We arrived at the Guadalajara airport late in November of 2003. We were tired and stunned from the long day of travel. We left our dark; quiet Atlantic Canadian home, by taxi at 4:30 in the morning with Leo, aged four, almost impossible to awaken at that hour. His little body just did not agree with getting up before dawn.
After stopping and waiting for hours and changing planes in Toronto and Houston, we were just starting a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America. Thank goodness for the small soccer ball we brought and the vastness of space in the airports for recreating with Leo. We didn’t even know the Spanish word for bathroom and I was busting to go pee. It didn’t help that Leo was asleep in my arms, his head on my shoulders with his little body sitting right on my bladder. I looked around the surprisingly clean and normal looking airport. I guess I was expecting something much, much worse. Dirtier. More people. The weight of my four-year-old was already breaking my arms. I was also feeling weighted down with money belt, fanny pack, day pack and neck pouch and it was all quite cumbersome when retrieving documents and money.
We had no reservations for a night in a hotel room. I couldn’t examine the guidebook or my handy-dandy phrase book because both of my hands were holding Leo. Dean was nearby. He was chatting (with some hint of urgency and fear behind his voice – that I could detect or maybe just imagined because that was how I was feeling) with a blond woman dressed in tight jeans and shit-kicker, pointy-toe black boots. She spoke a heavily Euro- accented English. She was Polish and her name was Jalo. She could see that we needed assistance. She was trying to help. Another man came over. He was Mexican. He too spoke English and saw that we needed help. Was it that obvious? I felt a little better…not so scared. People would help us find our way. It was like that everywhere. Good things would happen if you were good to others. The Universe would unfold to help you. I was always saying that to Leo.
We asked Jalo if she knew of the small surfing and fishing town of Sayulita. Our first destination. She did and then she related a story, which we would recall later about how to bargain for a room in the off-season. She paid $40 per night for a seaside room instead of the initial quote of $100. Score!
The Customs line was moving slowly but, the Mexican man made a phone call on his cell phone and made a reservation for us at the Best Western. He told us that the price was 950 pesos or about $95 US. We shrugged and went with it. It was a lot to spend but we couldn’t be choosy just then. We could make up for it later in the trip. We thanked the two of them profusely. Mucho, mucho gracias! The next thing we knew we had cleared Customs, used the bano (no supplied toilet paper) and were swept onto a torn vinyl rear seat of a rusted out, dusty, creaky old shit-box, with no seat belts and no remnants of seatbelts. Having learned, in advance, that we should pay only 50 pesos for the ride to the Best Western. Our precious child, Leo was between us, unbelted, no car seat, sleeping as we whirred through the dark and deserted streets of Guadalajara. My arms were tight around his little belly. The billboards were for products we have never heard of except, of course, Corona. Nothing looks familiar except, of course, Corona. Guess what I was wishing for just then? Of course, Corona. Thank goodness we had, at least, tasted this beer or we would likely feel very, very out of place. I had this large lump of fear in my body as we raced along with this old Mexican cabby who spoke no English. Had we made a good decision to come on this trip? Were we taking our only, precious, preschool son and ourselves into a needlessly dangerous situation? I swallowed the fear, smiled and leaned in closer to Dean. We were a team. We would be fine. We’d been to INDIA for goodness sakes. We could handle Mexico. All would be better when the sun came up.
The hotel room was a shade on the tight side but it was clean and had thick curtains. There were no signs of animal life under the beds or in the bano. We showered and got into bed. Dean turned on the television. All Spanish except for CNN. We fell into bed, cuddled up and fell asleep until 10:00 the next morning.
The traffic noise started very early and somewhat awakened me. Leo and Dean were still fast asleep. When Leo awakened we allowed him to turn on the television and watch some Spanish cartoons while we organized ourselves for venturing out and having breakfast and making our way to the First Class bus station. We were not used to how we had packed our backpacks and didn’t know exactly where things were. We brought too much shit with us and yet, managed to forget the small pile of tiny toys we had set aside for Leo. He was not at all happy about this oversight. Thank goodness we brought a couple of different balls, including his dollar-store suction cup ball and a small soccer ball (both of which will be with us for the whole four-month trip) and a pack of cards and the children’s version of Rush Hour by Binary Arts. I made him a couple of toys out of string and carabineer hooks. That seemed to help.
The hotel restaurant looked inviting and, even better, smelled like good coffee. In we went and out came the phrase book and the journal. We were about to enjoy our first Mexican desayuno. This is what I had written in the journal about what we did next…
…We enjoyed a marabioso desayuno—huevos rancheros y café negro para mia y café con leche para Dean. Hotcakes y leche fria para “el”– Leo. We are here! Finally, we are in Mexico! Yahoo!
After breakfast we packed up and grabbed a taxi to the bus station where we were lucky to find an English speaking Mexican to help us with the purchase of our tickets, first-class, to Puerto Vallarta. The bus was pure luxury. Videos, fully reclining seats, air-conditioning, pillow and throw-blankets. As Dean and Leo jokingly would say, This isn’t a bus, it’s a bed! ha ha. The tickets cost us about 850 pesos total. Once we were in the countryside I was agog at the beauty of the hills. Leo slept almost the whole way.
We arrived in Vallarta at around 7:30 pm and paid 280 pesos for a taxi to Sayulita (a very bad price! Considering the local buses cost around $2.) As we rolled into town I couldn’t believe how sweet this little town appeared – all colourful stucco, cobbled streets and hanging wares for sale.
Back home we had rented out our Halifax house to a young businessman from Montreal and to that end had made several trips into the attic and the basement with our personal things – we had left him a furnished, neat-as-a-pin house. Everything included: linens, plates, cutlery, pots and pans. Our car was parked in the driveway with most of the insurance coverage removed. Having set up a bit of an apartment in the basement and locked the kitchen door, we slept the night before the flight down there in order to leave the upstairs beds made fresh for his arrival. We had put so much effort into the trip already: Relatives taking care of the dogs in Newfoundland – a special trip to get them there. A friend on the street was picking up and sorting our mail and bills. Her son would shovel the snow from the sidewalk. Other friends acting as landlords and troubleshooters during our absence. All our bills were on automatic payment, except Visa, which our friend would open and email us the total so we could pay it, on-line. The Internet had transformed long-term travel. All that work was forgotten as we went forward and found new adventures in this strange, hot and interesting land.
Sayulita, Mexico. Leo, Dean and I are sitting in a beachside, open-air restaurant. We have been here for the day and have booked and paid for a small apartment with kitchen that I was able to get for $30 a night, down from $80 a night. Dean was very happy about my efforts. A good deal, or so it seems thus far. It’s a bed and breakfast place but the owner has cut out breakfast as part of the deal. No biggy. One of the patrons, upon leaving, a young surfer guy, said he had eaten about as much ham bread as he could handle. We chuckled at that.
We awoke this a.m. to gunfire at 05:37!! We had expected something because today is a Mexican holiday: Revolution Day. There was also a parade in which all of the village school children were in revolution costume—disturbingly dressed like Mexican soldiers.
Friday 21.11.03 We are at a café across from our apartment and we’ve just ordered breakfast…inflation is on the rise in this town. Everything is a tad more expensive than it should be and the sandwich boards and menu prices have all been recently increased, as in evident by the telltale stickers over the original prices.
There was a man selling fruit off the back of a truck with a loud speaker to announce his wares. I bought a few bananas and oranges for ~60 cents. Fruit is still a good deal. I had a bit of a hard time bargaining with him because of the language barrier but it was fun and got a few smiles from him.
Dean was just reading to Leo as a medium into his siesta. It was the middle of the day and so hot it was impossible to stay out of doors. Leo said, instead of watching television everyday, I want to read. I love this book. We were reading A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle. It was one of my favourites as a child too, which is special.
I was feeling a little disenchanted this morning, with travel. It’s much more expensive than we thought and it is over-run. The people are being exploited; the children walk around eating DORITOS and other junk like Coca-cola. There are empty plastic water bottles everywhere you turn. I actually said to Dean, Let’s go to Europe. To Portugal. He just laughed. He knows my moods.
After breakfast though, we went to Playa del Muerta (beach of the dead, so named because to get there one must hike through the cemetery). It is about a 10-minute walk south of here. What a beautiful beach for children. Leo was in the water for about 1-½ hours straight. We did some floats together. The waves crashed right over his head and washed him along and he just giggled. He did have a bit of a hard time with the salty water stinging his eyes but then he started to accept it. There is another slight annoyance: jellyfish tentacles, which have broken away from the fish and they sting a tiny bit as they brush the skin. It is akin to the bite of red ants but not quite as bad. There’s not much to be done. In the event of a serious sting, rubbing hot sand and /or peeing on the area takes care of it.
Sunday 30 Nov 2003 an email message to home:
How is everyone up there in reality-land? It was so good to read your news just now. I’m sitting here in my bikini and sarong and have a tear glistening in my eyes to hear news of our loved ones from their respective homes. Thanks so much for letting us know how you’re doing…
As for us…life could not get much more hellish. It’s all just more of the same old stuff. Sun. Sand. Sea. Little Adventures. Cheap Corona (65 cents each) yadda, yadda, yadda. I think we’re all getting a little too fat with all the burritos, tacos and nachos.
Leo’s foot is completely heeled and the flip-flops and salt water were the ticket. (Leo had stepped on a fire ant which had promptly stung him and made him cry. There was a tiny sore on the bottom of his foot which hurt him badly.)
So the other night I couldn’t sleep after hitting the pillow at around 8:30 pm, I awoke in the wee hours to read while Dean and Leo snored away. (I just finished that particular book, a good one for someone like me, by Po Bronson, WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE?) and my eye caught movement above the edge of my book…el cucaracha (yes cockroach!) and he was a cool 4 inches long, at least. There he was, just a crawling along the windowsill and then along the top of the bathroom doorframe and then do-da-do across the wall and along the floor. At that point I had scrambled up off the mattress and grabbed Dean’s shoe and lo siento (so sorry) el cucarache…it was exactly then that he met his demise. SLAP and CRUNCH.
Enough details for you? We have seen lots of weird and wonderful insect, flora and fauna life here. Some not so pretty, as I just related. Definitely not in Kansas anymore. The geckos are super cute but do send a shiver down one’s spine when one sees them out of the corner of one’s eye…can anyone relate?
We are scheduled to hop a bus south in a couple of days. We’re just going to hop along day by day, or every couple of days, and stay here and there and get into some more authentic-type situations and out of tourist land. The Spanish lessons have been most helpful and we’re both feeling pretty good about our ability to buy bus tickets, food, beer, necessities, find a hotel room and ask directions to the bano and all that. I’m sure we’ll be picking up more as the days slide by. It is amazing how much our French has come in handy when learning to conjugate verbs and what not. There are many similarities.
Dean is doing fabulously and you’d never know he had a hernia removed last month. He went for another run today and is getting back into shape. He’s very happy about that. Swimming has been very helpful too.
Gotta run! Time is up…
Love and hugs and best wishes,
Morgan, Dean and Leo
Saturday 13 Dec 2003
La Cucaracha Report
Buenos Dias!!!, one and all….
Sorry it’s been so long and so quiet…but get ready for a small tome. We have so much material you may as well start yawning right now! First of all, this key board really sucks so don’t expect proper punctuation and capitals at the beginning of all sentences…shall we move past that—okay where the heck is the question mark…forget it.
Secondly, we’re now down in Puerto Escondido on the southern rim of the pacific in Oaxaca state –pronounced wah haka. and all is well and very very hot. as they say in Australia, its stinking hot…I am sitting here while Leo is having his daily siesta, I have an ice cold marguerita next to the key board but can’t find my shaker of salt. oh well. life is tough. This is only my third marguerita of this whole trip so don’t go envisioning us partying all the time. the only reason I mention it is to add that I am dying with the flu. Dean just passed it on to me and Leo will likely be next. it is weird having a runny nose, fever and the chills in this kind of climate. the pool and the ocean and the cheap coronas and marguerites really help though. ha ha ha
we spent a week in a town called Barra de Navidad, which was wonderful. We stayed at a hotel owned and operated by a German man who was an Olympic swimmer in the 60s. He was always commenting to us on Leo’s swimming ability –which, by the way, he is now swimming like a little fish—and during a soccer match that he and Dean went to, he admitted his past. He then offered to give Leo a couple of lessons in the hotel pool. we were literally jumping for joy to have this world record holder, Gerhard Henz, give our little sweety a couple of lessons. it went very well and will always be remembered. Barra and the HOTEL DELPHIN is quite the spot. The town has been built on a huge sand bar and has a nice calm beach which, when we weren’t in Gerhard’s pool, we were in the ocean. the soccer match, mentioned above was between the national women’s team for Mexico and the Barra men’s team. score 0 – 0.
To get down here to Escondido, which by the way, is the most beautiful beach town we have been in yet, we had to take a 14 hour, very crowded, second-class bus from Manzanillo to Acapulco. Leo slept the whole way, some of it on our laps and when some people got off the bus we would switch around and grab some zzzs in a free seat. that was when Dean’s flu decided to hit so he was suffering even worse than I. it may have been that we were seated right beside the toilets at the back of the bus and the door continuously slapped open and shut –in tune with my eyelids– and when it was open there was this no deliciouso perfume wafting over us and the toilet itself spoke to us, all night, much like a sucking chest wound. not pretty. no guapo. definitely not.
in Acapulco we really treated ourselves in taking Leo to a huge air-conditioned shopping mall and buying him three new toys. he has been such a trooper and hardly ever complaining. we then had a huge meal at a good restaurant where the wait staff couldn’t pull their eyes off Leo and kept saying el guapo, el muy guapo…translation –he’s beautiful, he’s very beautiful. these people love children so much, it is unbelievable. They embrace us as a family and very much respect our little travelling unit. it is lovely.
from Acapulco we got on a five-hour bus ride to a tiny town and found a clean hotel, then went out for a meal. it was amazing in this little town. the road side restaurant had no printed menu so this waitress or owner had to come over and tell us, in a sweet little voice with a few words here and there in English, what she had to offer –which wasn’t much–but it was all they had and we enjoyed it. hand-patted, flour tortillas with beans and cheese. Leo had a huge fried banana with honey and a fresh squeezed orange juice. the juicer was exactly like the one mom used to use at the lake. after that we fell into our beds like the dead. fireworks woke us up around 7 am. some sort of celebration going on. There’s a lot of those this time of year.
Next, the sweet voiced patron from the night before showed us, on her own initiative, to the bus station and made sure we were getting on the correct but to Escondido. unfortunately, the only bus available was a chicken bus…now our adventures were getting very interesting. Here’s the lay out of the bus. dirty, noisy, broken seats, no bathroom and definitely no pre-packaged little bagged lunch and cold soft drink like they gave us on first class from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta. thank goodness it was only a 7-hour journey with many, many mucho milk stops. suffice to say we have now tried several different levels of restroom in various tiny, dusty, sleepy towns down the Mexican pacific coast.
At one point, I was thinking about all you musicians out there as a smiling hombre boarded the bus with guitar and I couldn’t help myself but yelled out, musica, musica…he was all over us like a fat cucaracha on a discarded smarty. he stood in the aisle, beside us, on a very bumpy ride and played several heartfelt Mexican tunes. when he paused I, of course, ¨ asked him to play feliz navidad and HE DID! when he came to the English part…I wanna wish you a merry Christmas…he paused and I belted it out. great acoustics too, that chicken bus. it was something of an authentic experience, I like to think. then, he shook our hands and we offered him a small tip and he was off…
Escondido has been wonderful. We have met up with our friend Sharon from Campbellville who is here for three months. she is going to accompany us for a little while, as we go on our next little trek to Oaxaca City for Christmas and, perhaps New years. it has been great with Sharon. we did a couple hour, nice beach walk with her and all along the cliff side on a stone walk way with many hand carved stairways and bridges. we stopped for a dip in a sandy-bottomed rocky little cove with water as warm as …well, you can guess. A far cry from the north Atlantic. yesterday we walked the length of the beach in the opposite direction to a shallow, wavy cove and just rolled around and frolicked in the waves. Leo loved it. Later Leo met and played with four little Mexican girls on the beach across from our hotel and as the sun went down they played chase and mirra, mirra. Lots of giggles and touching of his blonde hair.
other than feeling yucky with this head cold or flu or whatever, it has been an amazing time so far. we are all doing wonderfully and think of all of you often.
We would so love to hear the news from home and hope that you will save up your best moments and pass them along.
All the best from down here… bye for now.
Leo is now playing with bubbles with several other children. The language of play is universal and wonderful. We are in San Cristobal where it is chilly and it is our 11th anniversary today, Christmas Eve. We are having coffee and pastries as well as chocolate rum balls in a warm local bakery. The rum balls melt in the mouth and are the best I have ever tasted. I will dream about them. There is an artist from New York sitting next to us: Victoria Behm, and, of course, she has taken to our little Leo, who is so sweet and friendly. She sees my mole-skin journal and asks if I would like a sketch for my journal. Sure.
Next stop: Guatemala.