Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ek Balam Archaeological Site- It's NOT A RUIN!

I've become really adverse to the term "ruins". I don't use it, I don't like it, it's just so...ugly. When I visit an archaeological site I see beauty, incredible architecture that has survived for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, not the destruction that the word "ruin" implies. The Kukulkán Pyramid at Chichén Itzá is hardly a pile of rubble, nor are the stunning structures of Uxmal, Cobá, Tulum and so many others that rise from the Yucatan jungle in testament to their hearty Maya construction and ingenuity.

The site of Ek Balam is one of the best examples of my "Not a Ruin!!" obsession. The stunningly well-preserved buildings look more like Hollywood movie sets than post-Apocalyptic ruins. (Let's not get into the impending "apocalypse" debate of Dec. 21, m'kay?) I visited Ek Balam for the first time recently and while the phrase may be overused in travel writing, I must say it was "breathtaking". Literally. Seriously, I was left feeling winded when I first viewed the immaculate facade of the Acropolis. It may have been the thousands (yep, I'm sure it was thousands) of stairs we climbed to reach the platform, but more likely it was the art itself that sucked the air from my lungs when I first saw it. I kept repeating one phrase over and over as I gazed upon the detailed statues, carvings and scenes carved into the glowing white rock...."No manches. No manches. OMG, no manches,*" It appeared to have been made yesterday by imagineers of Maya Disney, it was simply THAT good that I couldn't believe it was 2000 years old.

Ek Balam is a very "young" city in one regard, investigations into the site only began in 1997 (unlike other sites in the Yucatán Peninsula that were plundered researched in the 1800's). There is still much to explore and learn from the site and most of the research is still not published or publicly available. It is essential to hire a guide for this experience, the locals have worked closely with the archaeologists and have information that you won't find anywhere else. (I personally believe that seeing an archaeological site without a guide is like watching a movie with the sound muted, pretty pictures, but the story is lacking). The site is not well-visited, you will not find hordes of camera-toting, gawking tourists in socks-with-sandals style or vendors hawking their goods made in China. It is a peaceful place, the ancient energy permeating the earth and air, hippies sitting in lotus position dot the grounds as they try to connect with the vibe, man. And even the not-so-hippy folks will feel it.

I won't tell you how to get there, I'm going to keep it my little secret. (Well ok, Google if you must, the info is out there.) Visit soon, before the bus tours find it. Don't rush, take your time. Spend the weekend in the pueblito of Ek Balam at the charming Genesis Retreat. And most importantly, please take the word "ruin" out of your vocabulary when discussing the ancient Maya cities (unless doomsday** really is upon us and the world is turned to rubble, then use it to your zombie heart's content!)

* "No manches" is Mexican slang for "No way! I can't believe it! You're kidding!"
**note, I do not believe the world is ending on Dec. 21

For more photos, please see my Ek Balam Pinterest board

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Genesis Eco-Retreat, Ek Balam, Yucatan

Quirquiriqui, quiquiriqui, quiquiriqui!

For those of you are Spanish/bird-speak impaired, that is the sound a rooster makes in Mexico. The small pueblo of Ek Balam, Yucatan echoes with the alerts of the roosters as I lie in bed at the Genesis Retreat, the only sound apart from the barking dogs in the early morning hours. Their compelling calls urge me to get out of bed, though we still cannot see the light of the sun. I continue my repose and despite the urgency of the roosters and the dogs cries, I find myself enjoying a rather peaceful moment. 

It is difficult not to be at peace at the Genesis Retreat. Tucked away in the small village of Ek Balam, just off the grounds of the archaeological site of the same name, it is a refuge for people looking for a escape from the hustle bustle of big city life. Backpackers, writers, artists and history lovers gather to soak in the atmosphere and take a moment to breathe and reinvigorate, create and relax. The charming cabañas and rooms all have their own character, tucked away in the lush gardens that seem to overtake the inn. A litter of pups keep us entertained during our stay, one sweet little blind puppy almost convinced us to take her home. The house cat made her way into my bed (with some encouragement from me of course) and we had ourselves a little snuggle while listening to the roosters.

I had been itching to see the archaeological site of Ek Balam for quite some time and when I stumbled upon the website for Genesis it seemed an ideal place for us to make our home-base during our weekend trip. I had first considered staying in nearby Valladolid, but I was keen to see something new. It was settled when I discovered that Lee, the owner of the Genesis, was from my own hometown in Canada and was a journalist who had decided to leave it all behind and make the move to Mexico (sounds familiar). She invited us to join her to discover what life is like in a very small town.

We had a very busy weekend, visiting Valladolid, the art collection at Casa de los Venados, the cacao museum, the agave distillery and of course the ruins. And each time we returned to Genesis, our pace slowed down and we simply chilled. The food was a treat, particularly as Lee has her own organic ranch to supply the retreat with fresh eggs, chaya and fruit. One of the highlights of the weekend was a tour of the ranch, seeing the citrus orchard, meeting chickens and ducks, cows and donkeys (Frida and Diego, love their names) and pigs and being truly unplugged from the world. In the totally "off the grid" farm we enjoyed the BEST pancakes I have ever had in my life while learning about organic farming and meeting the Belgian tourists who were enjoying a tour around Yucatan. I had a good "chin wag" (Canadian-ism for conversation) with the lovely Lee, discussing the joys/pains of being an ex-pat, the differences between small town Yucatan/big city Cancun and the ups and downs of tourism in Mexico.

Overall, I simply loved the Genesis, the ranch, the pueblo, the whole weekend. I was somewhat envious of Lee and her small-town life, though I know that she has a tough row to hoe, running a business and a huge ranch is NOT an easy endeavour, but she manages it with aplomb, a smile and charm. I will be returning for another visit, while I am usually on the hunt for something new, there are just some places that call you back. The Genesis Retreat is one of those places.

For more photos, check out my Genesis Retreat Pinterest board!

--Disclosure, my stay at the Genesis was provided free of charge as a travel writer, all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Three Steps to Inner Peace in Veracruz, Mexico

Letting in the peace in Nanciyaga

Inner peace. Cheesy phrase really, overused by many and the true meaning of the words elude most people, myself included. I don't know that I have ever set out in search of "inner peace", but on my recent trip to Veracruz for the ATMEX convention, it kind of found me.

The last few years of my life have been...well..."chaotic".  My personal growth was stunted and I was trapped in a cycle of negativity and self-doubt that seemed endless. My life situation has been improving over the last year, IMMENSELY actually, but I still hadn't found that light inside of myself that allowed me to breathe with ease and truly enjoy the good things I have in my life.

On my departure for Veracruz, I looked forward to adventure and business contacts and a break from my routine. What I did not foresee was the spiritual voyage I was embarking on. Reading the agenda for the government sponsored fam trip with 50 travel professionals, I certainly didn't anticipate a life changing experience, but that's exactly what I encountered.

Writing this is actually harder than I thought, though I have been mulling it over for more than a month. How exactly to put into words all the happened to me in that week? I guess I will try to keep it simple, the "Three Easy Steps to Inner Peace in Veracruz".  And here we go.

Step One-Temazcal

Temazcal in Nanciyaga (no photo of the one in Mexico Verde, oops!)

After a day of adventure at Mexico Verde, riding mountain bikes and zooming along ziplines, we were scheduled to participate in the ancient tradition of the "temazcal". Much like a Native Canadian sweat lodge, the ritual has been used for centuries by many cultures in Mexico as a form of cleansing and communicating with the gods. Ten of us entered the pitch black dome with the wise man/healer. At first there were giggles and titters, uncomfortable moments with the unknown. As the healer began to pile on the hot stones and pour water over them, the enclosure filled with steam and we began to sweat. Profusely. And we began to share. Our hopes. Jokes. Love. The healer asked us to make our hands into fists, as tight as we could and to tense our bodies. I could feel the pressure of the years, the negative energies built up inside of me. We were then told to scream, to release it all, let it all hang out and to release the tension. And again. And again. Until I felt limp. I felt like for the first time in a long time, I was beginning to relax, making a space inside of me for something new, something positive, something light. The temazcal was getting hotter and hotter, I was sweating as though someone had poured a bucket of water over me, yet I felt light and free and in touch with the universe. As we exited the space into the fresh night air, I looked up to the stars and smiled.

Step Two- The Shamana

The next evening we found ourselves in Catemaco, Veracruz, enjoying a welcome cocktail and snacks. We were informed that our hosts had brought in some local shamans to do private cleansings. A few of us made our way to the shore of the lake where we waited our turns to speak with the wise people. It turned out that the shamans did not speak English and most of the guests did not speak Spanish, so I stepped forward to translate. These were "basic cleansings" mostly, the usual (this was not my first rodeo as they say). Ask the gods to protect, clean out negative energies, invite positive energies, tada, five or ten minutes max. When my turn rolled around, I stepped before Rosalia, she began the basics and stopped. Stopped cold. And looked into my eyes for what seemed like forever. She then reached her hand out to touch my heart and said "You are blocked here". She moved her hand to my stomach and said "And you are carrying sadness here". And she informed me that she could not continue with the regular cleansing until we had dealt with some issues.

Rosalia and I

She then proceeded to tell me about my past and my present spooky detail. I began to cry. She KNEW things. Specific things. My relationships, experiences, and my character traits, good and bad. She knew I have a bad back and that it has troubled me for 20 years. She knew that I was recovering from a bad relationship of seven years. She knew I had a son. She knew I had a new love. She KNEW. She offered me guidance, hope, insight, tools for the future. She released me and opened me up and began to fill the spaces I had created in the temazcal with light. I walked away feeling dizzy, overwhelmed and realized I had been speaking with her for more than 45 minutes. I looked in the sky to see the moon over the lake, red as blood, I kid you not. (The photos came out blurry, but the blood red moon was definitely not a figment of my imagination). A powerful and magical experience.

Lousy photo of an awesome red moon

Step Three- Dancing with the Goddess in the Clearing

The next morning we set out across the lake as the sun was rising over the mountains, destined for the nature reserve of Nanciyaga. It is known as a place where the white witches gather, full of powerful positive forces. The scenery was spectacular, magical in its own right, watching the ball of fire burst over the peaks left me speechless. We enjoyed a light breakfast, had a tour of the forest, a natural mud mask and made our way to a clearing in the trees. And then there was light. We danced. We sang. We chanted to the goddess of nature, to earth, to the cardinal points. We were cleansed by shamans as a woman sang and played the harp. And I cried. And cried. I couldn't stop myself, it was mildly embarrassing really, but it didn't matter, these were happy tears. I was being filled. I had rid myself of the negativity and the stress and the fear and the pressure and I was finally allowing myself to embrace.....ME. The positive me, the loving me, the talented and intelligent and beautiful me. Filled with light and love and joy. ME. And inner peace. The cheesy "cursi" word, but there it was. And I didn't even know I was looking for it.

So this tale is long and it's not even complete, to share it with you fully we would need to share a couple of hammocks, a cooler full of beer and a night-long chat. The story continues of course, I must take what I learned and apply it to my daily life, remember these moments when I begin to fall and share it with those who could use a lift. It's a personal tale and I thank you for listening, er, reading, I hope that it may offer inspiration or at the very least a few moments of entertainment. Cheesy or not, it's a gift that I now accept and hope to pass on. Namaste my friends, namaste.

More Nanciyaga photos here

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Market 23 Cancun

Fresh meat

"Cheaper than Walmart!" "One dollar, one dollar!" "I rip you off less!"

The typical phrases of the vendors in the touristy markets of Cancun like Mercado 28 and Coral Negro, hawking their t-shirts and shot glasses to sunburnt travellers and trying to make a few pesos to feed their families. Unfortunately most tourists think that these are traditional Mexican markets, but in a real market you won't hear those shouts, certainly not in English. 

"El Granero", the place for party and piñata supplies

A "real" market is a place where locals gather to purchase fresh vegetables, cheeses, meats and fish, in addition to various gew gaws, decorations, art and of course piñatas and religious relics.

Everyone needs a religious dolly

The local market in Cancun is called "Mercado 23", a lively and colourful place where you'll find few if any tourists. The twisty-turny paths may at first seem random, but after a couple of visits you'll discover the butcher path, vegetable row and where to find the shamans, dry goods, jewelers and the best stores to buy a huge yellow lace and satin dress for your quincenara.

¨Chicharon¨, deep fried pig skin

The aromas of fish and incense mingle with the smell of flowers and deep fried pig skin. Looking to beat up Justin Bieber with a stick, just head to "El Granero" where they will design and make a piñata in just about any form. Need an ¨amarre¨ (love spell), pay a visit to the "healers" to pick up everything you need to make that special someone fall head over heels, even against their will.

Candles for all manners of spells

The best time to visit is in the morning, of course, while everything is fresh. Weekends are busy times, families out together to do their weekly shopping. Anyone visiting Cancun in the days before "Day of the Dead" will be treated to incredible displays of "Zempoalxochitl" (marigolds), sugar skulls, "papel picado", calaveras and "Catrinas", candles and a plethora of statues of saints and religious icons. It's a great place to find a souvenir completely unique and authentic to take back home for Aunt Sally instead of a "Made in China" Cancun ashtray. 

¨Day of the Dead¨ art

The market is safe to visit, though you may want to bring a Spanish speaking friend with you. It's located around the intersections of Tulum and Chichen Itza (the streets, not the archaelogical sites!) in downtown Cancun. Next time you visit Cancun, skip the Walmart and the tourist plazas and have yourself a real market experience in Mercado 23!

More photos of Mercado 23 here....

Cancun Airlines

Monday, October 1, 2012

Cenote Jardin del Eden in the Riviera Maya

"Mommy, PLEEEEASE let me jump from the tree, PLEASE!"

Max looking on enviously at the girl in the tree

Uhhh, no. I rarely stop Max from doing something adventurous, but as the cliff was over 4 meters high and the tree added at least another 2, I felt it was my motherly duty to say "no" to a 6 meter leap into a cenote. I love that he is daring (like his mom), but I suppose I have to draw the line somewhere (don't I?).

To his credit, he accepted the "no" with only a minor grumble and proceeded to jump from the cliff. Over and over and over again. People were lined up on the top to take their turn, many hesitating for a long time, some deciding they did not have the courage. Max embarrassed a few "chickens" into making the jump, their friends mocking them saying "The little kid has done it a hundred times, just do it once!"

Playing with the new camera, the "Half in, Half Out" shot

Gorgeous fishies (though they tend to fight!)

I made my leap, then donned my mask and snorkel and proceeded to take a few vueltas around the cenote. Jardin del Eden is one of the prettiest cenotes I've seen, an open cenote with gorgeous underwater rock formations that make it seem like you are looking at the surface of the moon. The fish life is abundant here, not just the little toe nippers and catfish I've seen at other cenotes, but some multi-coloured beauties with big back fins that fan out when they fight with each other, neon yellow plant eaters, tiger-striped bottom dwellers and a plethora of others. We witnessed a cave diving lesson in the open part of cenote, the guide-lines laid out on the bottom teaching the student how to navigate. There are caves leading off from this cenote, I've seen divers appear out of nowhere from openings you cannot see from the surface. The area around the cenote is green and lush, clean and well kept with a couple of palapas set up with tables and chairs, a few hammocks strung around and BIG iguanas who are not shy about approaching humans who are eating and begging for bread.

Max the dolphin

Torpedo Mike

We spent the whole day jumping, snorkeling, swimming, diving deep, reading under the palapa and experimenting with the new camera. I'm learning what works and what doesn't with the new toy (Nikon Coolpix AW100), overall I am really happy with it, just have to nail down my own techniques. Don't move too fast while shooting video, get as close to your subject as possible underwater (sediment interferes big time) and just shoot shoot shoot, something good will eventually pop out. Max and Mike are super models (fierce!) underwater, you would almost think they have gills. Actually, I'm pretty sure Max is growing some, he's happier in the water than out. Just like his Ma.

(Cenote Jardin del Eden is located exactly 100 kms south of Cancun, just a little north of Playa Xpu Ha. The entrance fee is 50 pesos adults, 35 pesos children, open from 7 am to 5 pm, closed on Saturdays. No alcohol allowed, bring your own food and beverages, there are no concessions here. Get there early, once the crowds arrive, the sediment gets stirred up a bit. Please do your part in keeping the cenote and area clean, don't litter, don't damage the plants or interfere with the wildlife! Do NOT wear sunblock or bug repellant, it's really not necessary and can really harm the environment.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

White Water Rafting in Veracruz

Rafting the Rio Antigua

"Paddles up! Langostinos!" Shouts ring out over the roar of the river, celebrating the crossing of our first set of rapids. We're on the Rio Antigua in Jalcomulco, Veracruz, we're on a floating, bouncing piece of yellow rubber, we are wet and we are desperately holding on to our "50 dollars" (the formal name given to the paddles by our guides, losing them was going to cost us). And we are eager for the next rapid run.

When I received the invitation to attend the ATMEX conference in Veracruz, I was honoured. When I discovered that the trip included a white water rafting excursion, I was through the roof. It would be my first time on a rapids adventure, first time in Veracruz and first time "glamping" (glamour camping). The month before the trip I found myself obsessively watching rafting videos and checking out photos of our accommodations in Jalcomulco with Mexico Verde Expediciones. I went through the very girly phase of wardrobe planning, lugged my overpacked bags to the airport and left my boys to fend for themselves for a week.

Centro Historico Veracruz, Veracruz

I spent the first night at Las Brisas in the city of Veracruz, checked out the historic center of the port town and caught up with some old friends. The next day we gathered in the lobby of the hotel to meet our travelling buddies for the week and the fifty of us found ourselves on a luxury bus, ready to head to the mountains. We felt super V.I.P. with our very own police escort for the entire three hour journey. We stopped first in Chichicaxtla to check out the famous bird-watching site of ProNatura (millions and millions of birds of prey migrate through this area every year). We didn't see many birds as it was early in the season, but we got a little education on how the migrations work, fascinating place! (I was only mildly disappointed to discover that "raptors" were birds and not Jurassic Park dinosaurs).

Glamping at Mexico Verde

We arrived at Mexico Verde in late afternoon and checked in to our super luxe tents. This was the life! In the gorgeous mountains, in comfy beds, strong hot shower and bathroom in the tent and a "balcony" in front. We were treated to a great meal, drinks and a traditional carnival. I crashed out pretty early, ready for a big day of adventure, waiting for our 6:30 am wake up call. Which came with the banging of pots and pans and the staff shouting "Bueeeeeenoooooos diiiiiiaaaas! Queeee bonitooooo dia!" I was already awake, having heard the sneaky coffee elves bringing the morning brew to our tent's balcony (told you, glamping!) and couldn't help but laugh and feel the excitement of the day to come.

Mountain biking...not really my thing

After lots of coffee and a delicious breakfast, we were off on our first trek! Which, truth be told, I was NOT that excited about. Biking through the mountains for someone who is terrified of bikes, well, I had to take the challenge but let's just say it was less than successful and less than fun for this Canuck who hasn't been on a bike since she was twelve. The second part of the day's adventure was certainly more up my alley, ziplining through the trees like Tarzan is way more my speed, even more exciting as the lines were fairly, er, rustic. Exhausted and nursing a sore bottom from the bike ride, I was happy to indulge in a chelada delivered to my tent before dinner. That night we had a Temazcal, but that's a story for a different day.

Zipline TOTALLY my thing

We awoke even earlier the next day, the big day, THE DAY. It was time, time to go white water rafting! I happily donned my rash guard and board shorts, scarfed down some breakfast and sat in the front row for the safety speech. First we were introduced to "50 dollars". They are not called paddles, they are "50 dollars" and were called thusly for the remainder of the day (and for the rest of my life I do believe). We were taught how to sit, what to do if we fell out, how to paddle and how to avoid having our heads crushed on the rocks. Awesome! Quick bus ride to the head of the river and we were ready to rock. We divided into teams, those of us that spoke Spanish were spread among the boats to help out the guides. Our boat of five plus two guides promptly christened ourselves the "Langostinos" for the fresh seafood found in the Rio Antigua. Maybe not the toughest name, but it worked for us!

The good life on the Rio Antigua

For the next three hours, we paddled, we rolled, we splashed and floated down 22 kms of the Rio Antigua, one of the most famous white water rafting rivers in all of Mexico. Past rocky cliffs rising out of the water with majestic mountains in the distance, the roar of the river in our ears and the smell of "fresh" that can only be found in the most natural places. My heart was racing and my soul was singing the lyrics from "The Sound of Music". The rapids may have been only class 2 and 3, but I was thrilled, for my first time out it was absolutely ideal (though as we neared the end of the trip I wanted more, more, more!) It was the perfect way to satisfy my desire for adventure and adrenaline, I could have done it all day long (unlike the mountain biking where I found myself crying "taxi!" a few hundred meters in). We reluctantly dragged our rafts on to the shore and toasted each other with cold beers. I stepped back to observe and absorbed the vibe, 50 people from very different lives, full of energy, everyone smiling, high five-ing, hugging and patting each other on the back. A blissful moment etched in my brain forever.

Now that is one happy Canuck in Mexico

My Video of Rafting in Veracruz

For more photos, check out this set of "White Water Rafting in Veracruz" pics (and don't forget to "like" my Facebook page!)

Stay tuned, more on the Veracruz adventure to come! Next up, a spiritual journey with shamans, oh my!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Catching Up with Canuck

A Nanciyaga, Veracruz moment with Canucka

Oh my it has been a long time. Too long. I realize that the blog has been hanging out in the shadows of my mind, nudging me from time to time and whispering "Hoooooola, te extrañoooooo¨.  The truth of the matter is that I lost track of what this blog is about. Expat/mommy/news/adventure/general nonsense, I have kind of covered it all since beginning in 2007.  In becoming a "professional" blogger, writer and social media maven, the time for my personal blog mostly disappeared, the inspiration was lost and it all seemed like a duty instead of something fabulous and fun. I have begun to really it miss it though and hope that by taking a leap with this (unplanned/unstructured/off the top of my head) post, I can get the ball rolling again.

On top of the world. Well, on top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid at Coba.

So, what have you missed? Or where should I start? "Hi, my name is Kelly and I am a M.I.A. blogger trying to get back on the horse". My gorgeous little monkey is now seven years old and tonnes of trouble, mommy work is taking its toll on me truth be told. The separation from his dad hit him hard and he is acting out in all kinds of ingenious ways. I've got a new fabulous love in my life who helps me enormously, he is kind, generous, gentle, gentlemanly, intelligent, creative, funny, talented (need I mention sexy?). He's great with Max and the two of them are figuring out how they fit into each other's lives. The kitty cat count is up to five, which means cat hair count is up to gazillions, but I love them all (all the cats, not all the hairs). Thankfully Max and Mike (new guy has a name!) love the kitties too, otherwise we may have a rebellion on our hands.

We conquered the rappel tower at Aventuras Mayas

I've had a plethora of adventures in the last few months, I am loving having a "newbie" to Cancun to show around! I introduced Mike to four archaeological sites in one month (he's a trooper/!) I've taken my city boy to Tulum, Akumal, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Isla Mujeres, Merida, Valladolid and a few secret points in between. We've snorkeled with sea turtles, explored the lagoon at Yal Ku, checked out the reef and a few cenotes. We swam with dolphins and sailed on a catamaran, rappelled and ziplined. He's learned the best way to rig a beach umbrella without losing an eye, how to deal with "constant sand-in-the-pants syndrome" and that sunglasses are a health item, not a fashion accessory. I learned that marquesitas are not a national food but are something local. (Who knew? They are everywhere here but Mike had never heard of them! Something new everyday, even after nine years.)

Taking a leap at cenote Jardin del Eden

My most recent adventure is probably what has inspired me to begin writing again. On a trip to Veracruz a couple of weeks ago, I had a pretty big spiritual awakening. Negative energy out, positive energy in, practically smacking me upside the head to get moving with what I love. Finding my voice, finding my place in the world and in the cybersphere, and encountering the path to love myself and thrive on this big blue marble we call home. I'm on the road to wellness, feeling good, feeling full of amor and buenas vibras, and ready to rock the world.

So, this IS the relaunch of Cancun Canuck. In a way it's a new start, I will be "rebranding" to be "A Canuck in Mexico", I don't want to be limited to the niche of Cancun and the Riviera Maya (though of course it's my home so it will likely take prominence). I want to discover ALL of Mexico's beauty and share it with the world. I'll slip in a few mommy moments, a dash of expat observations (though I no longer feel like an expat, I am sure it will come up) and snippets of my life and my loves. I will be redesigning and coming out with a "new look" blog soon!

So, hi again, nice to see you, what's new with you?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Five: Last Day

This is part five, the final chapter in a series of guest posts from the charming Samantha Bennett...see previous posts here...

Last day. My flight does not leave until 7 tonight. A pall hangs in the air, the day, speckled with goodbyes. A final trip into town where I purchase a silver gecko keychain, so each time I leave and enter my home and car I will touch something to remind me of my time here. I write this from the beach, my last few hours here in the sand. I am hyper aware of all the ‘lasts’- last lunch with Mumsy, last swim in the Spanish surf. My heart is already in knots, thinking of saying goodbye to Mum. This has been our first holiday alone together, and we have discovered we are good room-mates, and compadres. Our energies and preferences are similar enough that we weave around and through each other with ease. She sits near me now, reading in our palapa, and I miss her already. Christ. I am such a sap today. I walk to the shore to have a final saunter through the shallows. I go years without my beloved Sea, so I murmur endearments to her, which costs me a suspicious glance from a tourist matron waddling by. I resist the impulse to roll my eyes back into my head and gibber at her.

Right. Time now for goodbyes. I take a deep breath and prepare to run the farewell gauntlet, Mumsy at my side. Out of the condo and down the path we reach Anita-Tata. Candy Kay and Mads say soft, sweet things into my ear as we embrace. Anita gives me last minute hand luggage advice and a hard hug. Then it’s past the pool-side crew, Tequila Bob at the helm, as always, everyone waving and calling out to me, and then the courtyard and the waiting taxi. Angus and Helen Mirren are there and we hug too. I am sad not to be able to say goodbye to Jayme – lovely James- and Cathy, but suddenly they appear, out of breath, grinning, delicious, and right into my waiting arms. At last I turn to my Mother. Mom. Mum. Mumsy. We both fight tears and hold tight. No one is harder to say goodbye to than her. We whisper to each other and pull apart at last. I am so glad to be leaving her in this place surrounded by her adored sun and surf, and the love and protection of so many stalwart friends. Long have I yearned to be in the company of a group of gals a little farther along the road than me, and my wish has come true. These ladies are strong, brave, compassionate, silly and wise. I stare out the back of the cab at Mum as it drives me off. She is grinning through her tears and holding her beer bottle aloft in salute. Thank you, Mum. For making this truly magical fortnight possible. For taking such joy in seeing me happy. For the wonder that is you. Te amo!

Huge thanks to Samantha for allowing me to share her story. I'm honoured to be her friend and to have such a talented person in my life. All the best Sammy, come back to Mexico soon, but closer to Cancun, ok?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Four: Ixtapa Island and further ex-pats

This is part four of a series of guest posts from the marvelous Samantha Bennett....see previous posts here

Sammy and the Sea

Never turn your back on the sea. It will tumble you like dice. Up becomes down. All control is torn from you in one wet reeling moment. Outstanding.

Whole fish experience

Madeline’s kids arrive today. Fresh blood! Mads has been skipping about all morning in anticipation, and when they arrive I can see why. Twinkley, handsome Michael and his pretty wife, Michelle. Mad’s daughter Cathy and her wife, Audrey. Everyone friendly, happy. We group troop to Maxim’s for supper and I make the dubious choice of ordering a whole red snapper, which arrives, of course, with head and tail, one dead eye staring glassily up at me from the plate. I stare back silently until Jayme offers to de-bone the thing for me. I can’t get it into her hands fast enough, and watch with fascinated horror as she neatly chops off the head, slits its belly open, and removes its entire rib cage and spinal cord. I pretend to be pleased when she hands its torn remains back to me, but those horrible women, Cathy and Audrey, sitting across from me, are giggling at my expression and snapping shots of my queasy face with Mum’s camera. Vile girls. And they seemed so nice. Later, we three go for a late night dip in the pool, and I contemplate quietly drowning them both, but jailhouse grey is not my colour, and alas, they are both charming.

 Henna tattoo on the beach

Ixtapa island! Reached by little boats which putt-putt us the 10 minutes across the waves. Today the swells by the docks at both ends are big enough that it takes two brown and brawny men to try and hold the boat to the dock, while another to help us in. The boat is swaying and dipping, suddenly moving 3 feet away from the dock as someone is about to step in, then slamming against the stone, nearly crushing our legs. We all make it, even Candy Kay, aged 87, although her niece, Cathy, helping her, says she could feel her heart, jackrabbit fast. There is never a complaint or a gasp from this gal. She follows instructions and stays safe. I find out later she is petrified of water. She is Queen of The Troopers, that Kay, adventuring right along with the rest of us, cracking crude jokes about mice, and somehow remaining a thorough little lady. On the island, which is lovely of course, we all decide to get henna tattoos. I choose a gecko. Mum and Mads get hummingbirds dipping into lilies. Cathy gets a dolphin, and Kay? Kay wants to know what sort of tattoo will get her into the army base on a day pass. The amused local says he can give her a big letter K, and she settles for this, although she grumbles it won’t be much good without her phone number under it. We all have the best time.

New friends

On my last night we end up back at Che Mangiano. Patti and I dance all night and she invites me to see the ‘real Ixtapa.’ Mum is naturally anxious at this development but Cathy convinces her I will be fine, then tells me to never leave my drink un-attended. Sound advice. I get a lot of advice from all these dames. All of it sound. Affectionate. I have had a bounty of Mums these last two weeks , and rather than it being annoying, it has made me feel warm and happy. When I am left alone on the dance floor, I turn to Patti who pulls me into her arms, yelling ‘Girl, you are all mine now! Time to re-load. Come on.’We pile into the SUV belonging to band-mate Ralph, along with bass player Roberto and Patti’s beau, Mango Dave. We drive 10 minutes to Planet Beer, a big doughnut of tavernas and juke joints. Cars slowly cruise. Gaggles of girls in  tiny skirts saunter the boardwalk. Hot rods blare music from mounted speakers. I smell beer, exhaust, frying tortillas. It is a deafening cacophony. Patti says this is where the locals come after work, after putting the tourists to bed. We grab beers, and wander, stopping outside an open-air restaurant blaring 70’s funk, and dance on the sidewalk. They drop me off outside my gates, and Patti and I hug goodbye with promises to email, facebook, and assorted other missives of the millennium. Tomorrow is my last day.

(to be continued....Meeting Mexico the Final Chapter)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Three: Zihua and Barra de Potosi

This is part three of a series of guest posts from my beautiful friend Samantha Bennett.... see previous posts here

Sweet Sammy and the beach dogs

The town of Zihuatanejo has been a fishing village for many decades. Everyone calls it Zihua ( Zeewa). Resorts and high rises tried to move in but were unsuccessful. Locals said no, and they said no firmly. The town hunkers down around a lovely bay filled with ships and boats of all sizes. Hills rise up on three sides, and ramshackle houses cluster everywhere. Little open-air stalls rub elbows with the pricier boutiques that can afford a glass front and door. Everyone talks to us as we walk by: “Hola Senorita! Good price for you today. Almost free!” The shops bulge with bright cotton dresses, jewellery of silver, obsidian, shells and wood. Carvings too of dolphins, turtles, swordfish, whale. Lean dogs slink around the moving cars and wander the streets, some of them clearly sick with mange, fleas, and a host of other afflictions. The Mothers look particularly exhausted and my chest and stomach cramp with sadness. I stop frequently to pet them, and the lean cats too. I do see some well-fed animals, usually with an ex pat. Patti tells me the police and locals often bring animals to the homes of the ex pats, knowing they will take them. Her friend has 7 dogs and 4 cats and Patti herself has 3 dogs. If I lived here, my home would fill up with animals over-night, while I would end up on the beach sleeping on a tea towel.

Barra de Potosi

Anita is shepherding a group of people, including Mumsy and I, to a far-flung beach called Barra de Potosi. We take a couple buses and then find ourselves in the back of a tarp-roofed truck, rumbling along pitted roads to the sea. The countryside is dry and wild, with rudimentary fences of sun-bleached wood and cacti twice as tall as me. Goats and cows graze and stare. We come to a dusty cluster of stores, and beyond the beach-side restaurants and a stunning beach, wide and calm. Long tables under thatched roofs await us and Fernando the proprietor of La Condesa greets Anita as an old friend. Two thin dogs, both girls, rise from the sand, timidly, hopefully wagging their tails. I go and sit with them and they shove their soft noses into my armpits and lap. So many dogs with no names. I bet they have names for each other. Secret names we will never know. We order beer. We order shots of tequila and creamy shrimp nestled in avocado halves. Many people are feeding the dogs from the table, and even tho they are obviously very hungry, they always take the food gently. I meet Anita’s friend Dee. She is a broad, in the best sense of the word, and her silver hair is slicked at the sides and straight up into a pompadour. She is loud and shiny, and we take to each other at once. Mumsy and I go for a beach walk and the shore side is sparsely populated with little bungalow motels and quaint b and b’s. Not a high-rise in sight. Back under the thatched palapa our table is strewn with beach jewels, presided over by a girl named Yadira. Anita has known her since she was 14, and 5 years later she has a husband and two children. Anita can never remember her name so calls her Velveeta, which Yadira accepts with grave courtesy. I buy bracelets for my Montreal posse. We all buy jewels. I can’t haggle with her. I know they expect it, and everyone else is doing it, but they are so poor, and those few extra dollars might make a big difference. I pay the price she asks, and hand over the bill. I glance away, and when I look back I see her quietly make the sign of the cross, and, eyes closed, kiss the bill quickly before stuffing it into her tattered bag.

Fishermen and birds

Birds here are numerous and varied, with names like the Great-tailed Grackle, the Kiskadee, the Vermillion Flycatcher. Ibis, both grey and white, Egrets both Great and Snowy. There is a primordial quality to the pelican, iguana, gecko and the dreaded crocs. Every day and all day the pelicans dive for fish 100 feet out from our beach. Straight down and at the last minute their wings fold and they splash clumsily into the waves. Rather than the dangly pouch I am accustomed to seeing in pictures, their beaks are long and sharp. It is not until they catch the fish and are floating in the water with a full mouth does the pouch descend, only to disappear as soon as they begin to dive again. Frigate birds wheel higher still and the herons daintily pick their way along the shore.

Every night my dreams are bountiful- long sagas, faces not seen for years. I hang out with Anna Paquin. I sing and dance, occasionally rescue strangers. They are Save the Day dreams.

(to be continued....Meeting Mexico Part 4)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Two: Ixtapa

This is part two of a series of guest posts from my wonderful friend Samantha Bennett, recounting her tales of her recent first visit to Mexico. Click here for part one.


Ixtapa once consisted entirely of coconuts, miles and miles of plantation acreage. In the 1970’s developers moved in and hotels sprang up along the beautiful beach. We leave the compound and walk to the town along manicured boulevards and pretty sidewalks inlaid with shell and stone. It is very clean, very neat, until we reach a sort of flea market, dozens of little stalls crammed together. I feel like I am in Mexico again when I enter here. It is dirty, smelly, hot and raucous, stuffed with jewels, bright clothes, ceramics, key chains, bags, hats. You name it and it is probably available to you. After 30 minutes of this I am claustrophobic and dart back out to the open air with Mumsy, and we continue our stroll past their version of 7 eleven, Oxxo, past Scruples, the big grocery store, and end up on the pretty side-walk patio of Salsa, where we order 2 for 1 margaritas and kick back. We are talking about Mum’s breast cancer a decade before, subsequent lumpectomy, and clean bill of health.

Me: If it was me, I would want to see the cancerous lump once it was excised.

Her: Oh, I did ask to see it. It looked like a lump of hamburger.

Me: Wow. Raw or cooked?

Her: Raw of course. Who on earth would want to cook it?

We settle easily into a routine, with days alternating between beach and adventures outside the complex, and nights alternating between dinners out and staying in. I love the evenings in with Mumsy. We cook, we set the table, complete with candles, and feast. The produce is incredible, as is the various fish. Conversation is free-flowing and intimate, with the strains of Duke Ellington wafting from my laptop. Then we each grab a book and slip into our beds for a long read, punctuated with chat. Mum tells me an exchange she had on the beach with Lady Kay, 87 years young.

Mum: (gazing skyward) I don’t recognise those birds up there. (pointing to some aimlessly circling)

Kay (speaking with authority) Fakawi

Mum: Fakawi?

Kay: Yes. Where the fuck are we?

A waterway winds through our condo complex, tangled and swampy, rising and falling with the tides. Crocodiles slide along the surface, scaly barges. Their slow watchful-ness is highly discomfiting. The white, pretty birds, Ibis, wade near the shore and keep a close eye on them. Last night we heard an awful screaming as a crocodile caught one and dragged it under. They can jump ten feet into the air. They can run faster than me. They make my blood run as cold as their own. The golf course is on either side of this canal, and in the mornings, at low tide, the Mexican caddies wade in to retrieve the balls. There are more than a few hands with fingers missing.

Before leaving Montreal I contacted friend Kelly, a Canuck now living in Cancun, and she put me in touch with a Canuck in Zihuatanejo, Patti. We have had a few tentative email exchanges and tonight the ladies and I are going to the Ixtapa Marina and Che Mangiano, a roof-top Italian restaurant, where Patti is singing back-up with a band. It is a lovely place but the big logo of Che Guevera in a jaunty Italian fedora would have the dead rebel spinning in his grave. I am nervous awaiting Patti. Never before have I cold-called a stranger and arranged a meeting. Too many variables. The options for lame-ness are endless. She could be stupid or bitchy. She may be one of those chicks who chatter endlessly about nothing. What if she is devoid of a sense of humour? Where will we be then, huh? Huh?? It occurs to me suddenly that I have never even seen a picture of her, so how the Hell am I going to recognise her? My eyes dart wildly around the restaurant. A girl has just walked in with a beachy blonde tangle of hair, looking a lot like Elizabeth Shue. She moves slowly through the crowd, smiling and chatting. I know somehow that this is Patti and I am up out of my seat and striding toward her. She turns just as I reach her, smiles up at me, and says ‘You must be Sama-‘ before I envelope her in a hug that nearly knocks her over. She is so clearly not a dud, and I am filled with relief. We grab the nearest table, and slip easily into one another’s vibe until she takes the stage to sing with the rest of the band. Mumsy, her friends and I are all up and dancing. My sandals are kicked off. The music is great. Candy Kay grabs a tambourine from one of the musicians and bangs it against her hip. At the end of the night, she and I are the last two left standing.

On the other side of the barbed wire fence running the length of the path to the beach is a jungle vacant lot and the concrete crumble of what was once a small two-story house, ruins now, with half the walls standing and a portion of the second floor sectioned off and roofed with the sun-faded greens and reds of an enormous old Mexican flag. A man lives here. I never see him, but Mum tells me of his roars and bellows which sometimes ring out in the night. I stand on my side of the fence, in front of the manicured golf course, peering through, feeling the disparity. Feeling fortunate.

(to be continued.....) Meeting Mexico Part Three

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