Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Celebrations in Yelapa – Dec 2005

I’ve been back in Yelapa since October 21st when I learned, after scrubbing mould off my patio for a day, that the sun is very hot here, and sunstroke is very possible even when you think you’re being careful! It’s great to see Yelapa at its greenest after the rains. And even sunstruck, it’s great to be back. I launched immediately into Spanish classes, but given the great warm weather and the wonderful pool at the waterfalls, we held classes at the prettiest cafe and enjoyed a dunk in the cool waters daily. There couldn’t be a better job!

The Hallowe’en party at the Club de Yates and the costumed partiers attracted a lot of interest in the very young Yelapans who stood in the village centre. When Hallowe’en was explained in brief, they quickly accepted the part about asking for candies and ran into the streets to ask the passers by for treats. ah … Candy – the universal language!

I had mouthed a few words about Alejandro, the Huichol artist from Coamiate, a village high in the Sierra Madres about 20 hrs bus ride away,  who had 7 months earlier left an unfinished work with me, prepaid, and I wondered if I’d see him again. The next morning at 9:00 there he was. I told him I’d just been talking about him and he said he knew because he’d dreamed it. I believe him.

He unpacked a huge box of carved wooden figures and jaguar heads, all covered in beaded designs, inspired by visions from the spirit world while on peyote jouneys. My students tried on colourful  woven and embroidered bags, beaded bracelets, and embroidered Huichol costumes. I replaced my unfinished jaguar head for a new one. Students asked questions and found it easy to get the gist of much of his simple clear 2nd language Spanish, laced with a few native words, possibly more easily understood than the rapid fire local Spanish dialect. It was a rich cultural experience to learn about the customs of the young Huichol and their initiation quest for peyote. After a small feast, he departed. I wonder if I only have to mention his name to see him again?

The Dia de Los Muertos visit to the cemetery to pray for the souls of  “los difuntos”  – the deceased – was held at noon, not the traditional night time vigil where skull cakes are eaten and many stay to pray and feast. High noon was when the priest could do the service, so everyone who knew anyone deceased was there. The priest had much to say about all of us wanting to live in Heaven in the after life, but none of us really wanting to go now, if we had a choice. Most people agreed with a show of hands to the first idea, and a few nebulous hand wavers confused about the point, gestured with hands half-raised to the latter proposal. This was a modern priest with a cell phone, with modern metaphoric ways of expressing himself. He kept the mood fairly light, considering the solemn location. For most it was a day to reconnect with their loved ones beyond, a day to weed and plant or at least leave flowers and vases. The children and dogs playing in the dirt seemed to enjoy the day the most, being oblivious of the gravity of the mission. We helped Irma and Ana Rosa put flowers on the monument of their father, Andres, who had passed away recently.

It seems there’s never a long period here without another reason to celebrate. Each little village everywhere in Mexico celebrates “la revolución de Mexico” called “Parade Day – El Dia de Desfile”. It was Sunday, I wasn’t teaching, and I am all for a country that celebrates and idolizes its revolutionaries.

An account of their history shows they had endless reason to revolt. The country was ruled by the colonizing Spaniards who were mostly interested in accumulating vast sums of wealth, and keeping pretty much everyone but the Spanish-born out of power. A champion of native rights, Father Hidalgo led the first rebellion in 1810, with the clanging bells of his church called the Grito de Dolores (the shout of pain). Killed quickly, he was replaced by other priests and revolutionaries leading to the proclamation of independence in 1823. Military rule then opened the country to foreign interventioin. War with the United States led to loss of much of 6 current U.S. states. Then the Reform Movement focussed on separating the power of the Church from the State.  Under Benito Juarez, a brilliant native, likened to Abraham Lincoln, a new Constitution was written.  Between periods of his presidency, Civil War erupted between the Liberals and Conservatives, then France moved in and appointed an Austrian emperor, Archduke Maximilian. Fortunately he went quickly bankrupt, and left only the oompa – pa – pa blasts of the tuba as a current sign of their presence. Juarez was able to get financial backing from the United States, since the Civil War there was done. Mexico now had a democratic government in 1867. After his death, however, one of his generals, Porfirio Díaz, ruled as dictator for 34 years. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer and eventually bellicose. Revolution led in 1910 by Francisco Madero led to his presidency. His assassination soon after  led to power battles and presidencies that continued the civil war;  armies recruiting men, women and young boys..

It’s claimed that 1 in 8 men and women lost their lives in the 10 year civil war. Northern forces joined under Pancho Villa, a gallant bandit and brilliant and charismatic military leader. Southern forces were led by Emiliano Zapata, taking over large haciendas under the banner “tierra y libertad” (land and liberty) to redistribute in the form of ejidos (small cooperative farms). A new constitutioin in 1917 guaranteed land and freedom, and eventually to the strengthening of the Mexican national identity embracing the cultural mix of its people, shunning the domination of, and dependence on Europe.

The “desfile” or parade in Yelapa was held on the beach with each class presenting another aspect of the revolution. The obvious crowd pleasers were the Kinder and Primary grade students dressed as moustachiod Pancho Villas or Emiliano Zapatas wearing double bandoliers and shooting each other with wooden rifles when not “on duty” in the parade. The girls in braids with babies in rebosos (shawls) couldn’t have been more implausibly guerrilla soldiers in a war. Photo afficionados had a hey day. My personal favorite was the Zapata with the “bigote” – moustache bigger than his face! That he could, like Zapata, roam with his miltary recapturing stolen lands and redistributing them to the poor, while carrying a banner “Tierra y Libertad”  – Land and Liberty, was a bit of a stetch, but not for lack of desire.

When the parade made it’s way from one end of the beach to the other and everyone fell into formation by grade, Master Pedro the high school “Director”  had many words to say about the pride felt by Mexicans, about where they had come from and where they were going, and how the young people needed to keep Yelapa unpolluted. He then led the singing of their beautiful Mexican National Anthem  – El Himno Nacional. “Que el cielo tu eterno destino, por el dedo de Dios se escribió” That heaven is your eternal destiny, written by the finger of God. “Que el cielo un soldado en cada hijo te dió” That heaven gave you a soldier in every child.  Beautiful powerful words, and more meaningful as they sang with their hands placed as a salute across their chests, over their hearts.

Aside from the major events in Yelapa, Spanish classes are filled with exuberant students and lots of after class outside activities. A few have hiked the 12  kms uphill with a rapid escalation of  2,000 ft in the first 5 km to the next town of Chacala, twice in a week. We’ve done the trip to the Cascadas (waterfalls) an hour up the Rio Tuito a few times as well.  On my last trip with Drew from Colorado we were treated to the Military Macaws flying at eye level along the river canyon – a rare sight, since they usually fly high in the sky in pairs, screaming haughtily out of reach, almost out of vision. Along the way we encountered a hound dog with dusty ears dragging on the ground, and his young master, who was selling shells and spotting iguanas in trees.  A unique purple butterfly and green banana-like seeds were other marvels on our trip.

Another day a boat load of students went on a hunt for “tiburones”  – sharks,  since there was an unconfirmed sighting by one of them. So off they went snorkeling, and encountered only manta rays to swim and play with, not sharks. Locals report no dangerous sharks reside in the area.

Ten year old Hannah spent  time swimming with dolphins at Splash Aquatic Park in Pto Vallarta and has a very unique tale to tell at home. Her and her dad, Jorge, delighted me one Monday morning with endless speaking in complete sentences after a bit of a struggle earlier in the week with verb conjugations. Like a child learns, there’s a “quiet” period of insight, before the flood gates of coherent speech pour forth. It seems Yelapa had performed its miracle of destressing dad (“I’m a new man”, he proclaimed, looking very bright eyed and smiling broadly) and greasing the wheels of language learning.  Most adult classes don´t have children attend, but in this special case Hannah and Dad, George, were the only students in the class for 2 days, until Drew appeared. Turns out he lives 14 kms away from them in Alma, Colorado; the highest populated location in the United States at over 10,000 ft!! I don´t how it works, but the right people come together somehow miraculously here in Yelapa.

Another small group had a powerful presence. A doctor, Chris and nurse, Mary,  from Kamloops, British Columbia came for a medical Spanish  course for 2 weeks. They were high intermediate students who enjoyed the priviledge of being able to communicate well with the medical practitioners here. Dr. Rafa began their 2 weeks with a talk about the medical health trends in the local area and the Mexican medical treatment system. They enjoyed medical vocabulary training and role playing of diagnostic situations with Josué the new medical intern. He´s here to do his 1 year “service” required of all young doctors immediately after university.  They observed in the clinic several mornings, when the locals permitted observation. One afternoon they accompanied Alicia on a  walk to see and discuss plants used for traditional healing.

On their last evening, they were lucky to spend time with the veterinarian, not offically back from maternity leave, in treating the misfortune of a cat. She had lots to say about the problems experienced in the Yelapa dog and cat population and the problems in servicing them, in addition to various farm animals. Pamela has been a one-vet wonder here and in the neighouring communities in carrying out a campaign against “roña” or mange, and “vacunas” or vaccinations against rabies, as well as treating the endless demands of a 1,000 + population. Her following procession of adopted dogs is long! She now has added to her responsibilities as the new co-owner of the Vortex Internet Cafe on the lagoon.  A second new internet Cafe opened in the village this week – Eclipse Cafe, run by Sandra and husband, Chilo. Sandra is working for YESI as Children’s and Conversation Class instructor.

Another few days later, another celebration; this one superimposed on Mexico by the “gringo” population – American Thanksgiving. Canadians have already given thanks in early October, and we´re even more thankful for an excuse to eat even more turkey! We all came together at Jared´s Los Naranjos – Yelapa Waterfalls Retreat Center – 10 acres of landscaped jungle off the beaten path ( Rosita told me that the village population was quite confused by what they called  El Día de Traje. The priest cleared up the confusion – it wasn´t a day to celebrate”suits” (the noun “traje”, any suit eg. traje de baño = bathing suit) but a day to thank for giving (traje – I brought).  Many turkeys, and other pot luck was shared, and music around a small campfire caused students Jorge and daughter Hanna to proclaim it was a great end to their heavenly 3 weeks here.


Celebrations in Yelapa’s Photos

Leave a comment »