Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Slowing Down in Yelapa – Dec 2006

November Hot!!

It was so hot in October and most of November. This followed the hottest June to September period reportedly known for at least 30 years. One of my students, Nicola from Saltspring Island, B.C. announced, “Now I really know why we have eyebrows!”. One hot day in November I witnessed a group of boys, who couldn’t give up soccer on a hot day, adapt an odd variant – river soccer. For weeks the Mexican greeting was “Cuándo va a cambiar el clima?” When’s this weather going to change?

Then one day it did. The night was drastically cold on Nov 20th – thank God! Gracias a Dios! I brought out the down quilt. Now in mid-December the colder weather begins in earnest and it’s hard to believe it was ever that hot. Nicola now tells me she wears everything she’s got and climbs under the covers to keep warm in the evening, since it’s too cold to work (at her art). Last night at the open mic jam at Mimi’s restaurant, as the temperature suddenly warmed, she went to remove a layer or two and realized she’d be stripping down to her pyjama tops if she did.

The contrasts of hot and cold season, and daytime heat (bikini hot) and nighttime cold (flannel pyjama cold), is hard to believe in Mexico until you experience it. I’m sure Nicola never did when I told her about “winter” in Yelapa. I’m sure even fewer Canadians will sympathize.


Slow Down, you Move Too Fast!

I have decided to not work as hard this year. That’s fortunate, since as you’ll read there are not as many tourists in Mexico. To ensure I keep my promise, I’ve fallen, twice, on my right hand. Hard. So hard, I’ve made the students get up and write on the board. So hard, that I couldn’t type for a month. So hard, I hired a gardener to do the digging. A mason to tile my floors. I like this new life.

Just as I began to think I could accelerate a bit, I hit my left ankle on the ladder coming down from the loft to answer an early phone call. I hit it very hard. I had a very sore and swollen left foot. I recovered a bit, but a few days later I fell in my new shoes and almost broke my right third toe. I think my life is supposed to be mellower than my almost youthful self believes I want to live.

Years ago Byron, one of the oldest Americans here, would shout at me “slow down” as I sped upriver or down to make it to a class I was teaching. He seemed angry. I ignored him. I continued to move quickly in my long, purposeful stride. Well, this year, eight years later, I saw a woman beetling along the path in the village, moving almost painfully fast. She didn’t look comfortable at all. I began to get it! Then one day as I ducked out of a class I was teaching at Ana Rosa’s in the village, to buy some coffee for the class, I heard Jeff, Myra’s American husband, shout “You’re not late!” I laughed and I think now I might just be getting it, maybe. These injuries plaguing me are definitely causing me to tread more carefully, maybe even slow down … I’ll still ignore Byron out of habit.

The Coco Connection

Cocos are diminishing in Yelapa. Or is it Mexico. The drink of the Gods is not margaritas or piña coladas or some alcoholic beverage, but rather agua de coco. It’s pure, slightly sweet, thirst quenching and has health benefits, including healing for sore stomachs and a cure for parasites. They are only sold at the Coco bar/restaurant on the beach in Yelapa. They cost 30 pesos each! That’s almost the price of a mixed drink here with alcohol. In Vallarta agua de coco costs 12 pesos, almost one third the price of cocos in Yelapa

Cocos in the trees aren’t scarce here. No one wants to climb the palms to get them anymore, I was told. Someone broke their leg a few years ago, and since then it’s been a hard profession to sell. The trees are very dangerous to climb. Although I have watched at least one veteran 50 year old Pablo, Galdino’s son, shimmy up in no time, using no protective or climbing gear of any sort.

In Vallarta I asked the vendor at the little store there, where they get cocos from. They bring them from Tomatlan, about a 3 hour drive to the south. He says the palms along the coast in PV are on property owned by the resorts and can not be harvested. Here’s a hot stock tip – invest in cocos!

Enter an American with a good idea. Charlie is a tree limber from Tucson. He has the gear to go up trees. He can climb the highest trees and get those cocos like no one else here. This could be a great job for any local boy. Or for a number of locals going up and down the coast. Coco-busters!

Save the Trees

Three students, Dalia, Marta, Dan, and myself joined Alejandro Díaz for a naturalist’s hike. We focussed on the trees, most of which had poetic native names like huatapil, trompeta, guaco, and pochote. The pochote’s large almond-shaped seeds explode into a puff of cotton fluff the size of a grapefruit. Locals used them to stuff pillows, but it’s much easier today to buy new ones, says Alejandro. We gazed in awe at the largest of the jungle giants, the parota tree. One fills the field near the high school. Each tree has a history that unites people. “You know that tree in the field up near San Sebastian?” I asked Alejandro. Sure enough. When a tree dwarfs almost everything on the horizon, they are apt to be legends.

Philippo Lo Grande, local artist and magician, told me about the recently ousted mayor of Puerto Vallarta. The city and new council are suing him for selling off two shady parks to developers to construct two underground parking lots. The citizens protested to no avail. A block away from one of these construction zones, I saw graphically the importance that locals had given to trees in the past. There’s a multi-storey building of red brick with a tree right through the middle of the brick wall, still healthy with lots of growing room left for it!


Dance it Up!

Pedro came from Ashland Oregon where he teaches Latin dance. He offered his services to the schools. The director of the Secundaria (grades 7 – 9) was glad to have his help but thought we should start with the Mexican cumbía. The 12 year old students were not impressed. They wanted regatón, a rap-salsa-hip hop new beat dance I’d never heard of. At 12 years of age they didn’t get the romance in a couple moving too slowly around each other. This group was composed of those who didn’t join the regular “ballet folklorico” that wins all sorts of high school folk dance competitions. Dancing wouldn’t be their first choice. “But it was fun and a good cultural exchange. Pedro from Ashland returned and exclained un fracasón – a great failure!! Thanks Pedro for trying to motivate a class of unwilling teenagers to try something new.


Jan from Vancouver did a home stay with Ana Rosa and Ronco. Ana Rosa is a marvellous cook, and Jan was telling her so. Or so she thought. However instead of saying una buena cocinera she told her she was una buena cochinera. A cochina being a swine, in the derogatory sense of the word when used with humans, this was a good laugh. Ana Rosa loved to talk to Jan and her friends since many such gaffes continued to amuse her all week.

Beware the Resaca

Betina and Roberto from Vancouver, raised on opposite coasts, are experienced swimmers who swam at the main beach as much as they could, even despite very high waters and abnormally rough surf. They were both bounced around cruelly one day. They both had a very difficult experience coming out of the water one day, and were dragged back in a few times by the undertow or resaca. They realized fighting the resaca was not the best plan, and conserved their energy for another successful attempt and got onto dry shores. The very high oceans except at full moon are not typical . Even very experienced swimmers should take caution and not underestimate the seas. No one has drowned here, but don’t leave your survival instincts at home!

Shoes in the Jungle/ The Optimal Jungle Shoe

I found my shoe today. It’s a leather sandal, one broad strap across the toes, easy to slip into and very comfy. I last saw it a month ago. I had looked everywhere in the house. I either dreamed it or I actually threw it at some marauding racoon or feuding cats. So, I looked outside in the yard. Although the jungle in my “yard” had been cut back in mid October, it was rapidly becoming a jungle again. Yesterday Eddy hacked it back viciously for an hour or two. While herding the chickens away from my compost afterwards, I thought about my shoe. If Eddy hadn’t come across it, it was gone, I concluded. I glanced along the edges among the weeds. There it was, slightly deteriorated, but with a little tea tree oil rubbed into the leather to fight the fungus, looks new again. I have vowed not to sacrifice any personal items or body parts in my further feuds with the wildlife.

Wherever you go in Yelapa, you need a good pair of shoes. There are concrete and cobblestone paths in the village, but mostly the trails are dirt, dust, rocks, sometimes animal droppings, and in the wet seasons or very high tides, water and mud. Shoes are to survival here what snow tires are to winter drivers. I’ve been trying to find the perfect pair for years.

Some like Bev, my massage therapist, swear that shoeless is the only way to go. Other published professionals also rave about natural posture and no footware. However, the roving veterinarian, Roberto, told me he saw signs of parasites in the feet of children in the next village carried from dog feces. My instincts have always warned me to wear something.

I have tried flip flops, and thrown them away quickly as they’re made for casual wear, not serious trecking in a mountainous village. I’ve tried the various tevas and teva knock-offs and seen the blistered Chaco crowd pass through. I thought, I’m in Mexico, I’ll try Mexican huaraches. You’ve seen them. They’re the leather braided sandals, usually soled with rubber tires. The leather stretches to the feet. But they lack any arch support or heel support and a day spent on concrete in PV is almost debilitating.

I went to my chiropractor last week. He has worn Crocs for 1.5 years and wishes he had a commission for every one he’s referred to the shoe shop. They’re made of some synthetic plastic resin that moulds to your feet. They’re usually bright and quite goofy looking. They’re worn losely, remniscent of toddlers trying on their parent’s shoes. This is so there are no pressure points anywhere. They have a very cushy feel to them. Even the die-hard barefoot Bev has shown me her new Crocs. Last January my friends from Vancouver all came down sporting the newest colours in Crocs and swore by them. So after the Dr.’s words, I went straight down to Vallarta’s Croc shop, and paid 33% more here than in Vancouver. They’re bright lime green, they’re splashy and everyone asked me about them as I strutted. They seemed envious.

I had them less than a week before I slipped on a rock on a path I walk everyday. I’ve never fallen before. The spill was so spectacular and so unexpected, I’ve revisited the site to figure out how I could have survived that fall with my spine intact. Perhaps that’s where my chiropractor receives his payback. Crocs have no treads, or little to speak of, and I find them sometimes hot. I have now retired them for house wear, or just standing around on my patio, or beach parades. I have a very purple third toe, that is fortunately not broken. I’ve had fun painting all my toenails deep purple to match. Should anyone have any great ideas for foot wear (sandals) that have arch support, sturdy materials for soles that don’t wear down quickly, good treads, breathable, don’t cause blisters, please send me a line. URGENT.

Where Are the Tourists?

It’s the week before Christmas and all through Mexico, … we wait for one of the principal engines driving the economy – the tourist. Or better yet, many tourists. A flood of tourists. There are no tourists in Mexico, or relatively few, or certainly fewer than hoped. We’re hoping that changes by Christmas. Mexicans have given up their self-sufficiency and let the tourism industry determine their fate.

First of all, I should not belittle that first wave of Canadians. The Canadian exodus is as reliable as snow in Canada. I once was part of that front of defectors as we drove from Calgary on October 31, 1999 toYelapa. The same B.C.and Alberta licence plates leap-frogged past each other through several states. This year there’s an obvious Canadian population passing through and lots of news from home.

Some thought with a change in American politics this fall, there’d be more euphoria in the populace that would flow south with the new feelings of optimistism. Not so. The streets of Vallarta have been only slightly touristed. Some claim it’s the fault of all-inclusive vacation packages which trap the tourist in one resort and no one leaves to spend any money elsewhere. I had heard about travel advisories issuied by U.S. State Department. Carolina at Tortilla Flats in Vallarta read one and it’s because of the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, the terrorists in Michoacan and the ongoing Zapatista revolt in Chiapas. These incidents are sporadic and very restricted. To cross a nation off the holiday destination list suggests to me that someone again doesn’t have other news to report or needs a new boogie man to deflect negative attention to matters at home. Please tell EVERYONE you know that Mexico is muy pacifico – very peaceful.

Thanks to all of you especially for coming here!! Spread the word – Mexico is as friendly and safe as it always has been, or more so. Come on down – better yet – bring a friend or a family!

Santa’s Here

“When did Santa Clause arrive?” – ¿Cuándo llegó Santa Claus? – I asked as I stood in an unbearably long line-up to re-connect my phone. There were big and small Santas everywhere in the centro commercial and radios blaring “Jingle Bells” and songs about snow. I thought I had escaped that Christmas commercialism – one of the huge attractions of Mexico. Years ago in Yelapa there were several Nativity scenes in front of homes. These were assortments of sheep, camels, burros and barnyard scenes in miniature with baby Jesus in a manger, shepherds,etc. Now only a few are ever displayed. I only hope there are still some inside the homes. Christmas gift buying and that scene are really reduced here relatively speaking. As more Mexicans return home from the U.S., they come with new customs and possibly more disposable income. Kids even go out trick or treating on October 31st in Vallarta! The discussion in the line up was lively. Most could not quite put a finger on it, but Santa Claus has arrived in Mexico. Guess what? He looks very gringo.

Work in Mexico for Mexicans

The Mexican emigration dilemna. Most Mexicans don’t stay home to make their fortune. They’ve always been sold the belief that they must be in the United States to make money. I’ve been asking friends here about their families. I would estimate that almost every Mexican I know comes from a family that has lost 50% or more of it’s members to immigration or alienation to the United States. Enrique and Emma had 10 kids, seven are in San Jose. Irma and Angel have three of four there. Ana Rosa’s son, Nelson, and daughter-in-law left their three year old daughter with the grandmas. It’s been a year already. My friend, Estela in San Sebastian has nine brothers and sisters, five are in the US. Of her four kids, three are there. Even her father moved there. Her husband is there half the year. She said if I knew I would be alone as a wife, I would have stayed with my mother!! There are many tales of such heartbreak.

Now the newly inaugurated president, Felipe Calderón, made an election speech where he pledged his commitment to making jobs to keep Mexicans home working. A brilliant idea. How? We’ll wait and see.

I see many foreigners in Mexico trying to figure out how to stay here in this tropical paradise. There are many, many hungry time-share salespersons in PV. Others are starting obvious businesses that are lacking. In Yelapa, no one had a hardware store, even a small one to sell nails, until Robin, an American woman, began one. Angel, my landlord, had always talked about it, but … There are many people who could start a Spanish school in Mexico. I should be working for them!

What’s missing? I think the obvious is a lack of money to invest. I know my personal small successes have been due to a credit union in Canada that gives all sorts of breaks to small businesses. The Nobel Peace Laureate from India who started a bank to advance loans to small business deserved that prize. I’ve seen many Mexican families get computers and very quickly become wizards in their use. They’re bright and very open to innovation, so lack of training would be easy to overcome.

I guess one New Year’s wish would be that many of the young people who leave will return and guide the way for Mexicans who do want to stay in Mexico. I’ll certainly do my best to help them earn a good living.

Have a great New Year 2007 and peace and happiness to all! Thanks for all your support in 2006 and throughout. Drop a line if you’ve ideas, comments and news (on shoes, or such like….)


Photos Slowing Down in Yelapa


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