Water Therapy

Two of our favorite neighbors returned earlier this fall and began preparing their home to sell.  Sad face.  While we could not afford to buy the home, we were able to purchase the double kayak they no longer needed.  It was an impulse buy like no other.  My neighbor had barely finished his sentence, offering me the opportunity, when an excited “YES” came rushing out of my mouth.  Being a bit older, and a tad old fashioned, my neighbor asked if I wanted to run it by my husband.  Um, no thank you.

thumbnail-1Steve is not much of a kayaker.  I think it is a patience thing.  But he is kind of thrifty.  If we had the kayak, paid money for the kayak, he would use the kayak!  And I needed him to want to use the kayak 1) because it is a double  2) because it is really, really heavy and 3) because I love to kayak but am not very good at it.  I tend to worry a little about tipping over.  A buddy meant I had a built in equalizer (or life preserver).  I also obsess about sharks.  Having Steve with me meant bait.

On a beautiful, sunny Saturday we loaded the kayak in our truck and headed out to a somewhat protected cove.  As we carried/lugged/dragged it to the water, I could not help picturing the chiseled arms I would eventually have.  Woo hoo!  Maybe I would be able to wear a sleeveless top without a cardigan or work shirt one of these days!  Apparently, I was not as focused on our task as I needed to be.  Steve was pointing out obstacles in front of me and mumbling something about paying attention.

Paying attention proved to be a bit of a problem once we were out on the water.  I either thumbnailoverthought my paddling technique (or rather, lack of), or I became too engrossed in the pelicans sunbathing on the rocks, in the search for blue footed boobies, and in the tunnels carved by the sea in the rocks to remember to paddle.  We struggled finding a good rhythm.  Our paddles hit, eliciting sighs from the guy in the seat behind me.  I put my paddle in too deep, meaning I was pulling along at a slower pace.  There were numerous pleas to “just stop paddling, please”.

Regardless of my skill level, I was having a blast!  At some point, I stopped obsessing over my poor form and what Steve thought of it.  We glided across the water- -it was a clunky glide, but a glide nonetheless.  We moved in and out of the tunnels, both grateful and awestruck.  We watched pelicans dive-bomb the water for their breakfast.  We had a few tippy moments, but we knew enough not to overcorrect or panic, thereby saving ourselves from taking a plunge.  After about an hour and a half on the water we headed back to shore.  I was feeling empowered enough to think about where we should put in on our next trip.  And I could not help striking a bodybuilder pose after loading up the truck.

On the way home we discussed some of the problems we had.  We were calmer and more patient with each other.  We recognized that despite some of the issues, we had a wonderful time.  We also realized that we had a lot of time to get better and work on this together.  Buying a kayak was much cheaper than signing up for marriage counseling!  And did I mention the incredible arms I will have?!

A Day in the Life of an Outlaw

I really needed (okay, wanted) to buy a Día de los Muertos Lotería game.  The only place I had seen one was at the Super Farmacia in Guaymas.  Finding a place to park in downtown Guaymas is difficult enough, never mind that I need a spot big enough for a full-size Dodge pick up truck.  So I was feeling pretty lucky when I spotted several spaces right in front of the drugstore!  Unfortunately, I was driving on the opposite side of the street.

thumbnailI got a little panicky.  “Where in the #&!! can I turn around?” and “Oh no, someone will take my spot!” and “I’m basically driving a boat on Hot Wheel size tracks here…”  The first two streets I checked were out of the question.  They were both one way.  The third looked promising.  In fact, I was pretty sure Steve and I had turned around on that same street a week or so ago when I needed (er, wanted) a Día de los Muertos Memory card game.

As I stopped at the light, I noticed a lefthand arrow with a big red slash through it hanging right below the traffic signal.  I weighed my options as I waited for the light to change.  Once it did, I watched as two of the cars in front of me made left turns.  Hmm.  Maybe it was an old sign?  Maybe it was just a suggestion?  At the last minute I decided that I was going to follow the two cars that had turned in front of me.  They both had Sonora plates.  If I could not trust the locals, who could I trust?

Note to self:  Do not trust the locals.

I made the left and had just gotten in position to negotiate the turn that would take me back in the direction of the prime parking spots I had seen, when the Policía Municipal pulled up behind me, lights flashing.  My first thought is that they were stopping traffic to give me a little room to turn around.  Yeah, I am a dreamer.  What I thought next is not printable.

I pulled over to the side of the street, and two officers came up to my window.  They explained to me what I had done; obviously they had no idea I had completely thought this turn through.  I told them that I had just been following the two cars in front of me.  They assured me that those cars were being stopped too.  I suppressed a laugh; those drivers were long gone.  I was surprisingly calm, as in less panicked than I was thinking about not being able to find a parking space!

A Municipal Police officer is one of the lowest paid employees in Mexico. Data collected from misalario.org in May of 2017, shows that an officer can expect a monthly salary of $8,106.00 pesos.  That is roughly $438.16 in U.S. dollars.  These guys are tasked with unarguably, one of the most difficult and potentially dangerous jobs in the country, for peanuts.  As a result, there is an off the books arrangement that can, at times, be made.  Rather than accept the ticket, a lawbreaker, such as myself, can offer a  “mordida”, paid directly to the officer, thereby increasing his monthly salary.

On one hand, I understand this arrangement.  Police officers make less per month than supermarket cashiers, restaurant cooks, and taxi drivers.  A mordida puts cash money in the hands of the one who needs it most.  On the other hand, we cannot expect changes to be made a bad system if we continue to circumvent legal channels.

I handed over my driver’s license.  The officer did not begin writing any of my information down.  It has been my experience that the police will never mention a mordida.  It is up to the person receiving the ticket to bring it up.  Maybe he was waiting for me to do that.  Maybe he was just unsure of where to find the information he needed on an Indiana driver’s license.  Whatever the delay, I waited him out because I had, by this time, decided I was going to accept the ticket.  I was looking at this whole experience as something new and exciting.  I could add “getting a ticket in Mexico” to my list of other Mexican firsts:  open air markets, dolphins, hurricanes, and street vender churros.

Eventually, the clipboard, ticket, and my license were handed over to the second officer.  I chatted with the first while we waited.  He asked how long I had lived in Guaymas and complimented my Spanish.  (I could not wait to share this with my Spanish teacher!)  Finally, it was explained to me that I would need to pick up my license at the Police Department in a couple of hours.  After I paid my fine, my license would be returned.  I wavered a bit here.  Did I really want to hand my license over?  Would I really get it back?  Eh, someone else is living at the address listed on the license anyway.  I decided to just throw caution to the wind.

I waited until the officers had gotten back in their car and drove on down the road before making, what I am certain, was an illegal u-turn to head back to the main drag.  Of course, my parking spots were long gone.  I found another further up the block. (I had two hours to kill, the walk would be good for that.)  The Super Farmacia was completely sold out of the Lotería game I wanted.  Of course it was.

I showed up at the Police Department two hours later.  I paid my fine.  I received a 50% thumbnail-1discount for paying within 24 hours.  I think I probably set a record by paying it in two!  I also noticed that included in my ticket was a donation to La Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and to DIF (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a public institution of social assistance that focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of families).  I actually felt pretty good about that.  My license was there, so that was a good thing too.  And really the only negative to this whole ordeal (aside from the game being unavailable) is that I will not be able to complain about my husband’s driving- – at least for a couple of weeks.

An Oasis for the Spirit

thumbnail-6Cañón de Nacapule seemed like the perfect place to flee from the unrelenting pounding of hip hop music that had been playing non-stop in our neighborhood for more than 12 hours.  Tucked away in Sierra de Aguaje range just a few miles north of San Carlos, it offered the peace and quiet we were desperately seeking.  Nacapule is a Yaqui Indian word for “earlobe”.  It is also the name of a fig tree which is found in the canyon, whose seeds feed small birds and bats.

A pot-holed, paved road gave way to a rutted, rocky, dirt one.  We were entertained by the roadrunners and jackrabbits darting in front of us as we made our way through the desert.  Signs guided us in the right direction, as the road veered off in different angles at several points.   Upon reaching our destination, we were surprised to see a barbed wire fence and locked gate standing between us and the canyon.  We decided that the risk of scooting under the fence was worth it.  Had we returned home to the party that drove us away in the first place, we were not sure we could be responsible for our actions.

In lieu of a trail map, we stumbled upon a sign warning us of the risk of death.  We thumbnail-8decided to tempt fate and proceed.  Our path into the canyon was clearly marked, wide, and flat.  Things changed rather quickly, however.  We moved forward (or what we thought was forward), maybe on the trail.  But then again, maybe not.  Signs had fallen over in the rocky soil, and rocks, painted with arrows, had been deliberately moved.  At points, huge boulders blocked our path, requiring more climbing than hiking.  Sometimes there was more than one way to get from point A to Point B.  It did not appear that one route was any less challenging than the other; you know, “Expert hikers go this way, big babies go that way.”

I am the person who trips when there is nothing in front of me.  Even in the grocery store, my husband provides a play by play of all “potential” obstacles I may encounter.  So when I was not watching my feet closely, hugging the sides of a ledge or grabbing a branch to steady myself, or deep in prayer (making all kinds of “deals” should I come through this hike without one clumsy episode), I was aware that my surroundings had completely changed.

thumbnailCañón de Nacapule is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert.  There are at least five “ojos de agua”, some permanent, and others that are filled by the summer rains.  The canyon also boasts a waterfall.  It has its own ecosystem and microclimate that attracts a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals.  The water source is responsible for unique flora including: towering palm trees, flowering plants and bushes, fig trees, and cacti.  Some of its species are endemic only to this area.

The canyon is about a mile long, and by this point we had thumbnail-2traveled maybe 1/3 of a mile.  Yes, I know what you are thinking.  Based on the struggle so far, it seems we really should have been done by this point.  I could not agree more.  Our next challenge was a rope ladder, drilled into the canyon wall.  Once we reached the top, we were greeted by incredible views of the canyon.  It was here we lost the trail.  Kind of.  There were two signs offering us  different choices for further hiking, but nothing beyond the signs was especially clear.  Caleb thought he knew which way to go, but it involved mountain goat skills that I was not sure I possessed at this point.

thumbnail-1On a different trip (one that did not require sneaking under a fence), we were able to reach the back of the canyon, primarily because there were other people to follow along the way.  Caleb had been correct in the direction he thought we should go.  I had right been too.  It did take mountain goat skills.

Cañón de Nacapule offers stunning views, unexpected surprises, and the opportunity to push oneself beyond what is believed possible.  We were not always certain we were following the intended path, surely giving new meaning to the “road less traveled”.  Scrabbling along on all fours over boulders, testing for footholds in smooth inclines, I found myself celebrating my accomplishments more so than the beauty of what was around me… For me, this is the real power of nature.


Live Life like Someone Left the Barn Door Open

thumbnailWhile I know very little about horses, I am always up for a horse ride.  Horses seem pretty smart to me; they know that  I have no idea of what in the heck I am doing.  Granted, most of my rides have been pretty tame.  The horse follows the one in front of him on a trail so well known, he could walk it in his sleep.

Except my horses always seem to be the ones that stand around a lot, laughing at me while I mentally run through my options.  Do I squeeze?  Do I pull the reins?  Do I swat?  Yeah, usually, I am just rescued by the professional—or my son.  My horse is also the one that experiences technical difficulties.  I have spent more time leaning 45 degrees in the saddle because of equipment malfunctions that I am too embarrassed to mention.  (As if The Leaning Rider of Horses is a thing, and no one notices.)

Steve does not ride, so it is up to me to accompany Caleb and our guests on the trail.  Our first ride was a two hour trip into the desert and back.  Hidden throughout areas of the desert are “ojos de aqua”, or deep holes that fill with rainwater, creating mini ecosystems within a larger one.  The hole we were searching for was filled by a waterfall no less.  I rode Mariachi, who was preoccupied with the smorgasbord on the side of the trail.  The guide had discussed the horses’ snacking habits prior to the trip.  I knew I was not supposed to let him munch on the trees and grasses.  But, kind of like me at a Pizza Hut Buffet, no one was going to get between this guy and his lunch.  This meant the guide was paying a lot of attention to me (and my lack of ability).  Caleb actually moved  a spot or two in line to distance himself from the troublemaker and obvious amateur.

The set of Catch 22 in San Carlos, Sonora.  The movie was based on the novel written by Joseph Heller.

While it was apparent that these horses knew the route, they were not nearly as programmed to follow one another.  We did not move through the desert nose to tail.  This allowed riders more time to focus on the beauty of the desert than the bathroom habits of the horse in front.  I experienced moments of solitude which allowed for quiet time to reflect on nature and my place in it.

I had never been allowed to trot or gallop on a guided horse ride in the U.S.A.  On these trips, however, our horses were encouraged to pick up the pace.  I am still on the fence about whether or not that is a good thing.  I am pretty sure I looked like a rag doll in the saddle, and I felt like a bowl of Jello.  But I did not care!  I opened my eyes wide, let out a “WHOOP”, and pretended to chase an old time stagecoach robber.  I was at the end of the line, in my own world, and oblivious to the coaching (or reprimands)  I was receiving at this point.

Our next horseback ride passed right through the set for the movie Catch 22.  Part of the old airstrip is still visible.  Some of the buildings that served as the base are still standing.  Many of the stones used to build them have disappeared over time, probably serving a more functional purpose in someone’s actual home today.   Since I had never read the book, Catch 22, I needed to watch the movie, especially knowing now that it was filmed in my own backyard.  I watched long enough to say, “Yep, I have ridden my horse through that arch,” before falling asleep.  Then I read the synopsis published on Wikipedia instead.

thumbnail-2I loved watching my mom ride.  The smile never left her face.  Her joy was pure.  Her laugh while her horse ran across the desert was beautiful music- -and she even looked like she knew what she was doing.   At the end of the day that is what is most important about experiences like this.  It is not how well you handle your horse or how competent you look doing it.  It is about being able to let go, if even for just an hour or two, and living life in the moment.  It is about leaving insecurities and worries at the ranch.  It is about appreciating what you are seeing, even if you happen to be looking at it from a 45 degree angle.

The Great Santa Rosa Dognapping (Well, Almost)

When our son, Caleb, left Mexico last August to return to school, Steve and I agreed to keep his dog, Honeycomb.  Honeycomb became my constant companion.  We walked the beach and swam together.  We hiked.  We hung out at the pool.  Honeycomb loved car rides, so I often took him with me when I ran short errands into town.  These were adventures in and of themselves.

After a particularly disastrous hair appointment (mine, not his), The Comb and I set out to find anything that could help me get through the next eight weeks.  We pulled into the parking lot of a local market and were immediately approached by a man a little down on his luck.  Using the opportunity to practice my Spanish, I explained that I did not have any change at the moment but would after leaving the store.  I asked if the man would be willing to look after my car for me while I shopped, making sure my dog was okay while I was gone.  I would then, of course, pay him for his time.  (Don’t worry, animal lovers.  I left the car running; the air conditioning was on, and the doors were locked.

Even though my hair was hidden under a hat, I was not wasting any serious time in public.  I was in and out in five minutes, tops.  (This was most certainly a record setter.  Usually, lines move much more slowly, as Mexican people are not nearly as preoccupied with time as Americans.)  As I left the store, I glanced over at my car.  The Comb was watching me.  There was no one watching The Comb, however!  I quickly scanned the parking lot and found my dog sitter across the way.  I decided to pay him anyway.  And am I ever glad I did!

Honeycomb, skeptical of the tale of his “almost” dognapping.

Apparently, very soon after I walked into the store, a group of robbers came over to the car to try and snatch my dog.  The Comb’s hired guard put himself between the thieves and my car.  They hit him repeatedly with a stick.  At this point in his story, he actually began crying and pointed to his arm.  I opened my car door and gave him a Kleenex.  He was away from the car because the Municipal Police had just driven by.  He flagged them down and explained to them that there were vicious robbers in the area.  They had attacked him and tried to steal my dog!  He said the police just left in hot pursuit.  I actually looked down the street, expecting to see the car chase!

I had recently learned the phrase “cuídate” (take care) and said it over and over while patting this “brave” man on his arm.  I paid him a little extra for all the effort he put into protecting Honeycomb, err, for telling such a great story.  Down on his luck?  This guy could be a screenwriter or an actor!  This was probably the most creative excuse I had ever heard for shirking responsibility while on the job.  I briefly wondered if I might ever have an occasion to use it.  I drove away laughing at the silliness of the tale, and the fact that I understood all of it.  (Those Spanish lessons were paying off.)  The Comb?  He was  tired of the car by now,  ready to go home, and chase some geckos!

Diving In

Hi, my name is Amy.  I have a pathological fear of oceans.  Maybe it is just an overthinking problem.  As soon as I am up to my waist in water, “What about sharks though?” begins playing on a loop in my head.  Actually, sharks and those really creepy, glow in the dark creatures that live at the very bottom.  Oh, Sea of Cortez, you aren’t fooling me calling yourself a sea.  I know your water comes straight from the Pacific OCEAN!

So it seemed the best way to acquaint myself with my new neighbor was to first explore it from above.  My son, Caleb, and I signed up for a guided kayaking trip in and around one of the most popular coves in San Carlos.  From the shore I counted at least nine of the most beautiful shades of blue I had ever seen; colors that inspired feelings of peacefulness and serenity.  My flopping into the kayak disturbed that calm momentarily, but once settled I noticed how warm the water felt.  There was none of that goosebump inducing stuff happening here.  As Caleb and I paddled out a bit, we looked straight down and realized we could see all the way to the bottom.  I thought, “This is definitely the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


We had just maneuvered our way through a craggy arch.  My heartbeat increased.  My eyes teared  How freaking cool!  I inhaled deeply… “Mom, pay attention.  Quit paddling.  You’re getting water in the boat!” Caleb brought be back from my “moment” to the reality of the situation.  Yep, our kayak was filling with water.   “Hey, I did not fling water into…”  I never finished my sentence.  Our kayak  turned, and a wave smacked us hard on the side.  In a state of shock and disbelief, I flew out of the boat and landed in the Sea of Cortez.  Which, by the way, now looked more like something from the movie, Perfect Storm.

It was at this point Caleb and I realized that a “guided tour” in Mexico might just be a little bit different than the guided tours we were used to taking.  The tour, you see, continued while Caleb and I dealt with our little problem.  Okay, while Caleb dealt with it.  Because I couldn’t see through that blue water to the bottom any more.  I expected my imagination to hit the “play” button any moment…

All of the sudden it occurred to me that I had our car keys in my pocket.  Protecting them became my mission.  I pulled them triumphantly from my pocket and held them high above my head.  This meant Caleb single-handedly dragged both the kayak and me to another rock outcropping.  He hoisted the kayak onto the rock, opened the plug on the bottom, and drained the water.  We somehow managed to climb back in and rejoin the tour.

Our little kayak limped back to shore.  We parked, thanked the guide, and  staggered, completely spent, across the beach to our car.  I puked salt water along the way.  Caleb’s foot bled where it had been crushed between the kayak and our temporary island.  “Amazing!  Wow!  I can’t believe it!  I didn’t think of sharks one time!” I exclaimed as we climbed in to the car.  Caleb rolled his eyes and shook his head.  Hey, I’ll take my little victories.  One day at a time.

How we got here…

My husband first traveled to Guaymas/San Carlos Sonora, Mexico for business in 2003.  Over time,  his trips became more frequent.   I was excited for his experiences and proud of his hard work. I was even more thrilled that he could bring back authentic souvenirs for my elementary Spanish classroom.

I had never traveled to Mexico.  I did create a Mexico unit for my kindergarten students.  We pretended to visit thanks to great imaginations, YouTube videos, and clever lesson planning.  So basically, what I am saying is that I had the knowledge of a kindergartner when it came to Mexico.  And while I truly knew that Mexico was so much more than the resorts of Cabo,Cancún, and Cozumel; in my mind, Guaymas/San Carlos was one big all inclusive resort.

I imagined that Steve spent his workday in a hammock at the Soggy Peso Beach Bar, sipping margaritas between conference calls. Winter cold, darkness, and isolation  added to my grand illusion. (Why were these trips always planned for the months with the most snow anyway?!) While pulling on a third layer before heading out to cover my morning shift in our school’s carline, I could practically see the tequila shots lined up on the conference table and the unlimited breakfast and lunch buffets he was eating. While I slipped and slid, flinging heavy shovels of snow off the driveway, Steve was surely flinging sand into his bucket on the beautiful beaches.

And then along came a job opening, an interview, and an offer of an incredible opportunity.  We moved to San Carlos, Sonora in June of 2016.  While definitely not an all inclusive beach resort, San Carlos is an amazing place.  You are welcome to join us on our adventure, as I share our experiences here.