Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Life is a Celebration – March 2006

After publishing my October “Celebrations” entry, I realized that it just doesn’t stop here in Mexico. LIFE is a celebration and they’re doing it all the time here. Celebrating each day. SO, not only is there magic in every moment, but they appreciate it and rejoice in it.

The Guadelupe Festival in Puerto Vallarta is 12 days in December of continual nightly celebration and “peregrinacion” – a pilgrimage from the surrounding towns to the main cathedral in PV. Complete with marching bands, dancers, singers, costumes. And every night there are fireworks (as there is at 9 p.m. every night in PV anyway, but BIGGER). And the “malecon” – the sea wall promenade is full of art, performers, music, sculptures, lovers and friends have a great time.

For those unfamiliar with the Virgen of Guadalupe, in Mexico she is BIG, bigger than any other saintly apparition. She appeared in a cloud of light to a man, Juan Diego, going to mass one December winter morning in 1531. She was dark like a native Mexican and claimed to be the Virgin Mary. She wanted a church built on that hillside, north of Mexico city and wanted Juan’s help to petition the bishop. Why she didn’t appear to the bishop is unknown, except it would be a much shorter story!

The bishop didn’t buy it, and asked for proof. En route to see a deathly sick uncle, Juan saw her again. She told him that his uncle would be perfectly well, and to pick the roses (growing in December!) at her feet and take them to the bishop. Furthermore, she would always care for the Indians of Mexico. He gathered the roses in his “tilma” (poncho) and dropped them at the feet of the bishop. Imagine their surprise when they saw a portrait of the virgin painted permanently on his tilma – to this day, in fact, in colors bright as ever! There’s a chapel at the site, and a basilica lower down the hill. The things a girl has to do to get a house built!

Consecration of a Nun in Yelapa

Sara Rodriquez Lorenzo, son of José and Marisela, told them when she was 10 that she wanted to be a nun. They told her she was crazy, she recalls. Her friends told her so, too. At 17 she left to study to become one. Ten years later she came back to Yelapa to be consecrated as a nun in her home town, something never seen before. José was especially proud and impressed that a representative of the Pope was present from Rome! More rewarding for her, I can imagine, was the chance to administer the “host”, the body and the wine or “blood” of Christ, to the parishioners, all of whom would likely be relatives here.

Sara joined a congregation that works in Ciudad Juarez, a border town serving the “maquiladores”, the American factories fueled by Mexican cheap labor. There’s lots to be done there, by all accounts. It has a shockingly high number of young women who “disappear” – the number I last heard was over a 150! Sara looked very relaxed and very happy to be serving God! In the song “Dichosa Mujer” sung by the choir of nuns, a few powerful lines resonate “Today I sing to God from the people …., a song from a woman who liberates herself. God joins with my cause and consecrates me as a spokesperson of hope. God hears the clamor of our people and alleviates the impoverished and exploited and liberates woman from chains imposed with cruelty for so many centuries. You will do justice to all you sign up, they will not fall under the yolk. You give us liberty and recovery” , etc.etc

Pretty powerful recruitment message! I know a lot of you women out there are probably wondering ” Where does one sign up?”

One priest, who was the representative of Rome, an American judging from his accent, interjected near the completion of the day, a plea from all Mexicans to Americans witnessing this sainted event, that we are all one people, with the same hopes and dreams. That if we can in any way influence our governments, the barriers and pressures should be lifted to allow Mexicans easier passage, opportunities to work, and greater assistance while in the United States.

The day was even blessed with the presence of Charlie, the newest “angel” of Yelapa – a basset hound formerly seen living upriver in Journal Entry in August, that stirred up quite a lot of people, before he chose to lie under a pew and just soak up the alpha waves in the Godly presence.

Dia de Amor y Amistad – Day of Love and Friendship

For 20 years, the Yelapa organizers of the Cross Country Croquet Tournament, hosted the Valentine’s Costume Ball. I’ve never played in the Croquet Tournament, so decided to at least try a practice round. I concluded unless I could run, throw it or kick it, it wasn’t quite exciting enough for me. It’s a 4 day event with as many as 70 entrants yearly at $20 a person. Most of this money goes to winners and to Costume Ball category winners.

Lore and Kenn (students for a month from Saltspring Island,B.C.) and Colibrí (Brian) and Nathan from Vancouver entered the St. Valentine’s Day Costume Ball contest. Their entry – “Lamé Flambé” – very colourful and very unique. We were all more than a little disappointed when they didn’t win in any of the group, single, humorous or other categories. Until the clincher – the finale”Best of Show” category was announced. They clearly did deserve the best overall award. The next day everyone on the beach applauded them or called out, “I know you guys”. They enjoyed their day of glory so much, they even briefly toyed with the idea of wearing their costumes their last day here.

An other very honorable mention should go to the most cherished Angels in Yelapa – Pamela, the veterinarian and owner of Vortex Cafe, and her 9 month old Nai’a. Clearly divine. Another personal favorite was the Tourist Survival Kit – Judy and Cody with a mosquitoe net hung with the survival essentials, including a Spanish – 10 Minutes a Day! I was a black widow spider, and kept tripping over my own web all evening. Didn’t catch a thing!

Camila’s 3 –Year Birthday:

Birthdays are very big here, especially for 1 year old babies, 3 years and for 15 year old girls (coming of age, “quinciñeras”). The first year has to be the historically toughest for most young infants, and as a result, those that reach the age of one today are fêted. I attended a number of such parties in the last year. A photographer’s dream. No cuter audience to be sure.

Home stay family, Ana Rosa and Ronco, had a party for their 3 year old grand-daughter Camila. Don’t know what’s so special about 3. Camila was the worshipped princess, in yellow chenille, but didn’t seem too happy about it. She swung without any gusto at the piñata – of a girl in the same yellow dress,no less! She watched the mad scramble for candies from the piñata unenthused.

If you’ve ever seen one in Mexico, you realize the risks these kids are taking to get any sweets at all. The treats are put in an earthenware pot, and paper-mached and painted into some party animal, girl, etc.and then cracked open by wildly swinging sugar-crazed kids. The pieces definitely come down with gravity. At Camila’s party, young Eliza grabbed the pot as it fell, mostly in one piece,and ran. She was tackled and the pack of 10 year old-plus boys descended on her. Mother, Elisabet, dragged her out to safety, still fighting and screaming for her candy. Oh, the injustice of it!

Camila is normally a bright charming princess, but she had been woken up from a nap for this celebration. She went along with it all, sat for a few glum pictures, and was carried around mostly by grandparents. Grandma Ana Rosa even got her cooperation, after the candle was blown out on the cake, to lean down and take the first bite,no hands,head-first. “La Mordida” The Bite, they call it. As the kids chant “Que le muerda, Que le muerda, ….” – let her bite it, let her bite it.,,, – someone always pushes the child’s head into the icing. Queen Camila was incensed. But shortly after that screaming ordeal and enough cake was eaten by her and everyone else, she did even manage to crack a smile or two.

She could have been a bit glum since her parents had left at the beginning of the week forever, or possibly what would seem like forever to a little girl who doesn’t understand. They crossed the border at Tijuana after paying a $1000 each to a “coyote” – a human smuggler – and arrived safely. There are an estimated 300 Yelapans living in northern California (of a possible 1200 at home), mostly young couples or single people looking to make a “stash” to be able to return and build a house, buy a boat for a business, or invest in the future here in Yelapa.

It’s often a very difficult passage into the United States. I read a Latin American monthly inVancouver that reported that in 2004, there were 400 deaths of those crossing. Last night at a local theatre production in Puerto Vallarta “Recuerdos del Paraíso” – Memories of Paradise – the two elderly ladies recounted their family members and friends shot at while running across the frontier, or nearly drowned swimming in the middle of the Rio Grande. Almost all the young folk here make an illegal trip. Everyone has a story; it’s a cultural tragedy or trauma they all share. Irma’s husband, Angel, was laughing at his own joke one day after returnng from fishing in the rain – “wet back ha, ha, ha, I’m a wet back” and I joined in. He’s got lots of his own memories of “paradise”, having crossed more than a few times.

Camila’s party was a hit for most attendees, particularly because of the young dancers. One of the dance contestants. Eliza, the spunky piñata pirate, was the uncontested dance winner. She had all the moves of a twenty year old. She grabbed a dance partner, and she was in total control. The highlight was the backward swoop – her poor unsuspecting partner had no choice. She just leveraged him backward over her knee, and yanked him back up again. Several times. The crowd was delirious with laughter – every time just as amusing.

Cats in Trouble, Too Many Cats in Need

It wouldn’t be a journal entry without some mention of some critter. The cats of Yelapa have been a concern of mine for many years. There are SO many of them. Everyone has at least two, whether wanted or not. They wander from food source to food source. Patio cat, Extra, has chosen to stick to this patio and learn Spanish with us, rather than re-enter that fray, even when she isn’t fond of the day’s rations.

Last spring I rescued from the wild and raised for 2 glorious weeks a couple of abandoned beauties – Paco and Pepe – and after offering them, clean, neutured and cute to everyone, I had to have friend, Sarah, take them to Puerto Vallarta and give them up there for adoption. There was an American lady here who collected a great number of them, wouldn’t spay them, and instructed her Mexican staff to kill the kittens. They left them in the hills instead, and the hills are alive with the sound of “maulliando” mewing.

Hats off to the local vet, Pamela, for starting a cat campaign. Free spayings each Tuesday. It is that time of year again. Little kittens are routinely dumped. Again this year she found some in the water,and rescued them at barely one week of age. Many bottle feedings later, they are hopefully soon to be placed in good homes. Saludos y bravo! to the many who have stopped by and fed the little kitties. Two of three of Pamela’s newest kitties made it. Pamela is spaying and healing animals out of her great love for them, and will continue to with or without money. If you’re ever in Yelapa and want to donate time, money or encouragement to the cat campaign, please drop in at the Vortex Café and say hi, and if you can help with a donation, or other help, please sign up!.

By the way, pets are easy to import into Canada and the United States. There are many puppies named Yelapa, that I know of. A rabies shot and health certificate are all that’s necessary.

Things are Cooking in Yelapa

There’s been a lot of cooking going on around here. Along with the many fiestas, there’s all that delicious food to consume.

First, Joy, a student from Calgary, treated her friends to a cooking class with Rosita – tamales and atole. The tamal is corn flour dough, stuffed with vegetables or chicken or pork in a tomato sauce, or even sweet coconut, wrapped in a banana leave or corn husk and boiled. They’re delicious and NOT low carb. The atole is a drink derived from the liquid when corn and lime and water are mixed and brought to a boil. This liquid (nijaillote – nee hi yo tey) is then sweetened and LOTS of finely grated coconut is added to the thickening, boiling mass. Copious quantities of this thick sweet drink are drunk with a meal. In the old days, it was traditional to make it as chocolate and drink as a dessert. Definitely NOT low carb. Very traditional feast for special holidays.

A few days later, Carol from Minnesota, made fast friends with the Yelapa ladies (my good friends, Gorgonia, Rosita and Irma) by showing them how to make cinnamon rolls. She even talked in great but slow Spanish about yeast and all its implications. The ladies nodded and smiled. No doubt they’d never baked with yeast before! Tortillas rule here. Carol has been baking daily – various pastry feasts. Even the day she was sick in bed, she got up to bake cinnamon rolls for class, and sent them up. I pray this is a standard that all other students will aspire to!

More in the future on Gorgonia’s “Tiendita que tiene todo!” – Little shop that has everything! owned by Gorgonia, 75 years old. Rosita is famous with many home stay guests, and loved by all in the village as the lady that bakes cakes by the kilo. She started a few years ago, as a small side thing, and now she’s up very late and very, very early baking, and icing, etc. Irma, of course, is the dynamo at her home near the YESI school, which has almost become YESI Feeding Central. Everyone is welcome to come to “Cine y Cena” – Movie and Dinner night to sample her great tasting abundant Mexican meals, that are the reason that many keep coming back and others want to crash the home stays.

Bueno, the ladies learned very quickly. The next day I came for a visit to Irma, and there was Irma and her sister, Avelia, staring at the miracle of rising bread dough, there in the centre of the patio table. They looked cast in a spell. When I returned they were celebrating, by the mouthful, the excellent results. Rosita and Gorgonia similarly reported positive results. I’m the only reluctant baker, given my past history, but will report back later once I get my oven fixed, and can keep the raccoons out of it.

Booby Babies

We went to the Marietas Islands, two consecutive Saturdays, since the weather is great, the seas are calm and it’s always a marvellous trip to take. A must do, if you’ve a day and $40 (a super price compared to every other service or consumible in the area). See previous entries for the full day activities. Aside from pristine beaches, islands of grasses waving in strong ocean breezes, spectacular cliffs, caves to explore, whales playing, snorkeling,etc., there are the Brown and Blue-footed Boobies. Right now they’re nesting, and the young are unbelievably cute – like little fluffy Gund toys.

I’ve been counting nests in the last 4 trips and was mortified at the mortality of the young and numerous nest failures. This last trip the numbers of young seen had increased and we even got to see a courtship dance of the blue-footed male, goose stepping and waving his bright blue feet, enticing his bride, who prepared the nest. Although the numbers are still drastically reduced since the 1998 island fire started by foreigners illegally camping, there are some encouraging signs of a build-up in numbers.

Everyday in Paradise

Went upriver today, still looking for the military macaws to take photos of. Only one seen high up. Walking back, I heard the most incredible loud squeaking like some large bulldozer was coming up the narrow trail. I saw a horse and wondered about its age and whether it was arthritic. Then I saw the bags. White “costalillas” – nylon bags – tied to the horn of the saddle on both sides, with a hole in the corner, and a little snout sticking out. “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig!!” They were highly opposed to the mode of transport. Some little kid’s going to be happy!

A bit further, and there round the bend came a horse and lady rider, with one hand holding up a beautifully iced cake, high in the air. Despite her willing cooperation to be photographed, dead batteries ruined those chances, but not my day. It’s always picturesque and it’s always the combination of all those little things that makes life here an unbelievable blessing.

Life is for celebrating every day, every minute.


Photo Gallery Life is a Celebration

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