There Are Times Like This

I’m back! I didn’t take an intentional break from this blog, it just happened. It’s the first time since starting to write here that I haven’t posted at least once a week. It feels as if I’ve neglected a best friend.

The end of June saw us madly getting our country property ready for a three week trip to Europe to visit family. I realize I like to write more reflective pieces and being in pre-departure chaos was about as far from being reflective as it gets. I know  that shouldn’t have stopped me from writing. You might have liked seeing some of the chaos in my life – makes it a whole lot more real!

Getting ready to leave on a trip at the end of June in this crazy, intense climate means that gardens have to be planted, lawns mowed, outdoor furniture painted and repaired, and the pool systems checked. It also involves enlisting a small army of people to come and take care of things while we are away.

You might think from the above that we’re super organized and maybe even a little smart, but this has only come about from a whole series of disasters in the past. We returned one year to a green pool that took the whole rest of the summer to return to its original blue and be swimmable.  We have also returned to gardens that were so overrun with weeds that I wanted to weep.

Since I didn’t take you along  with my words, I thought I would share some pictures of our adventures this last month.

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We started out in the UK but quickly winged our way to Menorca for a family beach holiday.

The days were full: swimming, playing in the sand, going to the wading pool. In between, we tried to catch glimpses of the World Cup soccer matches and make some delicious adult food.

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This paella made by my son-in-law was by far the hit meal of the holiday.

Back in the UK, where it was nearly as hot and dry as Menorca, we found shade and quiet amongst the huge, old-growth trees at Kew Gardens.

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The twins looking at “stuff”.

As these things go, our time together came to an end. We left with heavy hearts… and very tired bodies.

We returned home to flower gardens that had completely changed their colours and a vegetable garden rewarding us for the long days of work in June.

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…………….

Sometimes I wonder how we got so lucky.

 

 

 

Things That Go Bump In the Night

And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. 

Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)

Night noises can usually be explained when I’m at home in my own bed. That loud cracking that jolts me awake on the coldest of winter nights? The wood in the house getting a bit testy because of thermal contraction and expansion. The ruffling noises in the wall? Mice are in the insulation again. (I make a note to myself in my half awake state to buy a mouse trap or get another cat – which oddly seems like a good idea at two o’clock in the morning.) The distant rumbling sound? One of the few trains that ply the tracks in this mountain valley. Yes, all the night sounds are usually explainable and only a minor distraction.

Night noises here in Mexico take on a whole new level of urgency. On one of the first nights here as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud chirping/cackling sound coming from the bathroom, which just happens to be located about a foot and a half from where I sleep. My husband nonchalantly suggested that I get up to investigate. Was he kidding me? I keep  a flashlight beside me at night so that I don’t unwittingly step on a scorpion if I have to get up, but what good could that possibly do if I met this?

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Or this.

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Or this.

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Or worse…

I lay there for awhile contemplating my options and decided that I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I might as well take a peek. Picking up my flashlight, I tentatively moved the curtain aside and….saw nothing on the floor, or in the shower, or in the sink. I’m breathing by now and the beams from my flashlight probe the walls. That’s when I see this.

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Our resident gecko. Who knew a little-ish thing could make such loud, disturbing sounds?

Feeling calmer now, I decided to return to bed. I climbed in, turned off my flashlight and put it safely back under my pillow.

Let the wild rumpus start!

The Living Village

I grew up in a small town.  I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing  the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement.  It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.

I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.

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The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.

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Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.

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One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.

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The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one.  I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent.  It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.

It’s nice and I miss it.

What Kind of a Traveller Are You?

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A lone street light illuminates the walk home after dinner. (Yelapa, Mexico)

A confession: I have never gone on an all inclusive holiday, been part of a group travel package, or taken a cruise. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, it’s just that I haven’t been drawn to them.

I am not the kind of traveller who needs to be up at 6:00 in the morning to make an early start on seeing all the sights and tourist attractions. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. For me, most days start with a morning stroll to a local café or breakfast spot. I’ll see where the day takes me from there. Sometimes it’s a trip to a market (I always check out those) or a walk to a waterfall, or vineyard or….

I do check out a destination before I visit and may have a rough plan of some of the places that I might like to see, but there is nothing set in stone and I’m rarely disappointed if my trip is over and I haven’t managed to see or do the things on my list. That’s because most of the things I ended up doing were spontaneous, suggested by locals, or experiences I just happened upon that were so much more appealing than anything I read in a book or saw online.

There are always adventures to be had when travelling, especially if you find yourself off the beaten path. You might have to share your chair with something like this.

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Or guard your bananas against night time visitors.

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But, oh the stories you’ll have to tell!

What kind of traveller are you?

Mini Breaks and Short Escapes

We all live busy lives and I have come to  believe that taking a mini break is some of  the best self care we can offer ourselves.  We live in the mountains,  so for us an escape to big water seems to be what we crave. We are lucky enough to live near a large lake and are only a five hour drive to the coast. These are our “go to” places when we are in escape mode.

We are currently visiting friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  Whenever a short escape involves a ferry ride, I know I’m onto a really good thing. Leaving the mainland is such a symbolic way of letting go.

With the mind hushed there is so much more space to experience sounds and smells and changing lights. We visited a beach here called Lucy Vincent on our first morning.

IMG_0379The dramatic rock formations, ethereal in the early morning.

We try not to have too much of an agenda when we are away. For us, it’s not about doing or seeing but more about being.

Our sail in the fog the next day certainly took away most of our visual references.

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It became foggier and foggier as we left the mooring and entered the big water. It was as if the sun had burnt a hole in the fog just above us to let the light in, but all else was veiled.

IMG_1265Ghost ship in the fog.

We moved silently in nature’s spotlight. Without the usual visual cues, sounds became so much more intense…and important: foghorns and the bells on the buoys and engine rumbles in the distance were our only points of reference. (For all of you sailors who might be worried, yes, we did have radar.)

Short escapes are all about these sensory experiences that take us “away’ however briefly.  It reminds me of the children’s story Frederick by Leo Lionni. While all the other mice are busy gathering food for the winter, Frederick is gathering colours and words because the winters are grey and long.

We might not have been furthering our winter preparations  these last few days, but we have been filling with colours and words. We will bring these out on some cold winter day to give us nourishment of a different kind.

 

 

 

And We’re Off!

IMG_2744Baggage is on, fuel is loaded and we’re ready to go.

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We’re off to the country of double decker buses and……                                                              

IMG_2755 double decker strollers.

Needless to say we have been a tad busy, but did manage to take in Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.

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and visit  John Singer Sargent The Watercolours at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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When we were entering the gallery we ran into Ben Wilson the London bubblegum street artist refreshing one of his designs. He was happy to chat about his art and life on the street.

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And here I am taking advantage of a quiet moment waiting for the train at the end of another  busy day.

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We’re Off to London…and You’re Coming Too!

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We’re off to London and you’re coming too! In a few days we will be in Richmond (south-west of London) visiting my daughter and her family. I am beyond excited to see my three grandsons, two of whom we haven’t seen since they were born in September. Yup, twins and a three year old. Almost guarantees that there will be a child in my arms during most of the waking hours.

My suitcase is open on the floor and the first clean clothes have started to be added. That’s a good sign.

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I seem to go through a number of predictable phases whenever a trip is in the offing and I thought I would share them with you.

  1. Excitement: The trip is booked and there is no turning back. Almost time to unleash the moorings and let the wind catch the sails.
  2. Wardrobe Crisis: I know the trip is real when this very predictable phase begins. Living here in the country, my wardrobe in the summer consists mostly of old t-shirts, stained pants, and slip on shoes that I can wear in the gardens. Not exactly big city worthy! Time to replenish and uplift my wardrobe. For the summer, this means finding a couple of dresses and skirts that are the right measure of casual, updating the t-shirts and making sure I have good walking shoes and sandals that I can pair with it all. This wardrobe update takes most of my free time in the month or so preceding a trip because it usually involves longish drives to shopping sources close to the city.
  3. Gifts bought: For this trip that means toys and clothes for the grandchildren. The three year old has already told his mother we always bring him lots of toys in our suitcase. No pressure!
  4. Overwhelm: This is the hardest phase and has me wanting to stay in bed with a pillow pulled over my head. For some reason, I feel I have to put my whole life in order before undertaking any trip. And in the country, on a large property, nothing is all that orderly in the summer. In addition, it means making sure my 96 year old mother has all the support and books and money she needs to tide her over while I am away. Throw in a birthday party and a few social events and you have the set-up for number five which follows.
  5. Frazzled nerves and exhaustion: This is when I go a little crazy and nobody really wants to be around me.  I don’t even want to be around me.
  6. Excitement: This last phase which also happens to be the same as the first only happens after the two hour drive to the airport, drop off of the car and the bags have been checked. It always entails a glass of wine or two.

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I promise you though, when we get there it’s going to be fun.

IMG_2723Whee!!

Can’t wait to show you around.

 

Shhh…Don’t Tell Anyone

Yelapa Vignettes

Yelapa (pronounced J-lapa) is located at the southernmost tip of Banderas Bay in Mexico. It turns out the geography which has made life more difficult in many ways has also been key in keeping life simple here. There are no roads that are car worthy connecting this settlement to the other towns further up and down the coast. It is rugged and mountainous and paths connect the houses built along the river valley to the town. Supplies, food and visitors come by boats which regularly do the commute between here and Puerto Vallarta forty-five minutes away. Electricity arrived in 2001 and is still limited so a flashlight is needed at night.

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This town awakes slowly. It gets lighter about 6:30 this time of year but the sun doesn’t poke above the mountains until 7:40. The Yelapa dogs are the first to rouse and spend the early morning chasing the shore birds and swimming back and forth in the river. The lucky ones find plastic bottles and bring them to the beach to greet the first visitors arriving by water taxi.

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The widest paths here are made of a very rough cobblestone and are about 3 meters wide – just wide enough to accommodate the burros/mules and small horses that ply these paths transporting people and supplies. (They are not quite wide enough for the four wheelers that are beginning to take hold here.)

We spend our mornings  hiking while it is still cool enough to explore. There is a one hour hike to the waterfall upriver that takes you on narrow, dusty, boulder strewn paths past small rancheros. The vegetation is lusher here in the river valley.

Yesterday we found the infamous mountain road to Chacala that can only be reached by truck and starts high above the village. It is a long, bumpy road that winds its way up and over the mountains. The trucks can’t get down into the village but a few are parked where the road becomes passable to them. I was trying to imagine what this trip would be like as I looked up the sinuous path and to the top of the first mountain that needed to be climbed. Not for the faint hearted.

One of our favourite walks is to the point with stunning ocean vistas. You might pass a burro or two carrying bags of cement to a building site further up the way.

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It is quiet here. The beach which is in the protected bay gets busy around noon when the IMG_2213tourist boats from Puerto Vallarta bring in the day visitors. They are gone by four and the beach chairs are mostly empty by then. The restaurants on the beach close early with only a few people lingering after hours to watch the sunset or eat at one of the beach restaurants that stay open after the tourists leave.

Yelapa is not for everyone. The terrain is mountainous and rugged and there are lots of stairs to climb. The accommodations are rustic for the most part.  But if taking a break from things a little off the beaten path appeals, this just might be the place for you. It is small and intimate and faces quickly become familiar – the waiter by night becomes the water taxi driver by day.

For this winter weary traveller, I leave Yelapa grateful that for a time I am able to “rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

*Last line courtesy of Wendell Berry and his poem The Peace of Wild Things.

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