Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Saved by the Little Virgin – June 2009

Index: Pineapple plants, Yelapa´s water quality, Vegetarian Tacos, Pygmy Skunk Video, Green Party, Monarch Butterflies 2009 and the Magic Pueblo, Our Lady of Ecology, Mother’s Day, Juanita the Chicken, Miette  the Travelling Cat – Lost, Human Swine Flu, The Rainy Season

Pineapple Plant Blooming in my Garden

I’ve been gardening on a piece of rock sloping down el cerro or hill that has barely broken down coarse particles of granite. Where there’s a finer substance, its clay. Not great for gardening. There’s one thing that grows almost anywhere; it just needs lots of water and lots of sun – pineapple. I’ve been watering for over a year and low and behold – a fruit. It wasn’t there and suddenly was one day, about the size of a baseball. But better than the fruit was the flower. The big surprise was that the flowers look very unusual; nothing tropical, bright, and brassy like the big red columns of leafy flower heads of the ginger, or the bright orange with a blue centre of the heliconia (or bird’s bill). The pineapple has delicate little purple flowers that look like a mint plant that grow right off the fruiting body itself. They lasted only a few days, then vanished about as quickly as the fruit arrived. Since I’ve added pineapple and nopal cactus to my morning’s repast, I’ve been watching it slowly grow. Three days ago the fruit broke on its stem on the plant. Nothing to do but cut it and I let it stand to ripen. It was small, maybe six inches high, green and far from ripe. I’m happy to report it ripened in a few days and was very sweet and delicious. I might plant the whole yard in pineapple and call this place Casa de Piña!

Water in Yelapa – an Engineer’s Approval

In February Andrea arrived to study from Whitehorse, Yukon Territories; that’s Canada, by the way. She’s an engineer with the federal government checking water supply and quality for northern settlements, which largely covers Indian communities and the three larger centers, Whitehorse, Dawson Creek, famous for its summer music festival, and Haines Junction, totaling to about 20,000 inhabitants.

She arrived with an expert’s suspicion of the water quality in Mexico. Her survival kit included a ceramic filter bought for $40 at Mountain Equipment Coop. I trust bottled water, having used the alternative here 25 yrs ago which was bottled soda pop. For me, this is SO much better and now ubiquitous. We strolled one day on the beach and met the water factory’s American owner, Les. I wanted to give her a first hand chance to find out what comprises Yelapa’s water.

He had billed the water as high quality with the latest technology for treatment. It starts as spring source water about three kilometers up the mountain. It’s chlorinated to kill the organics and then run through a series of filters to get out any solids. It goes through a bed of activated carbon filters of decreasing size of pores to remove everything, including the chlorine. It’s then treated with ultra-violet radiation, which also kills any bacteria.  It’s quality is lab-tested every four to six weeks. Les has all the equipment to treat it also with ozone, however, the quality tests have never shown a need to do so. “Besides which it adds a flavor,” he stated. “In the end, the minerals remain as close as possible to the natural state.”

Les was under the gun, but it appears his system was approved on the beach under the hot sun in Mexico, where most everything appears just perfect. No alcohol was consumed or bribes or payoffs accepted to get a clean bill of health for Yelapa’s bottled water.

New on the water scene – helping to reduce plastic waste. Finally, Les has introduced ½ liter bottles for sale for $2.75US which can be refilled in a few of the stores for very little. The five liter size can also be taken in to the water factory and refilled for great cost-savings.

Now if I can just get Les to spell the name of his company properly, Las Tanquas to Las Tancuas. The letters qu are never followed by anything but e or i in the Spanish language, although he insists it’s a native word. What language Les?

Tacos Vegetarianos – Almost – in PV

Tacos are without a doubt the favorite food in Mexico. My friend, Edmundo, the pastry guru of Pátzcuaro. recently switched to tacos. There’s money to be made in tacos. From the time they get up to the late, late nights in town, people love to eat their tacos, from basic stand up dining at street vendors to high end taco restaurants. Mundo now works four days a week and doesn’t get up at the crack of dawn to watch dough rise.

Now after a few months or years of eating tacos, they seem to boil down to the same flavor on my palate. Meat of uncertain species, fried and refried, and tortillas, sometimes fresh, sometimes also refried in suspect oils or manteca (lard). By March or somewhere mid-season I begin to appreciate the humor in the T-shirt that has a Chihuahua with its tongue hanging out looking very nauseous saying “No More Stinking Tacos”. I’ve usually had enough and want more veggies or some other varieties of flavors.

In Yelapa, the Rodriguez family opened Tacos y Más (Tacos and More) three seasons ago. Youngest son, Javier, started out with al pastor style pork on a vertical grill topped with a chunk of pineapple to give you mouthwatering tasty pork. Then he put lots of meat on the freshest lovely little double tortillas. He couldn’t feed all the hungry crowds on his patio. That’s when the rest of the family moved in. Sister, Dickie, quit work at the Rosewood Carving Factory that dad, Javier, started decades ago and began to head up the kitchen. I had returned to Yelapa excited to tell them about the incredible avocado pie I had tasted in Canada, only to find that Dickie now served its equivalent in Tacos Y Más.  Sister Livier also joined the kitchen team with her special skills and better yet, started raising a pig or two on a few acres on the mountain next to Aunt Antonia’s Casa Milagros. These are optimal pig raising conditions; no 5,000 pigs confined to cages for these folks! It’s nice to know where your taco comes from!

They’ve expanded now to lots more taco options, including fish, shrimp and chicken, special entrees, often featuring local seafood, fresh fruit water and of course the desserts. Now, unfortunately, I’ve become a vegetarian due to some health issues, with occasional protein support from such places. After months of beans, rice, maybe some cabbage and often onions on my tacos, I’m crying out for a decent veggie taco.

Well, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a new taco stand in Puerto Vallarta. It’s called Huel Huelic, mayan for muy sabroso or “very tasty”. Instead of the beans on a taco I was prepared for to fill the gap, they offered me a host of variable stews, most with meats, some with veggies, and flavorful broth. I ate rajadas de nopal (strips of stewed nopal cactus a little bit spicy – un poquito picante, and green, red or white rice as a side dish. Memelas (not sure about this one) served with shredded gouda cheese – another first.  Then there’s a large sampling of condiments with cucumber, radishes, cilantro, carrots and of course a litany of salsas. These salsas were obviously home made with chunks of real fruit and veggies in a range of picante or spiciness. All these were in separate see-through closed containers with their own special spoons that fit inside.

The owner, Carlos, had situated four or five palms about eight feet high to shade patrons on the sunny side of the stand. Too many taco stands are dangerously obstructive of traffic and very “man on the street”. These palms also offer a line of defense. To one side was a wash stand, with aluminum sink and towels. Variety, prices, fast and fresh, green ambience and shade afforded by the palms, hygiene and sanitation and great and tasty food. In fact, muy sabroso!

I would like to tell you that next time you’re in Puerto Vallarta, stop by Huel Huelic on Francisco Madero Street, between Insurgentes and Constitución near the Rana Sonido Music store and tell him Juanita de Yelapa says gracias.However, due to the swine flu media epidemic, there’s only a for rent sign. Hopefully, he’ll be back on his feet when the tourists come back!  Maybe I’ll invest some money so that this really happens. Other investors interested?

Skunk’s Out.

I’ve written before about the little pygmy skunks in Yelapa that visit almost nightly in my house. I hope you can view this little video of this little fatty eating out of the cat bowl, until along came the cat. No chemical warfare or violence was used by either side in the making of this video.

Green Partya la Mexicana

In the last federal election I was thrilled to hear that the little town of Mascota in the mountains not far up the River Cuale from Vallarta had voted mostly Green Party. I thought “how progressive”. Nice to see a big environmental and stewardship role of the earth and its resources is happening so close to where I live. What I didn’t know was that the Green Party name, Partido Verde Ecologista or The Ecologist Green Party has been appropriated by a group, or mostly, one family,  that is definitely right of center on some issues. Here are some current ads on billboards in Vallarta to show what they represent:

Temor es saber que alguien puede matar o secuestrar uno de tu familia Fear is knowing  someone can kill or kidnap someone in your family.

Partido Verde. Pena de Muerto. Si estás de acuerdo, manda sí a 29999.

Green Party. Death Penalty. If you agree, send a “yes” to 29999.

Coraje es para saber que el asesino de tu hijo es libra. Rage is knowing that the murderer of your child is free.

Dolor es recibir una llamada del secuestrador de tu hijo. Pain is receiving a call from the kidnapper of your child.

All are followed with the “Death Penalty” send us a “yes” if you agree. Capital punishment is not where the Green Party has gone in other countries. The green party logo here is a toucan sitting in the middle of a yellow square; an image of ecological interests.

Check this link to see how twisted this family-run Green Party is!

It’s an abomination that this image has been stolen from the environmental liberal thinkers in Mexico. What will the Green Party use when it does develop in Mexico? The Greener Party? Wikipedia reports that the International Green Party umbrella organization just recently nixed this group due to this death penalty campaign..

Their most recent web site has four pillars to their philosophies. Better Quality of Life – Recommendations for Care of Pets; Better Health – Recommendations for Better Food, as well, a statement “La Secretaría de Salud estima que alrededor de 38% de las 2.3 millones de muertes que se presentaron en México entre 2000 y 2004 eran evitables”. The Health Ministry estimates around 38% of the 2.3 mllion deaths between 2000 and 2004 were avoidable. Better Education – demands for vouchers for medications, English and Computer classes . Better Security – here they go on about kidnappings and the death penalty.

I’m with them on their needs on three of the four issues.  Maybe there is some hope that this single family interest is grabbing the spotlight with the death penalty on one issue, and then working on changing the party to address some real issues. Green or not really green, this might have some beneficial end result. Let’s hope this is an interesting evolution to something really green and substantive.

Spanish on the Road Trip – Monarch Butterfly Hibernation Sanctuary

I went to the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary at El Rosario, east of Morelia, Michoacan with Andrea from Whitehorse, Yukon Territories as my witness to another miracle. There were many thousands of butterflies flying in the heat of a hot late February day. It was great taking someone with me to see the milling masses of monarch. This year was a hotter year than my first visit last year, and there was much more activity. The monarchs were pairing early this year – apareando. The contortions during mating were most novel and often amazing, since it can occur while flying, linked while going in different directions. Nonetheless, it works. By the time they get to southern United States, they’re ready to lay eggs, which hatch and soon after the adults make their way to Canada. I’ve written about this migration in my Blog of last spring, 2008. Also a note for those who don’t like climbing stairs. They will carry you in a stretcher or a chair all the way up. You might have to pay them for the coca cola, too!

Just north of the El Rosario Sanctuary is a little town billed as El Pueblo Mágico, Tlapujahua, just 2 hrs east of Morelia, Michoacan. Upon our arrival, the first bit of magic noted was the sign that said “no loudspeakers for advertising”. No obtrusive noise by vendors hawking wares from a car. Like the gas truck shouting “gas” literally every six seconds, (I counted) in the village of the Virgin of Talpa from six a.m. on. We did see, however, signs everywhere se vende esferas, “spheres for sale”. Very mysterious.

Buildings were painted in earthy to bright colours, and well maintained. We stopped at a restaurant with a rooftop café serving cappuccino. It was a pleasure to climb the two flights of stairs and taste civilized coffee. From here we could see the setting sun lighting up the already rose-coloured cathedral.  We descended to find a hotel and solve the puzzle as to what kind of spheres were for sale. The owner of our hotel, Fernando, told us there was a factory right next door. Esferas were Christmas tree balls!

Next morning the factory was not open to visitors. Andrea and I headed in different directions with cameras trying to capture the beauty of the place in early morning light, with a rendezvous planned at the Christmas store at the café.  Markets are usually picturesque, but in keeping with the good taste throughout the village, this market was truly impressive. One walks down stairs to view the artfully arranged produce stalls in a golden yellow painted backdrop with lots of morning light. I also found a gift store next door, where I hoped to find a handcrafted teapot or tetera, not a commonly used item in Mexico. I found not just four teapots to choose from, but a 10 cup giant tea pot in solid earthenware or barro cocido. It came with a complete set of six mugs, saucers, and a creamer and sugar pot in a distinctly unique Mexican style of eclipse (sun and moon juxtaposed). The price of the six-place setting was less than the cost of a regular tea pot from a potter in Canada.

Finally I made it to the Christmas store below the great rooftop café. Andrea had already begun loading up a box of tree ornaments. I don’t like the commercial aspects of Christmas, and began my visit here thinking I didn’t like Christmas, but who could pretend to not like dressing the tree? I recanted and got my own box for “just a few – sólo unos pocos”. Well, I have one small or pequeña esfera for just about everybody I know, and I mean – muy, muy pequeña, some smaller than thumb sized.

The store owner, Juan Manuel Ruíz, told us the origin of the idea for this craft in his town. About 60 years ago a Mexican man, Joaquín Muñoz Orta, worked in the U.S. making artificial Christmas trees. He witnessed lab vials being made of blown glass, and when an accidental ball or esfera was made, things clicked for him.  In 1965 he set up a factory with his wife. Now they make an estimated 50 million Christmas ornaments, with 15% of this sold to the Mexican market. Now in Tlapujahua there are 150 workshops or talleres employing 70% of the population, mostly women. Juan added that the sales are dropping off now because of the Asian factories.

When my young friends say they don’t know what to do for a career, I tell them always, “Go travel and find out who you are, and what you like. See things that may inspire.”  Here’s a great example of the benefits of travel and bringing home new innovations.

Nuestra Señora de Ecología – Our Lady of Ecology

In early January, signs appeared around town – nicely crafted painted wooden boards, neatly lettered, all with a message to reduce, reuse, and recycle garbage. Who better a person to spread the word than Mexico’s patron saint Virgin Guadalupe? She appeared in her familiar shroud surrounded by her golden aura, but transfigured for the occasion into Nuestra Señora de Ecología. The first I noted was hanging with a globe of the world outside the church from the roof of Gloria’s Restaurant over the public trail.

It had a message from the Virgin in English, Spanish and Latin. There was at least one Lutheran priest I expected to be involved. And someone was fluent in Spanish. I suspected a collaboration. It was a great work of art. I wondered who was selling this work.  Who would leave valuable art on the street? Was using the patron saint to deliver a socially moral message relevant to today, and this life, not the afterlife, sacrilege?

Well, Nuestra Señora didn’t hang on that street corner for long. Alas! Next there was a sign outside of the stationery store la papelería near Ramona’s Taco and movie restaurant. “El Mundo tiene pocos recursos naturales. No contamines. Reuse, Recicla, Reduce The world has few natural resources. Don’t pollute. Reuse, recycle, reduce.”  There was still no public statement as to what radical environmental sect of Yelapans was behind this growing menace to our polluted, garbage-filled existence.

Again, the rebels struck – it was hard to resist posting the best work on a bright pink wall at Ramona’s Video Taquería. Nuestra Señora de Ecología came to rest. The message, subtle and clear from Mexico’s patron saint, now, of Ecology. At the top: “Piedad para un planeta tan pequeño Pity for a planet so small”. At the bottom: “Reduce los detergentes Reduce detergents”. On the left side. “Reduce, Recicla, Reusa. Respeto al mar Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. Respect the Sea”. Right Side: “No quemes plástico No. Paz. Alegría. Don’t burn plastic. Peace. Happiness Come sano. Come frutas y verduras, así no tires basura de paquetes. Eat fruit and vegetables. This way you won’t throw out packaging waste.”. Below the Virgin’s robe: No tires basura. Aunque no la veas, Existe! Don’t throw out garbage. Although you don’t see it, it exists!  She was really on her soap box –  as much as she was painted on a soap box!

Another one showed up even more recently at the Eclipse Cyber Cafe. The painting and lettering matched the other signs. She was the same robed Virgin surrounded by her aura. This time called Nuestra Señora de Ecología y Paz. The campaign had pushed up the rewards of the campaign a notch to grant Peace. Scribed was the heartfelt message – “Yelapa es un paraíso. Hazlo tuyo para mantenerlo así. Yelapa is a paradise. Do your part to maintain it so. Evita la basura, come frutas y verduras. Avoid garbage, eat fruit and vegetables”.  The protagonist had also lettered another sign with a simple human figure, oddly female, leaning over in a potty arch – with a slash through the figure – No Public Washroom!

Izabel, the fire dancer at the Eclipse, was my principal suspect. She confirmed her culpability. “What can I do to make people realize. I’m tired of not doing anything.” Her approach was brilliant. I think it needs to be followed up with a campaign in the schools. Or some such rebel initiates who would like to follow up with more folk art, perhaps at the elementary school level. I’m just starting an English class for kids, at their request. What they don’t know is that I’m focusing on the outdoors and making them super-environmentalists!

Keep an eye out for Izabel’s street art campaign. She’s making life-sized Virgins now, so she’ll fill the visual landscape with her message. At press time, she produced another Virgin in the night sky standing on the horizontal crescent moon, with a prayer printed on the back.

“Oh, little Virgin of the Green Valleys. I ask you to make me conscious of the damage that I do with my garbage.

I promise you I will recycle, reuse and reduce all my packages, containers, detergents, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, diapers and other inorganics.

Make me feel the benefits of a healthy life, doing exercise and without eating junk food that creates garbage.

Make me see beyond the television to understand that you, Mother Earth, give me food and oxygen in order to sigh before your greatness.

Make me understand overpopulation. I promise you to take care of myself and to prepare myself to have a child to whom I can give the opportunity to improve himself.

Make me recognize that the less I need, the more I have.

Places like Mexico there are not two, but there’s only one planet and one life!”

I loved the poetry (it’s far prettier in Spanish) and the little Virgin in the night sky. So I bought this piece. We’ll be reproducing and disseminating it as postcards or bookmarks. It will also help her continue her campaign. I suggested she speak to the priest about including her life sized virgin in the church. This might seem radical, but I went to a baptism here and the priest talked about saving the environment! I asked Rosa, whose granddaughter was baptized, if I had heard correctly. She said they’ve added care of the environment to the Second Commandment. It looks like God and the Church are officially Green!

I bought a notebook for teenagers at Office Depot with the Virgin on the cover, and under it, “Virgencita, plis jelp!” If you’d like to volunteer with some activities on the environmental theme, especially if you can contribute energy to finding solutions to our recycling problems, please help!

Juanita the Chicken.

I am more than a little embarrassed telling you friends about Juanita the chicken. I’d noticed over several months, a single white chicken in my yard, but didn’t pay it much attention. Then one day in February, I really watched her. She was on her own, as always. She made no noise, since there was no one to communicate to. She was very neat and clean, quite pretty in fact, in her clean little white chicken way. She was very industrious, rushing from plant to bug to compost pile. I admired her hard work in finding her food and making her own way.

No bossy rooster herding her around with the others. That flock of hens from down below, with their big white rooster, beautifully white with rusty feathers in the head and as a collar, did come up frequently; since I began putting out food for the wild cats, a little too frequently. His hens didn’t compare. One of them looked like she was far past being of service and should be in the geriatric home for chickens. None really looked in great shape, except him, oddly enough. I’ve always been a skeptic about benefits of being part of a herd.

Well, that one white hen was doing very well without the pack. She didn’t need a rooster to show her where the food was. She didn’t need his protection. And she probably was having a very good time out there with all the food she found on her own. Probably slept well too without all that crowing!

I suddenly realized I really related to this chicken. I actually liked this chicken. She wasn’t just a chicken anymore. She was ME, in the chicken world. I started calling her Juanita. I realized how much I myself had strayed from the pack and how much I cherished my independence.  At last, freedom and liberty from roosters and the pack. Oh, my God. It all boiled down to that. There I was … a chicken, a very valiente, independent, well-fed, good looking chicken, proudly making her own way among the grubs.

I guess I should try talking to her. She might be a little lonely, at times, like me. I must be lonely, especially if I think I should be talking to the chicken. I’ll have to learn “chicken”, I suppose. Probably in Spanish.

I could be on the fringe like my friend, Paris. She lives happily 10 km off the hydroelectric grid in British Columbia, with no telephone and few visitors. She once told me her tale of isolation. She admitted that in the mornings she’d put a chair in the chicken pen and sit and talk with the chickens. That stopped when her husband found her one day and sent her to work two days a week to socialize a bit more.

You, my friends, I hope will tell me if I’ve really gone too far out there in my chicken thinking and will bring me around, if necessary. Check me into a “get well” clinic for people with animal disorders or tendencies. When they ask ” Why don’t you straighten her out?”, please don’t say “Sorry, we’d really like to, but we need the eggs!”

Mother’s Day In San Sebastian

The local school band has been practicing all week here in the little mountain village of San Sebastian del Oeste 70 km east of PV. They’re youngsters and it was obvious they were still learning. Last night I found out what for. At three a.m. there was a pounding, banging, cacophony of noise or ruido outside my hotel window. The band was playing with lots of spirit. Las Mañanitas, little morning songs, was the song, usually a serenade in the early morning for birthdays. But it’s also used for Mother’s Day. They added some very energetic other marching band tunes and a popular one called chameleon that I recognized. They didn’t go away as hoped for after the first joyful novelty was over.

It was a few hours before they had finished marching all corners and the many alleyways of this small town. Then they crisscrossed the town once more with gusto or pleasure just for good measure. Just as I was getting used to their distant echoing presence, hark! Another band. This one was a mariachi band with real musicians. By now it was 5:30 a.m. the roosters were wakening, as were the barking dogs, and from somewhere church bells were pealing.

There was nothing to do but get up. I put on several uncoordinated layers over and under my night dress, and with a final 2 shawls over the shoulders went to find who was being serenaded. On the way I saw the tuba player of the school band in back of a pick-up headed home exhausted.

Three blocks up the street I found the mariachi band on the patio of a lovely old adobe house – not a wealthy family as seen by the old 1960s car at the side, the tin patches over holes in the rough, unfinished adobe. They and their audience were blocked from view by a border of ferns, geraniums and impatiens plants. There was lots of laughter and the mother’s voice was clearly heard making song requests. Their abundance was obvious.

I sat outside the house on a border of rocks looking up at the patio. The full moon lit the house with color from the garden, with purple bougainvillea hanging over most of the cobble fence. It was achingly beautiful, while sitting there amidst such happiness, to hear the songs sung in reverence of beauty and love in those lovely old ballads– “alma de mi alma, que linda eres tú” soul of my soul, how pretty you are; “hermosa querido” beautiful beloved one. I sat enamored of the beauty of this night on the cold stone, worried only that I’d be spotted and then they’d surely welcome me in. I did not want to be an intruding presence in such a naturally wonderful scene. Even the family cat came out to bask appreciatively near me under the moon’s aura .

They sang another round of Las Mañanitas, a song even the youngest Mexican learns at an early age. I recalled listening to five year old Danielle in Pátzcuaro, last Mother’s Day, sing all four verses and the chorus, with three melody changes all alone without music to his glowing mother. As I reflected, the band surprised me on my perch as they noiselessly departed. I thanked them for playing so beautifully and wanted to know if they were local. “I am one of five brothers in the band from Real Alto,” one said as we walked homeward; that’s from a family of thirteen, none of whom have studied music, nor do they have musical parents. Real Alto, a village 3,000 ft above here, has only forty six people, all of them with last name Arredondo. Turns out there’s also a junior mariachi band from there with the youngest at ten years old. Almost every Mexican family has a priest, nun or musician in its fold. This band comes highly recommended. You’ll have to arrange your own sublime setting.

At ten to seven a.m. I was in bed with the roosters crowing, the earplugs firmly in and my travelling cat, Miette, warming my feet. I send a beautiful song to all mothers, present and past, as well as want-to-be-moms, by universal Mariachi around the planet.

Miette The Travelling Cat

I spent a great ten days or so in the old mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste, some of these with Samantha, a student and friend from near Guelph, Canada, who hiked, ate and took lots of pictures with me, and won many hearts. Also along was my Canadian cat, Miette. I don’t always travel with my cat. The Guadalupe fiesta from May 4 to 12th every year in Yelapa includes a morning ceremony of blasting off several cuetes in succession, bottle rocket  noise at 5 a.m. and again at 7 p.m. No animal does well with this assault. Miette is particularly terrified and flees for the hills. So, every year we are absent from Yelapa. This year I also had my roof replaced, so were doubly refugees.

This year on the eve before my planned departure back to Yelapa, I allowed Miette an unsupervised stroll in the garden in the inner courtyard of the Hotel del Puente in San Sebastian. She had spent several nights so, and always returned to sleep through the open door to my room by early morning. Not this night, however. I suspect she had noticed that we were packed to travel and it’s not her favorite thing to do.

That morning I started my Lost Cat campaign. It included ads with photos of Gata Perdida (female cat lost) and where to find me. I have a history of short visits here, and now a 10 day stretch so I certainly introduced myself in the community. Well, a fast way to meet everybody and immerse yourself in the local language is to lose an animal, although I would not recommend it. I based my operations out of Leonora’s Lonchería a stone’s throw from the hotel.

I was quite distraught. This cat has been my constant companion for twelve years, ten of these travelling in Mexico. She was a wild kitten found under my back patio in Devine, British Columbia, when I had three adult cats and no desire for another. But the moment I saw her terrified face, she put a little hook or arrow in my heart, andI knew her name. She was mine. She reciprocated, adopting me as her sole human companion for life. She remains wild to all others, hates all cats and is definitely a cat with special needs or as Mexican put it, “es muy especial”, which means very problematic and difficult. She can purr and hiss at me at the same time! Like the Saint Exupery’s Little Prince and the one cranky rose on his planet, what made the rose most important was the time he had dedicated to it.

I tried to think like her to find her. I had just read two of Isabel Allende’s youth adventure series, City of the Beasts and The Kingdom of the Dragon of Gold. It espouses “listening with the heart” to be able understand, beyond the restrictions of language. I was listening, for any guidance. I searched the roof tops, the attics, the neighbors’ courtyards, their woodpiles, even under their upstairs beds in one house. No Miette. I went out several times a day. Mexico is loud and if Miette responded to my calls, I wouldn’t have heard her during the day. So I woke in the late night or middle of the night to search. Every shadow from my flashlight looked cat-shaped.

After many hours and miles I lost weight, but I got to see some really beautiful parts of the village. The rivers are not littered with garbage as is the case of many in more populated places. People had adopted sections of it and made stairs down and little foot bridges across it. I checked the caves for the cat. I confess I was so delighted by the sights, sounds, birds and vegetation up and down the river, I often forgot that I was looking for my dear lost cat. After one such trip, I came back with the thought “Miette was not, in fact, lost, she was on a two week vacation”. She was probably hiding out, ignoring my voice, thinking “I’m just not ready to go back to the hotel or the hot, humid coast and the house where the neighbors are hemming me in with barbed wire!”

The second day of my search, people saw her just three buildings from the hotel. She came out of a drainage channel from an abandoned billiards hall; then raced through an old orchard. By the time I got there an hour later, she was no where to be seen, however, I spent the day combing the vegetation along a small stream and the back gardens along it.

I sent to Yelapa for a live trap, which arrived the next day by bus. I wanted to set it in the courtyard of the billiards hall. I told the owner I thought his place might be el refugio de mi gato the refuge for my cat. I asked his name. “Refugio,” he replied. I looked at the sign over his head at the billiards. It was called Don Gato. Señor Cat. The coincidences were too auspicious. However, the trap caught only one very loud fat cat, and the next night a very furry tlacuache or opossum. On the coast they’re ratty scaly-looking animals.  I told friends if I didn’t find the cat, I might take back a furry possum for a pet.

On the fifth night clouds loomed overhead. “It’s not the rainy season,” people said. “It never rains in May.” It poured. For two nights. Poor Miette. Thereafter, at the sight of any cloud, they all said, “yes, it’s going to rain!”

It was not easy to stay positive. This was one of my worst fears – to lose Miette in a village of people. She is terrified of people. I would get dressed and head out the door and stand at an intersection not knowing which way to go. I thought she’d be in old orchards, up rivers, in the wilds somewhere. I walked the streets mostly on the outskirts of the village calling “Meeeeeeee-yettttttttt”. No answer. I was becoming La Llorona, The Crier, of San Sebastian, the Mexican legend and haunting song of a distraught mother who lost her children and her ghost was heard forever more wandering and calling up and down the river. I even bought a megaphone on Day Eight to call her in from the surrounding pine forests.

I awoke on Day Nine with an idea to make small photo cards of Miette with my numbers to call. I planned to talk with people on the periphery of the village. The second person I talked to said he and two others saw her the previous night at the Butcher’s, La Carnicería, not far from my hotel. The butcher told me she shot out from a drainage channel and up and over a 3 meter high fence. Amazing what adrenaline will do to a twelve year old cat! I talked to people up that hill. One lady saw Miette in the village zocalo or plaza the first night of the rains. Miette was looking for me in all the busy parts of town, and I was dragnetting the outskirts!  I stopped at a hotel near Don Gato’s Billiards. The woman had seen her five days earlier in the back garden. I thought, “It’s maybe too late, but I’ll try calling her.” I called. She replied instantly – from the end of the garden, possibly from an old backyard dump of old stoves, tables, chairs, all covered with years of vegetation. We called back and forth. Then after I stepped on a stove to get closer, she replied no more. Two more hours of looking along the back creek and calling were futile. At 9 p.m. I got the trap, a blanket for me to sleep out in the yard next to the scrapyard, food for me and a tin of tuna for the cat. Just at dark, she walked up to me with a quiet “meow”. She had given up being the town renegade and has been purring ever since!

What impressed me most about that whole period was how positive the townspeople were and how helpful they tried to be. I never had anyone suggest the town was overpopulated with cats and I could take any of my choosing. Or that she was just a cat. In subsequent visits they all wanted to know how Miette was doing. I took a picture for them of Miette lying in “her” lounge chair under a sun umbrella on the sunny patio off my bedroom where she faces the ocean breezes and sleeps away her days and only dreams of such adventures.

Human Swine Flu

In mid-April I heard from a Canadian friend that there was a flu in Mexico. Yelapa is off the beaten track and I don’t listen to the news here. But in another week that’s all that was talked about in the news, certainly on the internet. Once revealed, the Mexican government responded swiftly. In Mexico City where the majority of cases were, government offices, schools, any meetings including church masses, were cancelled. At first schools closed until May 6th, then extended until May 18th when a case was reported in Guadalajara. That meant a three week closure. By then there had been 1112 cases in Mexico and 42 deaths, 642 cases in the US and 1 death, 201 cases in Canada, 73 in Spain, 28 in Great Britain.

Is there a pandemic? TheWorld Health Organization met June 5th in an emergency meeting to discuss this. At that time, there were nearly 22,000 cases worldwide and only 125 deaths. In the U.S. the human flu normally results in over 36,000 deaths and over 2,000 in Canada per year. .

There is at least one dissenter concerning the reality and severity of the swine flu. Dr. Mercola ( states this is not the first time of a pandemic warning. In 1976, the swine flu produced a panic. Tamiflu anti-viral vaccine was brought out. More people died of the vaccine than the flu, and worse, a further 1,800 people were left paralysed from it. The vaccine side effects produced the same symptoms that the flu did, but only shortened the duration of the illness.  His contention is that that US has a stockpile of $2 billion dollars worth of over 20 million doses that expire this year. Great Britain has 15 million doses. The boost that sales of this drug will provide to the economy would be significant.

The cost to the nations affected – economically Mexico is being devastated. Flights were cancelled, cruise ships were cancelled (the first to come back June 25th).  There are jobs lost in the low season; however, this has started earlier and is more far-reaching than normal. Streets are empty in Puerto Vallarta.  Foreigners in the Puerto Vallarta area are working with the Social Services department to provide food packages to the needy. If you can provide, ask and I´ll send the address and email. Students returning late in the season told me horror stories of how they or their family were treated on their return – James from Boston was quarantined and kept from work for three weeks. Susan from Toronto told me her grand-daughter was photographed at the airport and became the poster child for returning Canadian from Mexico, maybe with swine flu. Then she was unable to go to school because of irate parents!

How to protect yourself without taking the Vaccine? Dr. Mercola, who has studied influenzas over the many years, recommends keeping your immune system in optimal working order by:

1. Optimize your Vitamin D levels – the best strategy to avoid infections of all kinds. He suspects vitamin D deficiency is likely the true cause of the seasonality of the flu – not the virus itself!

2. Avoid sugars and Processed Foods

3. Get Enough Rest

4. Have an Effective Tool to Counter Stress – meditate, pray, etc.

5. Exercise

6. Use Animal Based Omega-3 Fats

7. Wash your Hands

8. Eat Garlic regularly

9. Avoid Hospitals and Vaccines. Hospitals are where new bugs are likely to be found first! Vaccines for this will not be available for a minimum of six months and can have side effects.

The June 5th meeting of WHO determined the world remains in Pandemic Influenza Phase 5, with requirements:

  • “That all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.
  • Not to close borders and not to restrict international travel. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following travel to seek medical attention.
  • That the production of seasonal influenza vaccine should continue at this time, subject to re-evaluation as the situation evolves”.

The Center for Disease Control reports that it is not yet clear how serious this new virus actually is compared with other influenza viruses. On May 26 they stated that new cases in the U.S. had probably peaked, and most cases throughout the world have so far been mild relative to “seasonal flues.” But because this is a new virus, most people do not have immunity to it, and illness may eventually become more severe and widespread in different demographic and population groups as a result.

Vallarta has decided to hold an open air free concert with some of their nationally performing songsters, Alejandro Fernandez and Enrique Iglesias  among the big names today, June 20th to let the world know we’re open and alive. The latest report was there in fact are six cases of H1N1 (swine) flu in PV. No doublt there will be more.  They’re expecting 65,000 people to attend the concert. I’d really like to go, but … I’ve got a flu.

Witnessing the devastation to the economy here in Mexico, we can all hope that this virus continues to be mild, and that rational minds prevail in terms of cancelling travel plans and closing the borders..

Come visit us here in Yelapa, Mexico

Yelapa English Spanish Institute offers Weekly Classes, 15 hrs over five days, Monday to Friday, also Weekend Courses, and Spanish Study Tours to Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Monarch Butterflies in Wintering Areas in Michoacan, Mountain villages near Puerto Vallarta, etc.   Check the website for the details. I look forward to meeting you or seeing you again, and come visit Juanita the Chicken!!

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