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.


Sea and Sunshine in My Soul

thumbnailThere is nothing more special than an unexpected gift.  That is exactly what SeaSanCarlos offered 20 lucky recipients this past week.  As a thank you to the community for a successful touring season, we were invited to join a free morning cruise on the Sea of Cortez.  My friend and I arrived early and found seats at the very front of the boat; reached by a precarious walk/shuffle along a very narrow section of the craft.  We were rewarded for our efforts immediately with a stunning view of Tetakawi, our sacred mountain, peeking at us over the masts of boats docked in the marina.

After introducing us to his crew, our captain slowly made his way into the bahía.  He almost immediately idled his engine to point out a stoic osprey, perched on a branch, protruding from one of the high cliffs surrounding us.  What else had I been missing by only focusing in one direction?  Immune to our attention, the powerful bird continued scanning the bay for his breakfast.  thumbnail-1

The power of the sea was displayed in the cliffs that stretched out to meet her.  Hidden hollows, carved by years of relentless pounding, provided shelter for gulls and blue footed boobies.  I had believed I might only be able to see this famously funny bird by making a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.  What a joy to know we were neighbors.  I delighted in the sight of their bright blue feet, which reminded me of a bold fashion accessory to an otherwise dull outfit.  Do I overlook the seemingly  “plain”, only to miss what is beyond the surface?

Moving into more open water, we experienced vistas of our sleepy little town from the outside.  I reflected on the importance of opening my eyes to different points of view, and the potential they offer.  I marveled at the bold colors of the homes lining the shore, and the way the buildings seemed to hold on to one other dearly.

thumbnail-2Our attention was suddenly drawn to a small pod of dolphins feeding.  As the boat moved slowly closer, my eyes filled with tears.  It is difficult to explain the emotions I felt upon seeing these incredible creatures in the wild.  Grateful, humbled, awed.  I clapped and hooted like an excited child.  What unbridled joy I felt.  This happiness penetrated me to my very core.  My soul actually felt lighter.  What other little surprises do I take for granted during my days, not quite appreciating them for the potential magic they hold?

Finally, we turned and headed back in the opposite direction.  Our captain tucked our boat into a small cove, where the waves had carved an opening in the rock, large enough for kayaks or  a fishing panga to find protection and solace from bad weather.  Cacti reached upward, taking root in the cracks in the cliff and holding on for dear life; the small overcoming the mighty.  Size is not a measure of significance.

SeaSanCarlos thought they were just gifting me a boat ride.  They gave me so much more.  thumbnail-6Each moment on this trip granted me the opportunity to reflect on the significance of everything I experienced and how it could be applied in my own life.  Look around.  Ordinary is extraordinary.  Be open to other viewpoints.  Notice the little things; be grateful for them.  Everything, big or small, has value in our world.  What happens on the boat, does not stay on the boat.  I am taking this with me.

“Let’s Go Shopping,” She Said. “It Won’t Take Long,” She Said.

thumbnail-7I cannot describe how excited my husband was when I suggested we head to Empalme last month for the Sunday tianguis.  Okay, not really.  But I was certain he would get there.  Technically a tianguis falls into the shopping category, but it is definitely not a “you sit here while I disappear into the dressing room for four hours” kind of experience.

A tianguis is an open air market, albeit temporary, existing in its location on set days and at set times.  The tradition dates back to the Aztecs, when markets were set up and taken down daily so that people could buy, sell, and trade their goods.  Tianguis are not regulated, meaning there are no taxes paid to the government by the vendor.  Typically, there is a small fee paid for booth space.  In some cases the fees collected benefit the municipality, and in others, money collected may be donated to local schools or other groups.  Booth space means a series of tables set up under a canopy, some with walls, some without, or a cloth directly on the ground where goods are displayed.thumbnail

Empalme is a former railroad town, and directions to the tiaguis include “turn left at the big locomotive engine”.  While not officially in the market zone once you make the turn, there are already numerous stalls lining the streets; selling shrimp and fish, fruits, vegetables, and homemade sweets.  From here it is easy to find the market itself; follow the slow moving line of cars.

Okay, I get Steve’s lack of enthusiasm.  I really do.  I am not much of a shopper myself and would avoid malls altogether if I did not have a son who is a shopper.  But a tianguis is less about shopping, and much more about socializing; interacting with friends and neighbors.  And eating really good food.  Some of the most popular stalls at the Empalme tianguis are those where food is sold.  These booths are transformed into mini restaurants complete with tables, tablecloths, napkin dispensers, and chairs.  Music blares from portable speakers.  Bakers sell slices of cake.  There are strawberries with fresh cream.  I have heard there are at least four churro carts roaming the aisles.

thumbnail-2Shopping is most definitely possible too, for those so inclined.  Dining room tables, washers,  used tires, bicycles, toys, flowers, power tools, clothing (new and used), shoes, cazuelas, microwaves, sofas, stereos, books, CD’s, eggs, movies, statues of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and on and on and on…  I need absolutely nothing, but find myself drawn to the colorful displays. “Steve, here is a really great deal.  Need any socks?  Or underwear?”  He looks bewildered, but at least I have not started handling the fuschia, orange, and electric blue bras on display right next to them!thumbnail-6

The whole town is alive on tianguis days.  Sundays are the one day off work for many, and the sidewalks are full of people checking out the cosmetics, jewelry, produce, and seafood.  An elderly couple prepares their harvest of nopal cactus for sale.  Musicians play violins, drums, and guitars; there is dancing.  Children enjoy raspadas and horchata.  Everyone seems friendlier than usual, relaxed and happy.

thumbnail-1The average family spends about 300 pesos ($15) each week at the tianguis.  We got out of there for about 50 ($2.50).  We bought fresh onions, tomatillos, strawberries, cucumbers, and peppers.  And this non-shopper has already made her list for the next time!  Steve even looked it over and added a few things.

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.

Keep Calm and Buy More School Supplies

thumbnail-1You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you cannot take the classroom out of a teacher.  Or so they say.  It has been more than a year since I resigned my position as an elementary teacher, and I still love visiting art/office/school supply stores.  When a friend mentioned she needed some new drawing pens and a sketchbook, I jumped at the chance to accompany her.   One of my husband’s co-workers pointed us in the right direction.  We stuck to her map until detoured by the opportunity to photograph goats grazing in an empty lot next door to the beer store and across from the Home Depot.  Cuteness quota met, we carried on.

We experienced a bit of confusion when we pulled up in front of a Super Farmacia.  Do not misunderstand.  I love a drugstore as much as the next guy.  This has less to do with being a teacher and more to do with the 3/$3 deals on boxed candy I remembered.  I just was not sure we were in the right place for what we needed.

Oh, I love when am I am wrong! (Shhhh.  We will just keep that between us.)  Thethumbnail-6 “Super” in the store’s name meant that this was much more than just a pharmacy.  It was also a papelería, or stationery store.  My eyes glazed over as I took in the bins of notebooks, the holiday decor, the wrapping paper and gift bags, the pens and pencils…  Within 15 minutes I had my hands full of things that I could have used in my Spanish classroom.  Then I remembered I did not have a Spanish classroom any more and put most of them back.

I did have a very loud internal debate with myself on whether or not I would be able to convince Steve to play “Pon Una y Toma Una”.  (Learn to play here.)  After discovering the game a few years ago, I modified several dice so that my kindergarteners could play.  The real deal was right in front of me!  Ultimately, I decided Steve would not be interested, even if I somehow managed to include tequila.  I consoled myself with the fact that I now knew where I could buy the special dice I needed.  The Día de los Muertos lotería game I ended up with made me feel a little better too.

Pens and pencils, markers, erasers, paints, glue, scissors, and pencil sharpeners are arranged on shelves behind glass.  Most of those items are sold individually, rather than in jumbo packs.  Great idea, considering I am still hauling around the box of 60 of pencils I bought for Caleb when he started junior high school 12 years ago.  In fact, you can buy individual sheets of construction paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and pipe cleaners too.  This makes school supply shopping much more affordable for families.  There is a copy machine on site as well.  My friend found her art supplies and picked up a box of Dramamine for our upcoming boat ride at the same time!  Talk about convenient.

thumbnailI was excited to show Steve all the cool stuff I found.  Always a good sport, he was as enthusiastic as one can possibly be when looking at items purchased from a papelería.  That is until I pulled the Constitución Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos   out of my bag.  He could not look up the word “nerd” in his Spanish Dictionary fast enough.   It is el/la nerd, by the way.  And I will own it.


Hello, It’s Me…

By the time my husband signed his contract, accepting a new position in Guaymas, Mexico, we had about two and a half months to organize and move.  For me, this included finishing up the school year and packing a classroom; in addition to finding a new house, selling an old house, deciding which of our belongings to sell or store, selling and storing those items, visiting the Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis, finding Mexican car insurance, packing, and saying goodbye to family and friends.  I know there was more, but I’m exhausted just typing this.

The very last thing on my mind was checking out cell phone plans.  To be honest, the only reason I had a cell phone in the first place was to communicate more easily with my son, as his days and nights became busier beginning in junior high school.  Well, that and to look things up on road trips.  (All those brown signs with someone’s names on them?  Yes, I am the one person who actually used my data to learn about who they were.)  After 10 years I still need to look at the keyboard to type, and I text with one thumb.  So calling Verizon to find out if I would have phone service in Mexico and how much it would cost were not priorities.  I turned off my cellular data as soon as we crossed in Nogales and drove off blissfully into a world with no Google Maps, Trip Advisor, or AAA.  This also meant I could not call my husband, who was in the lead car, to tell him he was going the wrong way again.

After about a month, I came to the conclusion that I would probably benefit from a phone that I could use outside of the house- -just in case I had car problems, or got lost, or needed to look up a word on my Spanish Dict App.  Rather than investigate my Verizon options, I decided to buy a “burner”. 1) I was watching too much Narcos on Netflix. 2) I loved using the word burner.

I became easily confused with the options available in the United States, so I have no idea what convinced me I could handle a phone purchase in Spanish.  Off I went anyway to the nearest Telcel store.  They had a “Plan Amigo”, two words I could understand at the time.  I was in and out in about 15 minutes, feeling rather pleased with myself.  That lasted until I charged the phone and got dinged with multiple texts from Telcel, presumably welcoming me to the Plan Amigo, but I don’t really know because they were all in Spanish.

I started carrying my phone with me whenever I left the house.  I used it to check Facebook while I was getting my hair done.  I used it to take pictures of the octopus for sale in the seafood department at Walmart.  I used it a couple of times to text my husband at work, just because I could.  I used Whatsapp to message my son, my mom, and my aunt.  (They rarely checked WhatsApp or didn’t recognize the number.)  It did come in handy during Hurricane Newton when we were without power for three days, she says sarcastically.  (See above about not checking WhatsApp.)

Poor little burner can no longer even be charged after mistaking its cord as an extra for a Kindle and disposing of it!

And like presents kids receive at Christmas, after the novelty wore off, I more often than not forgot all about my burner when I left the house.  I took a book to the hairdresser instead.  I enjoyed looking at new discoveries through my own eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera.  My husband is pretty busy at work; he can text me if he needs something, right?  (He might have to wait a long time before I answer.)  If I have car trouble or get lost?  Well, the only local number in my burner phone contacts is Captain Steve; captain of a boat, not of the Policía Municipal.  I am sure I can figure it out.  It is not like the great explorers before me had cell phones either.  (We are going to ignore the fact that some were forever lost at sea, eaten by cannibals, or never made it out of the jungle.)

I did take it with me on a recent trip North.  My phone stopped working while I was taking a picture of a roadside restroom that charged five pesos for toilet paper.  Lesson learned.  Leaving the house with a roll of toilet paper is much more important than leaving the house with a cell phone.

Wild, Wild Life

thumbnailWhile growing up, my son was obsessed with animals and Pokémon, in that order.  By default, I become somewhat of an expert on both.  I still hear the words “ask me another trivia question” in my head before a car ride or bedtime.  Fortunately, the Pokémon craze passed.  (Although we were both still interested enough to check on Pokémon Go availability in Mexico.)  We were left with a lasting curiosity and love of animals.  We were hopeful that our move to Mexico would generate sightings of “never before seen to us in their natural environment” experiences.

We have seen roadrunners, desert hares, coyotes, tortoises, wild pigs (cochi), sea lions, and dolphins in the wild.  Well, the sounder of cochi came up from the beach and strolled through our neighborhood- -that is outside, so technically, wild may apply.

Caleb was stung by a jellyfish twice within a two week period.  Fish and other underwater animals are definitely more interesting when observed through a dive mask, as opposed to reading about them in a library book with a copyright date of 1953.  I have learned that starfish are not white; they are orange and purple and red.  Stingrays will ignore you, if you ignore them.  That skinny, green thing close to shore is not seaweed, rather, it is a sea cucumber.  I’ll be darned, crabs really do live in shells.  Many varieties of shells, I might add.

Iguanas show up where you least expect them:  a parking lot at the Delfinario, a drainage wall, a window screen.  There is absolutely nothing cooler than watching a pelican dive bomb into the water for its dinner, over and over again.  It can be rather unnerving walking past a volt of turkey vultures, especially on the way back from a long walk on the beach- -when I look “dead” tired.  A squirrel sighting is rare.  A raccoon sighting is not.

thumbnail-1But the animals we see most frequently are not the animals we thought we would see!  I’m talking about cows on the beach.  Cows eating grass in the middle of the neighborhood.  Cows walking in both lanes against traffic.  Horses drinking from a mop bucket full of fresh water on a hot day at the neighborhood Oxxo or lounging under the shade tree in the center of the roundabout.  Horses taking a break from the hot sun in someone’s garage.  In fact, there have been more traffic jams caused by cows and horses in San Carlos than cars.  “Cow crossing” signs are posted along the main thoroughfare.  I never imagined myself saying “watch out for the cows on your way home” or turning on my hazard lights to alert other drivers to the presence of a newborn foal.  Or making my husband drive loops around said roundabout to take yet another picture.  But I do!


The most common explanation given for their appearance (everywhere but on the actual ranch) is free range.  Free range meaning that cows and horses can go wherever they want, and you are powerless to stop it.  This is debated frequently, particularly after a horse has knocked over someone’s garbage cans (again) or the cows have eaten newly planted grass on the town’s golf course (again).  There are gates and fences.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  I have seen cow sized gaps in stands of barbed wire.  I have watched horses open closed gates.  I guess even animals fall under “the grass is always greener” spell.

So while I bide my time in my search for the elusive mountain lion, I will not discount the joy I receive from my farm animal sightings.  It never gets old shouting “Look!  Cow!”  And you just never know when the inspiration for a new trivia question will strike.