather has broken and we actually need a comforter in the night. We know when the temperature drops below 80, because Mexicans start wearing hoodies and fleece running suits and go around stomping their feet and rubbing their hands. But even gringo women are starting to carry rebozos or sweaters when they go out in the evening.

There are Christmas trees lit up in the windows of houses in La Peñita. December 12 is the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. From that point on through January 6 very little gets done in Mexico. It’s a magic time as far as color, lights, music and action. I’m really looking forward to it. Lucy’s family has rented a house in La Zona for three weeks over Christmas and New Years, and there are twin girls who are having their thirteenth birthday on December 18. I’ve volunteered our house, so they can make a deal of decorating the Christmas tree. We should have another party before they leave so they can also take it down!

Lucy, if you remember, is our young British friend. She has returned to Guayabitos and is installed in our guest room. She’s enrolled in a writing program at Oxford, where she has deadlines for poems and essays, but she can write them from any place in the world. She picked here! We keep each other good company, because I’ve been concentrating on the book everyone says I should be writing. Well, I’m writing it…enough said on that for now. Except to tell you the title: Virgin Territory. I’m to read from my “work in progress” at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery sometime around December 12, celebrating Guess Who. I doubt I’ll be sitting on the bar in shorts, like this shot of Lucy, who was reading one of her short stories. Works for some…not for me. (scroll down in the most recent edition of Jaltemba Sol.)

Larry has been working hard on a construction project in La Peñita which we trust will help recoup some of our finances. (Did I mention that the bulk of our nest egg from the sale of the house in San Clemente was lost in a fraudulent investment deal? Probably not. State of Florida is prosecuting. It will take years. Never mind….onward ) Larry and a partner found an excellent piece of land right in the middle of town -- walking distance to everything – formed a Mexican corporation, and when we got back in September, began construction on a 14-space RV park – one where people can buy the slots rather than rent them. There will be a full time live-on-property caretaker, so residents can leave their motor homes there and not have to haul them back and forth between here and Canada or the States. It’s first class all the way, complete with pretty pool, club house, storage facilities and lots of landscaping. (This was Larry’s background work before he started shaping surfboards). So that is coming to completion and should be ready to sell in the next three to four weeks. There has been a lot of interest, with a number of people coming in and saying "THIS is the slot I want!" Hooray.

He’s also been supervising maintenance for the homeowners association here in the Residential Zone. They didn’t paint the curbs white this year, because both the electric company and the sewer company have been tearing up the cobblestone streets and sidewalks laying new lines and pipes. Driving around here has been like navigating a war zone.

We have a new “staff” working at the house. Oscar keeps the pool sparkly clean, the patios swept and the plant materials in shape. Rosa has just started. She’s a widow who has never really worked outside her home before, so my friend Agneta and I are training her, as she trades off days between us. She had never seen a dishwasher and was unfamiliar with a lot of the cleaning products I use, but she’s eager to learn and very diligent. There’s a lot of catching up to do, both with her and with the house.

There are a few more English invaders in the area. A schoolmate of Lucy’s from her undergraduate days at Oxford married a lovely Mexican guy this past July, and they have opened a restaurant in Chacala, Café Chac Mool. Check out their blog and video. Millie and Arturo bring movie-star good looks and a touch of culture to that local scene. While Larry watches NASCAR or goes surfing with his friend Colin Sunday mornings, I’ve been going to Chacala with friends, scarfing up phenomenal baked goods, then swimming at the wonderful beaches there. Millie’s parents are a bit non-plussed about what their daughter – who got a First in French and Italian (“or was it French and Philosophy,” wonders Lucy. “I know it’s something terribly highbrow) is doing off in a remote Mexican beach town making sweet rolls and croissants and perfecting her capuccinos. Good question. You just have to be here to understand.

Watching Xaltemba.TV might bring you a little more enlightenment. Our friend Juan Gonzales has created this site to document goings on around here. Check out the categories for Nature, and for Art and Culture in particular.

What more??? Ah, yes. YOGA! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday out by our pool. 7:30 in the morning. Great group of ladies, usually about 3-6 of us. Wonderful way to start the day. Throw in a walk up and down the beach in the morning, and maybe a walk across the footbridge into La Peñita to a little abarrotes store for the spare tomato, stack of tortillas or liter of milk, and I’m getting plenty of exercise. So grateful to be able to do it! So happy to be healthy!

Gringos are back and the social calendar is filling up. Also volunteer opportunities and good works…like the plastic recycling program, the spay and neuter clinic, beach clean up campaigns. There’s no lack of things to get involved with The art group is meeting once again, but I’m trying to stay focused on the writing for a while. When Melanie the water color teacher, comes down in the spring, I’ll join back in. She always has a specific project for us to work on, which saves me from having to think about what I want to paint. Give me an assignment! I did a couple of catrina watercolors for the Día de Los Muertos opening at Xaltemba, just because Roberto asked. The Guayabitos Artists Collective is having an art show and sale on December 14, at Bobbi Attwood’s house. That’s where we the art group meets. (Xaltemba has been so successful that they expanded the restaurant space into the gallery space) I may have something. Yikes! Two weeks??!! (I know this would be a great opportunity to insert photos, but I don’t have any!)

We hope your holiday season is joyous and blessed wherever you are. We started it off with Thanksgiving dinner with young friends from San Antonio who were here for a couple of nights. They’re thinking it would be great to move here. We are telling them we wish we’d done it years ago when we took that first long trip together down here in 1973. It’s interesting times, these. I look at people in their twenties who are just starting off and just love them and bless them. What a very different world they’re going to have. Let’s start filling it with prayers. Much love to all!