Thursday, January 31, 2008


I always try too hard to write about "something." It may be making my blog kind of boring.

The ones I love to read are the ones that talk about ordinary journeys of the heart...the ones that have cool photos...or cool craft ideas... I don't want to know what my blog pals think about the US Presidential Elections or The War in The Middle East (unless, of course, they are exceptionally profound thoughts.) I like looking through their slices of ordinary life.

Here's my disjointed "nothing" entry for the day:

- during dinner with the Only Japanese Family that lives in this village, the wife tells me that a Canadian woman complained about their (the Japanese) sushi not being "real." These are the same ones who tell us about such and such a restaurant having The Best Tacos because they are, and I quote, "just like Del Taco's."

- met a local girl whose great-grandparent (I can't remember which one) is Japanese! How did he/she come to marry a Mexican all those decades ago?

- BigDog has been down with something since night before last. His stomach is all bloated and he's been in pain for too long. The former nurse we share the house with recommended Ciprain. Only after I bought a box of the stuff at at the local farmacia did I go online to find out that it's an antibiotic and you really need a doctor's prescription to buy it. (Loads of prescription medicines are available OTC in many countries.) What's more disturbing is that side effects include headache, insomnia, dizziness, depression, HALLUCINATIONS, PSYCHOTIC REACTIONS AND CONNECTIVE TISSUE INJURY! As if BigDog needs anything to trigger a psychotic reaction! As if I need anything to trigger a psychotic reaction in him! I am this far from tossing the newly purchased packages of the stuff.

- I love the new comic series I am drawing about Fartman, the Surfer Guy. He's a super-hero and even has a theme song that you can sing to "Popeye, The Sailor Man."

- A Mexican couple came to look at the house we are in. They may buy it. The owner of this casa and his wife had a messy divorce that prevented either of them from living here. I had heard that he couldn't really sell it either. Guess we were wrong. I hope we don't get kicked out prematurely.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Night of the Tortugas

In Japan, the crane is an auspicious animal and you'll see crane images on serving bowls, kimono, carvings, and most of all, wedding cards. Their courtship rituals are breathtaking and you wouldn't dance like that for just anyone. Cranes mate for life.

The other "auspicious" animal is the turtle. I don't think they have tortoises in Japan -- just sea turtles. They represent longevity and are a constant motif. Anyone familiar with Japanese folk tales will know the story of Urashima Taro, a fisherman who saved a turtle from bullying kids and was rewarded with a trip to the Underwater Palace, filled with all things wonderful. It was so wonderful that he lost his sense of time and when he finally got homesick enough to ask the turtle to take him back, it had been a hundred years or more. (Actually, in the fairy tale, he was sent back with a gift box. As soon as he opened the box, he turned into the old man he really was and came to his senses and realized that he'd been gone a looooong time and no one he knew was alive in his village anymore. Why are fairy tales so dark and cruel? Won't kids believe that turtles are evil creatures to be bullied after hearing this story?)

Sadly, in real life, there is nothing auspicious about either cranes or turtles. There are fewer than 2000 Japanese Cranes in the world. On top of all the "regular" factors decimating animal populations, this species has the added burden of politics. Japan and Russia have long been in dispute over the islands that are the habitat of these stately creatures. (You really do want to take the idiot politicians out to the Kuril Islands and have them watch these birds. Maybe it would help them put their differences aside. Maybe they'll just say "Oh, to heck with it. Let the birds have the islands." Maybe they'll even agree to make it an international crane sanctuary. ........and maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt. Sigh.)

But more on cranes another day. Many marine turtles are also on the brink of extinction and last night was the Night of the Tortugas.

"Hey, the tourist police are trying to round up volunteers to help release turtle hatchlings tonight. Wanna come?"
One of the Canadian dry campers who come down like migrating geese to these shores for the winter, Eagle, spotted us on the dusty street as Big Dog and I were heading home from our grocery shopping.

"You can ride with us if you want."

At 5pm, we were gathered in the jardin, around the police truck. They would lead a convoy of vehicles to one of the several turtle rescue outreach offices dotted along this coast. "Costa Alegre," as this stretch between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo is called, turns out to be a marketers' name. It was once known as Costa Careyes, after the carey, or hawksbill, turtle.

The police led us off the highway, onto a hidden dirt road that wound its way through a giant banana plantation. Both sides of the road were thick with banana plants, newspaper and plastic bags protecting the ripening bananas. After passing through a tiny village with laughing, waving kids, we came to a mushy, mosquito-infested estuary. A small boat with motor was there to take us to the other side, but since it could only take 5 or 6 at a time, the rest of us were stranded there, swatting at mosquitos that found our sweet flesh in no time at all.

We were nearly the last ones to get across and the remaining light had dwindled to a soft sliver of orange on the horizon. Yellow light seeped out from the "office," a canvas tent on the beach.

"Let's go look at the babies!" I ran up the beach to the office. Next to the office was a fenced off area. This must be the incubation site. Foot-long sticks poked out in orderly rows in some areas. That must be to mark the eggs.

Inside the office, in a large plastic tub, were dozens of hatchlings squirming about.

"The smaller ones are called golfino and the larger ones are laud. They are the largest turtle in the world," explained one of the conservation staff.

It was completely dark now and we were still waiting.

"We're waiting for the President," I overheard one Mexican explaining to an impatient gringa. There was some back and forth before it was made clear that we weren't really waiting for the President of Mexico, but a county official. Mayor? Governor? The details were lost in the cracks between English and Spanish.

"This whole thing was arranged as a photo op," I whispered to Big Dog. "We're just props."

"Well. whatever it takes," he whispered back. "If we can be the props to keep the conservation budgets coming, if we can be the props to raise awareness, it's all good." He paused and added, "I knew that machine gun was there for something!"

While we were being bitten by mosquitos, Big Dog had spotted a policeman toting a machine gun and went to talk to him. ("Donde esta la guerra?")

"He said it was dangerous south of Manzanillo, but he didn't have the machine gun because of banditos or whatever on this beach!"

Eventually, the "President" and his entourage arrived and we gathered around Senor Tortuga, as I called the moustachioed head of operations. He gave a quick bilingual lecture (quite impressive!) about their operation and the turtles. How we have to release them at night so the predators are less likely to get them, how the babies have a tiny hole on the underside on its shell where they will gather information about the water, sand and coordinates so they can return to the very same beach to give birth when the time comes, how the laud (leatherbacks) can grow to the size of Volkswagen Beetles, that there are four laud females that currently nest on this beach (quite impressive when there are only about 34,000 nesting females in the entire world).....

Left to themselves, the babies will poke their way out of the shells but will not come out of the sand during the day. They wait until the sand has cooled down. Then, in the night, they move en masse to the water. Scientists believe the "imprinting" is a chemical process that allows the turtles to memorize sand conditions so they can return. Once in the water, they have a week's worth of reserve nutrients before they have to find nutrient-rich feeding zones. Their first year is a mystery -- they just seem to disappear off the radar and biologist don't know much about this period in their lives.

Senor Tortuga showed us how to hold the hatchlings before we place them on the sand while his assistants passed out baby turtles, first to the children there.

"You can even give yours a name, if you want," he continued. "OK. Now, on the count of three, put your baby turtles on the sand, pointing towards the ocean. Uno, dos, tres!"

The kids scrambled down the slope of the beach towards the water, each one placing his or her turtle on the sand. Flashlight beams zig-zagged across the beach, illuminating the beginning of an awesome voyage. Some were strong and pumped their way quickly to the waves. Each time a wave came up to a turtle, we oohed and aahed. Some were not as strong, or they would turn around and head back up. Some had to be helped along. Others would be pushed back by a wave. How many would make it back to this beach in ten, twenty, even fifty years?

Now, the adults were allowed to take a turtle and put it on the sand. It was dark and a little chaotic. I was so freaked out about somebody stepping onto a baby turtle by mistake in the darkness that all I could do was squat on the sand, near a struggling little guy, shielding it with my body. Now, if someone stepped too close to the turtle, they would fall on me instead. Eventually, the initial madness waned enough for me to get a laud baby of my own.

It was roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes (terrible comparison, but in Japan, they always put a pack of cigarettes next to something when they want to show its relative size!) I was impressed with the strength it packed in such a tiny body. Mr. Tortuga was right. You had to press down on its shell to keep it from flipping off your hand. Walking closer to the waves, I placed her (I hoped it was a "her") on the sand.

"Go, sweetie, go!" I cheered inside as she crawled towards the ocean. She seemed determined. "Go, go, go! Allez, allez, allez!"

Watching her struggle towards the water filled me with wonder. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was glad it was as dark as it was.

"Voy, vas, va, vamos, van!" Sometimes happiness will make a person incredibly silly.

I wished with all my heart that she will be protected from predators, will find a safe haven and lots of food, and one day, a mate. I prayed for my father's spirit, my grandmothers', my dead brother's and unborn children's spirits to guard her from danger. Why should our spirits go up to the sky? We are born of water. We are of this earth. When we go, why shouldn't we return to the Great Mother?

I released a few more golfino (olive ridley) turtles, watching them crawl into the big, dark ocean.

"Be strong! Live long!" my heart cried out. It will be a long, scary night. How will they survive it? How will they survive beyond? I imagined them in the dark waters, tossed about by the waves, fighting for their lives, all alone.

But perhaps we are the ones who need their strength more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Divided Nations

I'd like to say our little fishing village turns into a mini United Nations during the winter months. Well, maybe not United Nations, but a Pan-American Cooperative. But such is not the case. You pick up little barbs in conversations with the gringos about the Canadians (if the speaker is American) or Americans (if the speaker is Canadian -- and they don't think the term "gringo" ever applies to Canadians) or the Francophones (if the speaker is an English speaker) and although my French is not good enough to converse with the Quebequois (and unlike the French of my Parisian friends, I find theirs nearly impossible to understand) they are probably saying similar things about the English speakers. Everyone seems to be in a competition over who is more in touch with the locals.

At the north end of the beach, there is a funky dry camp area. For those unfamiliar with RV life, it means that it's a place where RVs can park but there are no facilities, no hookups. They pay a small fee to the family that owns that strip of turf, get a hole dug in the ground for their waste (a questionable practice at best) and get their water from the agua truck and propane from the propane truck (both with jingles blaring from loudspeakers mounted on their trucks.) This is an unofficial "no generator" zone, as well, so if you stumble upon it and fire up your generator at night, you will be bad vibed out of there in no time at all.

But there are more walls between more groups:
Seasonal versus year-round non-Mexicans
Big Rig RVs versus Small Rig Campers
Businesses (mostly restaurants) run by non-Mexicans for non-Mexicans versus Businesses run by Mexicans for non-Mexicans

No wonder the world is such a mess. If people can't be friends with each other here, where life is easy and laid back.... What's more, it's those who have the most in common who want to divide themselves. Bizarre. I haven't really heard any negative comments from Mexicans about any non-Mexicans, but then again, my Spanish is so retarded I could never have that deep a conversation. (Yesterday, we had the longest conversation with a stranger from Guadalajara as we were doing a beach clean-up as part of our morning walk. He was embarrassed by how the locals who come here on weekends trash the beach so much. Big Dog did most of the talking, with my interjecting a few "Si!" "Claro!" "Bueno!" and such. I wanted to tell him that actually, this was pretty minimal compared to all the industrial waste the Northerners spew onto the planet, but it will be a while before I have that much vocabulary!)

There's a Chinese-Mexican dentist/doctor family that looks after both the locals and visitors. And there's a Japanese guy who runs a restaurant by the highway. Everyone seems to like them and have nothing disparaging to say. Maybe Asians are too much of a minority to be anything but a novelty here where I am known only as La Japonesa and Big Dog is probably known as El Gringo de La Japonesa.

"Why are they so petty?" Big Dog wonders about the Other Gringos. He feels immune from it all and hangs out with everyone. Who knows what they say behind our backs. We don't care.

Everyone seems to hate Bush. Shouldn't that unite us all?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Frozen Music

"I call architecture frozen music," wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I used that line in an article I wrote for a Japanese music magazine two years ago when I was living in this very same Mexican fishing village. The little cinderblock houses, all in a state of mild disrepair, seemed to be built out of bits of mariachi music, the Tarzan yells of the agua vendor (I can hear it now in the distance as I write this), the plonk-plonk-plonk of the propane gas truck, the lopsided "Alley Cat" coming out of the little red ice cream scooter-truck, the crowing of our non-chronistic roosters, the nightly "dog-net" surf-barking through the air...

I imagined the exposed re-bar on all the roofs to be some sort of prayer for a better tomorrow, when there will more babies, and hopefully, more money for that second-story -- or third-story -- add-on.

And then one day, someone tells me. "It's for tax reasons. The house is 'unfinished' and therefore has a lower tax rate."


Sunday, January 13, 2008

What I Love Most...

...about this place is how content everyone seems to be.

The US is a country of aspirations. Everyone is trying to get ahead, get a better deal out of life. If that were all, it would be okay, but there are too many disgruntled people who feel like they have gotten the short end of the stick, that life somehow owes them more, that they deserve better than they have. That kind of dissatisfaction with life creates a negative energy field.

In poorer countries, you feel it, too. And if you come from what the locals perceive as a "rich" country, than they see you as a source of wealth. Whether it's a market for your cheap sunglasses, a ride for your taxi, the cash in your pocket or whatever, that vibe is a barrier between me and the country, its people and culture.

Rural Mexico, on the surface, also looks like a "poorer" country. The roads are unpaved and dusty, the houses unfinished, many live in rather rudimentary conditions. But unlike so much of the rest of the world, rural Mexico is very "rich." The people in this village seem completely content with their lives. I, too, feel like I have been given so much more than I ever expected and more than I probably deserve, so it's very, very comfortable living among people who are also as content with themselves.

Someone thought a palapa restaurant on a rock at one end of the beach might be a romantic dining spot. According to local legend, he and his brother got into a fight and now the restaurant stands abondoned. Another person had the grand idea that an theater on the malecon would be nice. Maybe that person moved to another town before it got finished.

Another time, a developer arrived to create a beachfront complex. An earthquake damaged the building before it was completed. Then the land was taken back by "the people" and the building looted for anything that was not nailed down. Whatever WAS nailed down was broken. I love that there is this big stretch of prime real estate that's a warning to future developers. The locals call it "the ruins." The locals catering to The Northerners call it "the old hotel."

Friday, January 11, 2008


Oh, there is so much to tell you about this part of "home." The people, the scenery, the food... the problem is that it's all too familiar, now. Just as one stops noticing the furniture and appliances around the house when they've been there for a while, as the novelty wears off, you forget what impressed you so much about it in the first place.

As I started to tell you in my previous post, we stumbled into this town in the fall of 2004. We'd been driving down Mex 200, with no real destination, and had stopped at a mysterious turtle sanctuary (mysterious because we never found anything that looked like a turtle sanctuary, though we drove miles and miles of dirt road and came to a pretty -- and pretty deserted -- estuary) and a couple of beach towns (also rather deserted.)

"What made us turn into this town?" Big Dog wondered the other day, as we walked around town.
"I don't know. Something pulled us in."

We drove into this village, but instead of actually driving into the central part, we kept following the road to the northeast end and then turned to the coast. There were a few thatch-roofed beach restaurants -- all seemingly abandoned -- and a big bay empty except for some pelicans. It was hot and dusty and I was thirsty, so we walked into a restaurant that actually had a living human being in it and had a beer.

"Even after that beer, we could have just kept going," I said. "Maybe it was Nasty's bungalow sign."

It was a rusted truck bed cover, leaning against a tree, advertising rooms with cocinas and agua caliente and low prices. October was still not high season and Nasty's (her real name is Nastia) was pretty cheap.

"I wonder where we might have wound up if we hadn't spent the night here..." Big Dog mused.

When we came back the following January after spending a month in Tokyo and a few weeks in the US, there was a different vibe in town. It was The Season of the Northerners. Back in October we only saw empty hotels, bungalows and apartments for rent. In January, the town was crawling with people from El Norte. 99% Caucasian. Maybe 80% Canadian (50% Anglophone versus 30% Francophone), versus 20% American. Each year, more and more appear, but I don't think the ratios are changing much. The Canadians keep to themselves as do the Americans.

It's actually quite comical. Here you are, both guests in a foreign country and yet you have this...clannishness? The Canadians don't like the Americans and the Americans don't like the Canadians. Except when there are French Canadians around. Then the English speakers will hang together in solidarity against the French speakers. All of the non-Mexicans here want to believe THEY are more Mexican, or more in tune with Mexico than other non-Mexicans. But most of them are just here for the weather and make little effort to be a part of Mexico.

"They don't even speak English!"
"They refused to speak English to me. Pissed me off!"
Big Dog and I overhear statements like that all too often. I am secretly horrified, but Big Dog will blurt out, "It IS Mexico."

Because we live in relative isolation most of the time, Big Dog does enjoy having other English speakers to socialize with, but we are here because we love the country and its people. I just wish I were more disciplined about studying Spanish.

"I wish she'd just speak English! I don't know what she's trying to say in that horrible butchered Spanish of hers!"
"Was that Spanish? I thought it was Japanese!"
Oh, I just hope the locals aren't saying things like that about me!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How we got here

Guess I took my own words TOO seriously. Haven't done much in the last 10 days. The Big Thing was moving from Mayor Dave's RV to Miss J's Casa on the northeast end of town.

One of my objectives after leaving my former life in Tokyo was to get to know my "home" better. An entire planet and I knew so little about so much of it! As I lay in bed this morning, listening to the birds, the roosters, the dogs...the trucks with their jingles about propane gas, water and melons, and, earlier, the military drill music wafting in from the camp outside of town, I realized that today, this little Mexican village is now as much my home as the ranch, the condo in LA, Tokyo or Hawaii.

It's the big difference between traveling as tourists and traveling as nomads. Tourists "visit." Nomads "live." I wanted to make more of this planet my "home" and I guess I am succeeding, albeit slowly.

Big Dog and I found this village during the fall of 2004, after a long, hard summer of renovating (nearly completely on our own) the 120-year-old Victorian he owns in Northern California. We flew into Puerto Vallarta, rented a car and just drove south on Mex 200, not really knowing where we were going. Just kept driving til the sun began to set and then we found what looked like a motel or hotel on the side of the road and pulled in for the night.

(I lost too much data when my laptop got stolen in Costa Rica, but I DO have backups for some of my pre-May 2005 writing, and the excerpt below are notes from when we first arrived on that trip.)

Land in PV, it's after 5pm. Immigration is super easy. Customs is...funny. You get your bags, then go to a customs official who is standing at something resembling a traffic light. He or she will make you push the button, which is exactly like the pedestrian crossing button, and either the red or the green light will flash. If you get green, you go through. if you get red, they search everything. Or so BT told me. but i like that it's so random and i think it's a uniquely mexican solution to uniquely mexican problems (which, i imagine might range from incompetance to corruption, but how pragmatic and sensible a solution! It's fair to all. And ensures that with the law of probability, the "bad guys" will eventually get caught if they come often enough.)

(Having just arrived in Mexico, I hadn't shed the North American stereotype of the country being crime and corruption ridden. Today, we know how much a product of American media THAT is! There is way more crime in the US!)

Futz around changing money (11.43 pesos to the dollar), then getting rental car. It's a funky manual shift car and it feels like it could break down any moment. Rattle our way out of the airport, towards PV. there are no street signs i can see and traffic is somewhat of a mess. i miss our turn that would have taken us right onto Highway 200 and we go into PV a bit. it's a post-apocalyptic Honolulu of sorts. No, more than Hawaii, it's actually more like the Philippines, but the people are bigger. The town, too, is like a bigger, gaudier, more colorful Ermita.

(Later on, I would find out how there are many similarities between Mexico and the Philippines, but that they are all superficial. Today, I don't think the Mexicans are at all like the Filipinos.)

We turn around, get on the right highway and barrel out of PV. Lots of "villas" on the way. some perched up high on a cliff, others hug the beach. Mucho new construction going on. New or old, the buildings all look kinda funky.

The scenery is gorgeous. Turquoise and sapphire, gemstone blue waters, long shorelines, rocky islands jutting out. And on the left side, the inland side, green, green, green of every tone and shade.

After Mismaloya (Night of the Iguana fame) and Boca de Tomatlan, the road curves inland. Now, we have green, green, green on both sides of the road. Orange flowers that look like small cosmos but are as prolific as the poppies of California during the spring, are everywhere. So are cow crossings. They tell you with a yellow sign that has a shadow of a hoof-less bull. it's a bit disconcerting.

We drive for almost an hour and when we get to a town called El Tuito. It was getting close to sunset, so it was time to head in for the night. We u-turn back to a hotel we had spotted and though at 300P/night was a bit pricey but there's nothing else on the horizon so we pull in. It surrounds a lush garden with a pool in the middle and has a nice feel to it tho the room is very small and we only have one tiny bed.

Walk across the street for dinner. It's a sort of bus stop and there are big buses coming and going. Little grocery shops with dark interiors stocking nearly everything from food to detergent line the road and taco vendors in front of them. A tamale cart goes by but we turn down the tamales, thinking we will find a restaurant in town. What were we thinking, turning down the tamales! because there IS no restaurant in town. Get some beers from a grocery store, drink on the street, then cruise the taco stands, finally going into a taqueria that tells us that they only have a limited menu -- tacos carne asada. That's it. But that's okay, it's what we want. They are simple tacos, small as my palm, barely seasoned. Little bits of bean, chopped onion and queso top each taco. A grilled chili on the side keeps it company. The chilis have been roasting in front of the shop so they are flavorful like you wouldn't believe...and surprisingly hot! The plates are lined in plastic wrap. i guess so they don't have to wash the plates, but I worry about all that plastic wrap ending up somewhere... i guess better than plastic or paper plates, tho.

I have 4 tiny tacos. Big Dog wolfs down 8. Then we go to a taco stand and have 2 more! Then back to the grocery store for ice cream bars. they must be locally made ones. Each ice cream bar is wrapped in a tiny wax paper bag, with an open end (stick end.) they are covered in chocolate and real coconut shavings and incredibly good! and cheap!

Back in the room, Denzel Washington is speaking eloquent Spanish on TV. It's the movie Hurricane, very well dubbed into Spanish.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


The beaches are clearing out.

During the Christmas/New Year holidays (a two week long affair here in Mexico) city folk all try to head out to the beaches. It's not nearly as crazy as Semana Santa, Easter's Holy Week, according to the locals, but the normally sleepy fishing village took on a carnival like atmosphere with the influx of tourists. More taco stands, more residences that became ad-hoc guesthouses, people crashed out on the beach, smellier alleys, empty lots that turned into parking lots...and lots and lots of umbrellas on the beach (and very few fishermen.)

We normally rent a small apartment while we're here, but this time, there was nothing available or it was priced way beyond the local economy (and therefore, ours) so we've been living out of a friend's RV. If you could ignore the dust and cat-and-dog hairs and a few fleas and maybe ticks, it's not too shabby.

Now that the town is starting to get back to normal, we are slowly getting into our normal Mexico mode. And next week, when we move into an apartment, we'll finally unpack and start getting seriously...LAZY.