Seven Years

Today is the anniversary of my arrival on the East Cape of Baja. It was seven years ago that I arrived in Cabo Pulmo after a very long journey across and down the west coast of North America. In these seven years I have learned much, evolved greatly and experienced many incredible things.

Arriving with a most rudimentary knowledge of the language, over the course of these seven years I have learned to speak Spanish. I continue to learn new words almost every day and there are still moments of confusion, but they are quickly resolved.

I learned to surf from a wonderful teacher. I met committed and some famous surfers and surfboard shapers. I got six stitches in my head and xrays of my back. I found a wonderful chiropractor who helped straighten it all out.

I learned when to walk away and when to stick it out. I learned that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your best efforts are not enough. I learned that trusting souls can be trusted and the converse is also true.

I learned that wachinango (red snapper) is my favorite fish and that oysters are best eaten right on the beach where you purchased them from the friendly ostioneros (the oyster fishermen).

I learned there are too many dogs here that need a home for me to adopt them all. I learned that it is not wise to have someone’s dog fixed without making sure it’s really their dog.

I saw pink pigs swimming in the sea and digging on the beach for crabs. I befriended a one-eyed donkey who wore Marti Gras beads. I saw a dead colt eaten completely by vultures in less than one day.

I saw a moon that made a golden trail across the sea and more stars than I can count. I lived through at least three hurricanes and many more tropical storms. I survived the dengue hemorrhagic fever that kept me down for months and covered my body in tiny blood blisters. I attended three funerals and many memorial services. I learned that lo siento has a double meaning, “I am sorry” and “I feel it” to express that you understand their pain.

I dove deep under the sea and saw countless beautiful animals. I watched as turtles were captured, tagged and released. Helped to find turtle nests so that they could be protected from predators and watched tiny hatchlings set out on their incredible journey to the sea. I witnessed the migration of morbula rays and the humpback whales breaching and playing with their young.

I wondered at the destruction as the shrimp trawlers chugged by and was dismayed at the death of a whale caught in a drift net. I photographed and reported the decimation of a large track of pristine desert by greedy, ignorant developers and was saddened by the fencing of once wild and open land.

I planted a garden. I felt the warm sun. I swam in the vast sea. I watched the day fade into shades of purple and pink.

I rediscovered my passion.

The Art of Surfing

I did not post anything yesterday, as some of you may have noticed. Instead I went surfing. It was suggested by a friend, who noticed the omission, that surfing was a waste of my time. That I would be better off writing.

“But you run!” I countered. He replied “Yes, but that does not take much time.”

And so the question was posed by myself to myself:

Is surfing worthy of the large chunks of time spent in its pursuit? Would I be better off doing something else with my time? If the downside to surfing is the amount of time it takes to do it, what are the positive aspects of surfing that non-surfers might not appreciate? And in the pursuit of one passion (writing), must you give up others (surfing)?

My friend is right. Surfing is a very time-consuming activity. Particularly if you, like me, want to make the most of it every time you go out. Typically I surf for three hours straight. Then I might come in, go home to eat something and watch to see what happens over the course of the day. If conditions are good in the afternoon, there is a good chance a second session will be undertaken. The second session is often shorter, but can be as long as two or two and a half hours. On REALLY good days, I’ve been known to surf three times.

The end result is that entire days can be spent in the pursuit of waves. That is a lot of time to spend doing a sport. Some would go so far as to call it decadent. But is surfing just a sport? or is there more to it than meets the uninitated eye?

The label “surf bum” is often applied to surfers who spend a lot of time surfing and less time working or taking care of the things that other people feel they must do in the course of their daily lives. And certainly, the perception is that the surfers are “wasting” their time.

An older surfer I know has been quoted as saying:

In my life, I’ve had a wonderful time wasting my time surfing. And the most important word in that statement is “wonderful.”

Hedonistic? Maybe, but I submit that this notion of surfing as a waste of time is completely subjective. Who are we to say that anything one does is a waste of time?

You are right now exactly where you should be.

The spiritual nature of surfing must not be dismissed. Between sets, sitting atop his board, surfer becomes meditator. The only sounds he hears is the roar of the waves and sea birds’ calls. She bears witness as whales breach and cavort outside the break. Sunrise and sunset are greeted partially submerged in the pulsing, breathing, life-giving Ocean. Immersed in nature, surrounded by beauty, the surfer is transformed.

The metaphorical becomes reality when the surfer literally walks on water. Unlike a mountainside or other solid surface, the wave is ever changing and dynamic, requiring of the surfer so much focus and concentration that the mind is released from the craze-inducing endless stream of thoughts. The surfer realizes a Zen-like state. Surfing offers release and the surfer returns from the adventure calmer, more centered, content.

The end result is EXACTLY the same as meditation!

So you tell me, is meditation a waste of time?

Yesterday’s surf at Nine Palms, Baja, Mexico.

Inspiration I

Inspiration defined is: a creative force or influence; person etc. simulating creativety etc.; sudden brilliant idea; divine influence, esp. on writing of Scripture.

That is a very boring definition for such a powerful word.

When I am uninspired I feel a bit blue, lazy and confused. And I eat a lot more and spend time thinking about food. It is amazing to me how different I feel when I am inspired. I feel excited! energized, optimistic. I am uninterested in food, hurry to finish my meal so I can get back to what I was doing and often skip meals altogether!

I have been experiencing a period of inspiration for about a week now. It was like a light turned on and I popped my head out of the hole it’s been in. The light sure is lovely out here!

I was going to surf this morning, but the wind isn’t cooperating. Unlike other times when I cannot surf, I don’t really care! I spent my morning doing my yoga practice and meditating. I have a very full day planned full of fun with friends and some excitement. The excitement is that my new friend is going to take my picture. He’s a real photographer and photographed thousands of people. I am curious to see what we make together, this famous photographer and me, the woman who is working on letting go of her insecurities.

Where do you get your inspiration? Whether it be for rising out of bed, just getting through each day or your latest artistic endeavour, what is the source of the energy that drives you forward?

This morning’s yoga inspiration is Krishna Das as he sings Namah Shivaya. I hope you enjoy is as much as I do each time I listen to it. And that you too will join in and sing this powerful beautiful and yes, inspiring chant.

The Om Namah Shivaya mantra or chant consists of six syllables – om, na, mah, shi, vaa, ya. When chanted properly, each syllable activates certain energy centers within our bodies as we meditate upon the energy of Lord Shiva. Shiva is considered the greatest of the yogis, the lord of meditation, and the lord of all that is mystic and mysterious in hindu practices. The Panchaksharya (meaning having five sylables) mantra is one of the holiest mantras of which volumes have been written interpretting it. I personally like the interpretation that says it means I bow to Shiva. Shiva is the supreme reality, the inner Self and so it is a chant to help us release all that is unreal and to return to that which is real – our True Divine Self. Om Namah Shivaya is known as the great redeeming mantra.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

I have a very good life. I live in a nice house on the beach looking out at the spectacular Sea of Cortez. Some days I have to pinch myself in disbelief at my good fortune.

However, some days, and increasingly over the past several months, I get lost in the day-to-day duties of a property owner and partner. It’s as though I have blinders on and all I can see ahead of me is more tedium.

Lately, I’ve caught myself, walking down what is surely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and certainly one of the most deserted, thinking about some unimportant irritation that arose during the day. I’ve even thought with some annoyance about how difficult it is to walk on soft sand.

But then, as the sky turns to pink and the water begins to glisten as though it has turned to mercury, I catch myself and the consciousness of my rather wonderful circumstances reawakens. Regaining my awareness, it’s as though a window opens and my vision literally broadens to take in the gloriousness of my surroundings. It is as though a veil is lifted from my eyes.

My emotions in this moment fluctuate between gratitude and guilt for having been so completely asleep at the wheel. And then I am shocked at the realization that I have allowed myself to take this incredible place for granted. How does this happen?!

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Recently I made a new friend. This friend, I learned, is a perpetual traveler and has no physical place to call home. After showing him around our relatively decadent home, I shared with him that we were considering moving and that we were tired of our current situation. I told him I felt I was losing my appreciation of our surroundings and about the guilt I felt as a result. I told him I felt the management of our property was taking a lot of the fun out of living in such a marvelous place.

In turn, he shared the wisdom of his guru:

One should not stay more than six weeks in one location because the result is a loss of awareness and appreciation of our surroundings.

My friend also experienced the unbearable heaviness of being I described to him. Living in big houses and having many things just made him miserable. His current vagabond lifestyle is the direct result of his guru’s guidance and has allowed him to pursue his passion, his art, fully, unhindered by the responsibilities of material possessions.

When I look back over the years and consider the times I’ve been most content, they have certain things in common: I had fewer responsibilities; I had relinquished most of my material possessions; often I was traveling or living in a place for the first time; and invariably I filled my free time with something I was passionate about (surfing, meditating, doing yoga and writing).

Over the past 5 years, I see that once again I moved away from this way of life and incrementally have become weighted down with responsibilities and material possessions.

And the weight of it is keeping my Spirit down.

Warming Up

In early 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, I left my husband of six and a half years. The first thing I did upon regaining my freedom was to take a trip. I’d been wanting to travel for many years, but there was always some excuse why we couldn’t go. Released from my ball and chain, now was my chance. I cashed in my credit card air miles accumulated through the ex’s excesses and was off to Costa Rica.

Getting off the plane in San Jose, the warm tropical air hit my skin and I felt my body relax. I replaced my shoes and socks with sandals, stretched out my perpetually cold toes and let the warm air caress them. I hopped a bus to the Pacific coast, where I lay in the hot sun letting the warmth enter my core. It was, after all, about 20 degrees below freezing where I’d just come from!

After a while of heating up in the sun, I needed to cool off in the Pacific Ocean. In I went, enjoying the cool, salty water. I stood up in the shallows to turn and look back at the beach, when all of a sudden I was being swallowed up by a large wave, thrown on the sea floor and grabbed and whipped around in a wave once again. The waves passed and I stood up disoriented, not sure which side was up and slowly made my way back to my towel on the beach. “Wow!” was my first thought, “that was powerful! Now I get why people surf. I think I’d like to learn to harness that power.” For the rest of my trip I watched people surfing. I was in awe of these people who could walk on water.

I vowed to return to Costa Rica and a short two months later was back once again, this time with a goal – I would learn how to surf. I had no idea what a monumental task I had set for myself. I did my best and hung out with other beginners, but I was in over my head. Two weeks of trying and I was not much closer to becoming a real surfer. I was stunned. Never in my life had I had such difficulty learning a sport. Rather than let the challenge I was faced with dampen my spirits, however, it hardened my resolve. I decided I had to move to Costa Rica and become a surfer no matter how long it took.

But first I had to go back to Canada where I had a job and was working on my Masters thesis.

Back in Canada, I immersed myself in all things surfing. And I began to study Spanish. A plan evolved. I decided I would finish my thesis and get my degree. I would save some money and make it last via a diet of coconuts, rice and beans and the kindness of strangers. I figured I would live on the beach, do yoga and surf. In my fantasy, one day someone would happen along who either needed a housesitter or had a job for a biologist looking to get into conservation. It all sounded perfectly sane to me.

One day several months and several pages of my thesis later, one of my sisters and I decided to travel somewhere together before I disappeared to Costa Rica. But where? We agreed we both wanted to get our SCUBA diving certification and I said it would be nice to go somewhere I could work on my Spanish. A travel magazine that had been on the floor next to my bed for months popped into my field of vision. On the cover it said “Hidden Treasures” and inside I found an article about a jewel of a place called Cabo Pulmo, Mexico located on the shores of a national marine park and with a dive shop where the owner was involved in grassroots conservation. Bingo!

In Cabo Pulmo we were excited to start our dive course with Pepe the conservationist. When he got wind that I was a biologist and planning a move to Costa Rica, he said, in his excellent English “Dawn, why do you go to Costa Rica? There are already many volunteers and conservationists there. Why do you not come here where we need people like you so badly?” Good question, I thought.

I returned to Canada with an amended plan. I would move to Cabo Pulmo, Mexico where I would work as the director of research in Pepe’s non-profit conservation organization (and learn to surf in the uncrowded waves just south along the coast).

Seven months later, thesis in hand and pickup truck overloaded, I was on my way.

A little about me.

To begin with, I think a welcome is in order.

“Welcome to my brand spanking-new blog!”

Yes, I’m a virgin blogger having my first experience, right here in public. How exciting! I hope you will enjoy the experience as much as I hope to be inspired by it. And that is the point of this exercise – my need for and recent lack of inspiration and discipline. I’m also hoping that I will get over what is clearly fear – the fear that I think many artists experience when they consider putting themselves out there in the form of their art. So I’m a virgin blogger who’s trying to discover some cahones.

The mundane statistics appear in my profile, so I won’t go into that here. But what does not appear there is my living circumstances and other aspects of my life that will serve and inspire the contents of this blog. I live “off-the-grid” in a house on the beach on the Sea of Cortez in a tiny tourist development called las Vinoramas, in the state of Baja California Sur in Mexico. Many of you may have visited Cabo San Lucas, the nearest tourist trap, which is a 2.5 hour drive to the southwest of here. I say 2.5 hours because to express distance in miles or kilometers is very deceiving due to the poor condition of the roads out here in the middle of nowhere. The highway, Mex 1, is only 20 miles away by road, less as the crow flies, but it can take as long as 90 minutes to get there from here depending on how long ago the grader smoothed the bone-jarring washboard road. There are, as well, times during the year when the road is impassable, after the heavy rain associated with summer tropical storms and hurricanes. So much of what we do and experience here is related to our isolation.

The author’s residence in the Baja desert.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term (as I was before moving here), “off-the-grid” means that we are not connected to a power grid and produce all the power we need to operate things like this Mac computer and our refrigerators with equipment we have right here on the property. Many people living in the United States and Canada choose to live off-the-grid for various reasons (to lower their electrical bills or to reduce their “carbon footprint”), however we have no choice. There is no grid for us to tap in to, we live beyond the extent of municipal services (including, as I’ve already pointed out, infrastructure maintenance). So our power comes from solar panels that are connected to great big batteries that allow us to store the sun’s energy for times (at night and on cloudy days) when the sun is unavailable. For us, living off-the-grid also means we don’t have a municipal water delivery system. There is no water meter reader as there is no meter to be read. Our water is delivered to us by one of the local ranchers who charges us for “delivery.” It’s against the law in Mexico to charge someone for water, as it’s considered a vital necessity. So people get around the law by charging you for delivery. Ismael Gonzalez is a local rancher’s son who drives a big water truck up and down the terrible road, day in and day out. He charges us 600 pesos (from $40 to 60 US dollars depending on the exchange rate) for a load of water that can be anywhere from 8000 to 13,000 liters, depending on which truck is functional at the time (as you can imagine, vehicle break downs are a regular part of life here). We’ve learned not to complain about the discrepancies in the size of a load because in the end we’re just happy to have water out here in the desert!

You may also wonder at my use of the plural in relation to refrigerators. On our property we have three refrigerators – two in the main house and one in the guest house. Considering how far we must travel to get groceries, it is helpful, if not essential, to have as much food-storing capacity as possible.
We are very fortunate to have electric refrigerators rather than propane ones. Before I moved here, I had a propane fridge and discovered that they do a very poor job of keeping food cold in the 110 degree heat of summer. For some reason vegetables do very poorly in a propane fridge and broccoli in particular must be eaten within 24 hours of getting it home or it turns yellow and begins to smell. You may as well leave it out of the refrigerator all together, if you ask me. I am a vegetarian and eat broccoli almost every night, so that would not do. Here in Vinorama, we are more civilized and my broccoli lasts as long as two weeks, if I take proper care of it.

The “we” of whom I speak includes myself, my manfriend, the Mexican caretaker, Felipe, and six dogs. You’ll be hearing more about each of them in future blogs.

Well, I think that serves as a start for my very first blog. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I, a Canadian from the land-locked province of Ontario ended up out here in the desert by the sea.

To close a

I am doing this for myself in an attempt to create the discipline that I so painfully lack and which is so important for an aspiring writer to possess. Now don’t get me wrong. I care that you are reading this and I care what you think of it – whether you find it interesting entertaining, insightful or just boring. I also care whether some grain of insight or tidbit of information I offer up is even slightly helpful or inspirational to you the reader. So do share your thoughts and ideas by posting comments freely. And do please return often to see if I’m making inroads into the writing world. But in the end, I’m doing this for ME – moiYO.