Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Colors of the Sea

Today, my 52nd birthday, marks two weeks that we’ve been in Mexico.

Sunset from our rooftop.
After a grueling and fascinating two-day drive caravanning with my sister from San Diego to California Baja Sur, we were accompanied by an intense sunset during the last leg from La Paz to Todos Santos. In the charming downtown, we ate our initiatory Mexican dinner in an open-air restaurant. 

Then my sister led us the last ten minutes south to El Pescadero. After passing through the shadows of the tiny pueblo, we took a right on an unmarked dirt road. Our blue Subaru earned its all-wheel drive cred bumping toward the ocean in the dark. When we got to our small resort, dogs came out to greet us. We soon learned this place is dog heaven, an off-leash life.

That night, we dragged our stuff into our empty casita and collapsed on an air mattress. A few hours later, my body awoke to mattress sag. The re-inflating mechanism was so loud that my sister, whose place is next door, said she thought we were making smoothies in the middle of the night.

The next few days meant facing the reality of what we’d done. We were owners of a house in a foreign country, near an incredible beach and town—a house that needed furniture, a refrigerator, curtains, air conditioning, and a washer/dryer. It lacked cabinets and a bar/counter to complete the kitchen and bathroom. The talavera sink had to be installed in the bathroom. The one plant in the yard, a palm tree, was dead, a victim of Hurricane Odile. We didn’t even own a broom, a sponge, a beach umbrella, a local cell phone.

Our To-Do list was epic. And handling it all in shaky Spanish? Amidst a culture where things are done in a different style and pace? In the middle of a dusty resort that has a lot of construction going on? The only choice was take it easy, a bit at a time. Poco a poco.

In 14 days, I’ve had (only) two meltdowns. In each case going to bed helped (that is, after we said adios to the leaky air bed and hola to a real mattress).

I’ve also been doing yoga and meditating. I remind myself that a beach walk, a soak in the Jacuzzi, and a swim in the pool are incredible amenities. As is being a homeowner, especially in a place with a built-in community.

Hermanas con perro.

Having so many great people around has been a life saver. My sister, her friends who’ve become our new friends, other casita residents, and the resort staff—everyone has been a font of information and, most importantly, bienvenidos.

Without a working kitchen, we collaborated with my sister to make meals in hers. Our bilingual friend Paul took us on a trip to Los Cabos (an hour south) to help us buy a slew of things and arrange to have them delivered. The next day, Dave and I went alone, an hour east, to La Paz stores.

We’ve been to Todos Santos many times, buying other furniture and food. We’ve been to several excellent restaurants, including the one here at the resort that serves pizza made in a wood-fired oven by the pool. Our favorite is a pescaderia that serves the freshest (and cheapest) fish tacos ever. Down the street is a little tienda where we buy handmade tortillas. Dave almost wept the first time he held the warm bundle in his hands.

Whenever we drive around and see the leftover ravages of the hurricane—buildings and homes and cacti toppled—I’m reminded of our incredible fortune. Nothing of ours was destroyed. We have shelter, food, and water. And each other.

Unharmed cacti.

In just two weeks, we’ve enjoyed cocktail parties and meals on neighbors’ roofs, watching the sunset. We’ve dipped into the warm ocean waters and taken long beach walks. We went to the Farmer’s Market and live music on the playa.

We’ve had incredible conversations with people, most of whom—like us—live alternative lives. One was a young Polish woman we picked up hitchhiking; she was traveling Baja alone. Another was a Swiss couple on bikes who’d ridden all the way down from Canada.

Some people have retired here. Others have young children. Some live in Cabo or La Paz and come here for the weekends. One guy lives here a few months at a time, spending the rest of the year working in the states. Some live to surf or fish or just be near the sea. Others love four-wheeling or hiking through the desert hills. Some were born here. Others fell in love with Mexico and never wanted to leave.

Every once in a while an odd feeling seizes me. A sense that we’ve jumped off the biggest cliff ever. Funny I’d say that after all we’ve gone through in the past two years: retirement, getting rid of all our possessions, traveling all over—oh, and brain surgery.

One morning, a few days in, I woke up with anxiety crawling up my skin. I closed my eyes and prayed for new internal space to open up. I felt around inside for the richness of the fertile void. I asked for a sense of something—purpose? clarity? happiness? peace? What did it all mean, this living thing? My mind scrambled around like a rat in a cage.

I went for a beach walk. The ocean, my sanctuary. On my way back, a young man standing with two young women near the surf school asked me in Spanish if I knew how far it was to the bus stop. I pointed down our dirt road and told him it was probably at least a 20 or 30 minute walk. He seemed on the edge of tears and—switching to English—told me that a friend had brought them to the beach last night and then disappeared. He said his mom was going to be worried about him; he couldn’t call her because his cell phone ran out of juice. They were in their early twenties and from Guadalajara.

I guess they’d spent the night on the beach. They looked exhausted. They reminded me of my students. I said, “Wait here. I have a car. I will drive you there.”

A surge of energy and joy blasted through me. I ran to our casita and grabbed three bottles of water and three granola bars. I hopped in the car, blasted the A/C, and drove over to get them. As we bumped down the dusty, rutted road, they drank the water and tore into the food.

“Can I be your dog?” he joked. We all laughed. Clearly, they couldn’t believe their luck. I couldn’t believe mine, either.  

So, we are two weeks in, and I’m writing at my computer on my new little rustic table. Jazz plays from speakers attached to Dave’s hard drive that holds thousands of songs. The house is filled with furniture, a washer/dryer, a fridge, and new talavara sink. A sweet new palm is planted in our yard. We even have a dresser. What a luxury to have my clothes in drawers after so many months in suitcases.

Three guys are installing the A/C right now. Another guy has been in and out, working on the finishing touches of our kitchen counter. I was able to string together Spanish words to create Frankenstein sentences that seemed to work, more or less.

Yesterday, our neighbor Kimberly, who makes jewelry, mentioned she’s collecting driftwood on which to display her work. On Dave’s and my morning beach walk, I found three pieces that I brought to her. She hugged me, said they were perfect. Later, she came by to wish me happy birthday. Then she fitted me with an anklet the colors of the sea.

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