Miracles in paradise

A miracle has occured here in Las Vinoramas on the East Cape of Baja California Sur, Mexico. It is a simple thing, nothing that you will see on the 6 o’clock news, but a miracle none-the-less.

A couple of weeks ago an email was received from a neighbor living to the South of here in Playa Tortuga (a lovely name meaning turtle beach). This email announced that a service was being offered to pick up garbage and recyclable materials. I read the email with detachment, not wanting to get too excited about the situation, as this did not necessarily mean that they would be providing this service all the way out to Las Vinoramas, the middle-of-nowhere really.

An email was sent to the persons indicated and a very pleasant response was received from a lady named Brenda Navarro. The response, in English, included an agreement to come and tell me about their services so I could share the information with anyone in the neighborhood who was interested.

I immediately sent out an email sharing the address of Brenda to everyone in the neighborhood.

That night I mentioned this incredible phenomenon to my neighbor who owns the local restaurant and learned that a second miracle had taken place. In response to my neighbor’s email, they had come and picked up her large pile of garbage that very day!! This was a good sign. Maybe this time it was really going to happen. Clearly it had begun.

Now a bit of explanation is required here for those of you unfamiliar with life on the extreme boundaries of Mexico. The reader needs to understand that many promises are made in this country and many are broken. Many rumors start about roads getting paved and municipal water systems being installed, power being delivered, police presence being more regular, and yes, more than once, regular garbage pick up being conducted. Typically, if they begin at all they soon falter.

So from this history of initiatives lost, you can better understand my stance of not getting too caught up in the prospect of having our garbage picked up. But there it was, Joan’s garbage had been retrieved. I was feeling optimistic.

And yet another miracle occurred a few days later, when the lovely couple, Brenda and Moises arrived at my house at the stated time for our meeting to discuss garbage and recycling. They explained that garbage pick up was to occur twice weekly and would cost 200 pesos ($14) per month. For an additional 150 pesos ($11) a month they would retrieve recyclables including paper, plastic, tin cans, aluminum cans, glass and batteries! Hallelujah!!

Until now, the author has been saving up discharged batteries and has been meaning to take them to the United States on one of her frequent trips there so they could be recycled. Of course, when it comes time to fly I always forget to pack them, remembering them only upon returning. In addition, the guilt felt each time a plastic bottle or glass jar is thrown in the waste basket has been creating deep lines on my forehead and small pock marks on my spirit. When the printer acts up producing multiple copies of something of which only one is required, again the guilt is felt, true regret at our use of resources with no way to recycle. The option then is to exercise the other of the three “R”s and reuse the paper…but I have a rather huge stack collected now.

Upon retreiving the recycling, the Navarros took with them as well a large cloud of guilt that has loomed above the author’s head since moving into her home on the beach. A true miracle in paradise.

Raspberries with milk and a bit of sugar

I returned safely from my journey to town with only a tongue burnt from free, but very hot coffee offered up to the shopper at CostCo. They even had biscotti to go with the coffee! How incredible…like a little café right there in the store.

Of course I was and am still exhausted from the trip to town. By the time everything, including 5 very large bottles of water and two five gallon buckets of paint, was unloaded and put away it was almost 8pm. And the only thing eaten all day was the aforementioned mini coffee, piece of biscotti, one granola bar, some potato chips, a banana and a donut. Yes, a donut. There was no time for the very wonderful Miss Cynthia’s organic veggie lunch.

I don’t know what possessed me to buy the donut. I don’t as a rule even like donuts. But maybe not having a proper lunch really weakened me. All I know is that I think I can still feel it in my stomach some 19 hours later. And my whole body aches. Is it the donut? It is not the road, which by some miracle was very recently graded after months and months of no maintenance whatsoever. Smooth sailing it was, all the way there.

Probably the donut. And the biscotti. And the coffee. All of which the author seldom allows to enter her body, her temple. The potato chips? No. My body is very accustomed to those.

I bought myself another treat yesterday that was not junk. The temple of CostCo was selling beautiful little trays of raspberries. Bright red, with hues of pink, juicy, and delicious-looking. Raspberries are something very near and dear to the heart and palate of the author. There is an emotional, historical attachment to raspberries that arises out of time spent at the family’s summer cottage on a lake in the Laurentian Mountains of Québec, Canada.

When I was a child and raspberries were in season, my mother would pack a group of us kids and usually one of her friends in the car and we’d drive out into the wilds of Québec looking for clearings in the forest where raspberries were sure to be found. Singing to scare away any black bears that might be feasting on the very fruits we sought, our buckets in hand, we would disperse into the thicket of raspberry canes that were often so high you couldn’t see someone only a few feet away.

The sun was hot, the air dry and the cicadas buzzed, adding intensity to the heat.

In our shorts and tank tops or bathing suits, we were scratched and tugged at by the thorny raspberry canes. We filled our buckets and our stomachs. There was nothing so delicious as those berries going directly into the mouth from the cane. We left the thickets hot, sweaty, disheveled with bright pink tongues lolling from our mouths. And excited, knowing what was to come.

Back at the cottage, we would have berries after dinner, with milk poured on top and just a bit of sugar. They melted on the tongue, the juices dripped down the throat, creating a sensation that was as close to heaven as I could imagine. The eyes closed in ecstasy.

My mother would make pies, wonderful raspberry pies that were eaten with almost as much pleasure as the berries and milk. Homemade raspberry pie is still my favorite, but of course, only made the way my mother does and preferably made by hers truly.

The trees have grown up around those berry laden clearings now and the dense bush has become a forest full of maturing maple, birch and some oak. A testament to the passage of time and the resilience of mother nature.

Change is the only constant.

But I still like my raspberries with milk and a bit of sugar.

Que le vaya bien

Today the rather arduous trip to town must be made to buy food, drinking water and gasoline for my truck, to have laundry done, drop off a surfboard for repairs and, if I am lucky, my friend Sunday can squeeze me in for a massage and chiropractic adjustments.

The trip is arduous because it takes 2.5 to 3 hours to get to the temple of CostCo, where soy milk, pine nuts, walnuts, good wine and cheese can be purchased. It is arduous as well because the first half of the trip is over a very rough, pot-holed, windy and washboard-riddled road. If I am lucky, the grader will have passed over it recently, but in light of recent months’ performance, this seems very unlikely. Since the new delegado (mayor) took his seat, the roads to the East Cape have been woefully neglected.

If I did not need to go to CostCo, I could get all my groceries in San Jose, but the savings and selection at CostCo really are unbeatable. I also need to buy paint this trip, so I will go all the way into Cabo San Lucas to my friend Dionicio’s paint store and get his assistance with matching some colors. All in all it bodes to be a very full day.

If I time it just right, I’ll have lunch at Cynthia’s, a lovely restaurant with vegetarian selections made from organic vegetables in a beautiful courtyard.

The trip to town is approached with some trepidation. There is always the chance of a flat tire. Before moving here I had not had one single flat tire in my entire life. Since arriving it has become a serious concern and driving is done with this in mind. There is also the chance of a break down for other reasons – this is particularly unsettling because should this happen I will be alone and stuck on the road and in need of assistance where there is no cell phone service. At one time I would have had to wait very long to see someone on the Palo Escopeta Road, but these days there is a rather constant flow of traffic.

Then there is the concern once arriving in town of an accident. It is unfortunate that the drivers in this part of the world are terribly inadequate and drive like they are trying to get a dying man to the doctor or a priest. This may have something to do with the fact that in order to get a driver’s license here all you have to do is answer a series of questions about which governmental department is responsible for which aspects of road maintenance and safety and presto! you’ve got your license (after paying the applicable fee and having your blood type determined). I was quite amazed when I realized that there was not one question on the exam about how to drive. And then an internal light flipped on and I understood the cause of the resulting roadway insanity.

Of course, to get into an accident here as a foreigner, you are almost guaranteed to be found the guilty party and you better have your insurance in order. No matter if the other driver has none. No matter if they were driving 60 km/h over the speed limit and passing on the right! Magically, any witnesses to the event will have a change of perspective and side with the local person. Sad, but true.

Each time that I return from town unscathed by accident or breakdown (vehicular and emotional), I breathe a sigh of relief and try to figure out how long I can hold out before I’ll have to return once again to the craziness that is town.

Wish me luck or as they say here Que le vaya bien (may your trip go well).

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.

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.