Reaching New Heights

Cerro Tetakawi is the preeminent peak in San Carlos.  Easily visible from Carretera 15, and nearly everywhere else once in San Carlos, it dominates the coastline near Bahía San Carlos.  Its most noticeable feature is the sharp, finger, or horn-like point, extending upward from the top.  Indigenous Yaqui, Seri, and Guaima Indians, who depended on the Sea of Cortez for their livelihood, often  sought shelter on the shore near the mountain.  It held a sacred meaning to them.  The power of this mountain is certainly felt when standing in its shadow.

Both the Yaqui and Seri people named the great hill.  Various translations of its original name have been shared with me.  The Yaqui named the mountain, Tákale, which means fangs of the snake.  A Seri translation for the same peak is “Dragon’s Tongue”.  It seems at one point, there may have been two sharp extensions near the top, which resembled the mouth of a fierce beast.  I was told one of the “fangs” broke loose during an earthquake.  According to my source, it was the Spanish who misinterpreted the name, calling it Tetakawi, or Teats of the Goat.  The name change does not diminish its dominance or energy.

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Why climb a mountain?  The most common response is “because it is there”.  Visitors to San Carlos agree, as Tetakawi is second on Trip Advisors “Things to Do” list while vacationing here.   There are two routes up; one on the desert side, and another on the coast.  Tetakawi rises 200 meters above the sea and offers stunning 360 degree views from the top.

And because it was there, I too wanted to climb.  My first attempt was from the desert side.  The Spanish word “cerro” translates to “hill” in English.  I wondered what kind of climbing superstar named this beast… While not an experienced mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination, even I knew this was no hill!  The route became steeper as I climbed, er, scrambled, slipped, and struggled my way upward.  Loose rock made the going much slower than I had anticipated.  I stopped often to catch my breath.  I crawled on hands and knees at points.  Between my dog and me, the water I brought disappeared more quickly than anticipated.  The views at the halfway point were breathtaking, and I decided they would have to be enough that day.

I tried and tried again.  I climbed the coastal side for each of these attempts, and my results were the same.  I followed spray painted arrows along the trail, which made navigation a bit  easier.  The views were even more incredible.  After being severely scolded by my son for taking his dog on the first climb, I left Honeycomb at home.  Not holding onto a leash left my hands free for grabbing anything that would slow me down when I slid backwards on the dusty, rock strewn path.  (Hiking gloves are definitely on my Christmas list.)  I maneuvered over boulders in the middle of the trail two-handed this time.  I did not have to worry about the well-being of the dog, nor could I use my concern for him as an excuse to head to lower ground.

I surprised myself by my willingness to let go of “the top”.  Even more surprising was the fact I refused to give myself a hard time for turning back.  Well, okay, maybe just a little.  People passed me carrying coolers and bags of snacks for pete’s sake!  But this is my journey, not theirs.  Arthur Ashe’s words, “the doing is often more important than the outcome”, ring true for me today.  I will climb again.  I will move closer to the top.  I will celebrate each and every step.  That is the spirit of this mountain, Tákale.

UNmanaging My Time

“Time anxiety” described my symptoms perfectly.  (Read more here.)  I became easily overwhelmed by the day in front of me and what I needed to accomplish.  My life became a series of “have to’s”:  lesson planning, grading, housecleaning, dog walking, bill paying, appointment making. I found it difficult to relax, worried that I would not have time to complete some task.  I feared wasting my time.  As a result, engaging in positive, nurturing activities took a backseat to everything else.  I didn’t give myself time to go to a movie, a park, out to eat, or shop for a new outfit.  I did not find those pastimes productive, nor did it seem I could squeeze them in among the have to’s.  To suggest that I was not healthy was an understatement.

I packed this obsession in a suitcase and brought it with me when my family moved to Mexico.  My husband signed a two year work contract.  I was not granted a work visa; therefore, my days stretched out in front of me.  I made a list.  I wrote down what I wanted to see, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, and foods I wanted to try.   I told myself moving to Mexico was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I did not want a second to slip by unspent.  And then I found myself discouraged and frustrated when I wasn’t crossing items off quickly enough.

So I tossed my list in the trash and started walking on the beach.

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I stopped wearing a watch.  I did not plan on setting any speed walking records.  I would not be submitting my time to an official.  And besides, some days I jumped in the waves while walking; my watch wasn’t waterproof.  I meandered, pausing to look behind me, and marvel at my footprints in the sand.  I searched for shells and other surprises left for me by nature.  I watched dolphins swim and dive playfully in the water.  A sea lion surprised me one morning.  I studied the shades of blue between the sea and sky.  I wanted to name them all- – -I could not.  I took detours, crossing rocky bridges when the the tide receded.  I climbed sandy hills and gave myself permission to sit down at the top and just be.  Each day I walked further.  I paid attention to how the sand felt on the bottom of my feet, noting differences.  My eyes scanned the distance, tracing the path of each mountain as it made its way to the sea.  I learned to say thank you.

My breathing is slower.  My appreciation for the world around me is deeper.  I express joy more often. I have learned to use all of my senses.  I look for and appreciate the possibility of each moment.   Giving myself time each day has made me more productive, not less.  The beach has been a wonderful teacher.  My body is stronger, but more importantly, so are my mind and my soul.

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.”

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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.

“Just Deserts”

IMG_2604Confession time.  I did not connect the name of the state, Sonora, with the desert of the same name.  What can I say?  I am more of a Pacific Northwest landscape kind of girl and didn’t spend a lot of time thinking of others.  Prior to our move, everything I knew about the desert, I could count on one hand.  When I heard the word, I conjured images of Georgia O’ Keefe’s colorful, almost succulent paintings and the smooth, soft lines of Ansel Adams’ photographs.

We arrived in San Carlos in the middle of June.  It was very, well, brown.  The desert between Hermosillo and San Carlos appears harsh.  Jagged mountain peaks rise  brazenly from nearly barren land. Hints of green appear every now and then as the landscape is dotted with brush and trees that seem to struggle in the heat.  There is nothing to mute the brilliance of the sun in the endless, blue sky above.  My eyes hurt looking at it all.  Where were the six different shades of Georgia’s orange?  And Ansel’s perfectly manicured sand; you know, the fluffy stuff?

I asked because all I was seeing was, well, brown.  Succulent?  Soft?  Try knife-like.   I was also pretty sure that was not sand in this desert, but dust. This was later confirmed when I stepped out of the car on our first gas stop, and a strong wind blew it in my face.  (Side note:  Wind chill is measured and reported in the desert.  Summertime wind chills are regularly between 117-121 degrees Fahrenheit!)

On various excursions we examined our new environment more closely.  One misstep on a climb up an ancient volcano, led to a piece of rock  piercing my son’s hiking boot and cutting his foot.  I made the mistake of not wearing long pants on a horseback ride.  (With wind chills of 121 degrees, are you kidding me?)  My legs rubbed against the brush and trees and came away bloodied.  Don’t ever grab a cactus if you slip on a mountain.  After a morning trimming our bougainvillea, my arms matched my legs perfectly.  How does one even hold a palm frond to fan a person?  Those are barbed too.   Every single thing in this desert is tined, thorny, or prickly!

Summer is our rainy season.   In a blink of an eye, it all changes.  There is an explosion of green on the mountains and on the ground.  If one looks closely, bursts of purple, yellow, white, and orange appear.  Water holes fill, beckoning the abundant wildlife to come closer for a drink.  It has taken time, but my notion of a desert is changing.  (Nothing personal, Georgia or Ansel.)  I am slowly recognizing and appreciating the beauty this desert hides behind its spikes, and spines, and sharp edges.  It is an artist in its own right, protecting its creation.

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.