I Wasn’t Expecting to Love Mexico

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The Monument to Cuauhtémoc , an 1887 statue in Mexico City

In all the years of living in California and Arizona, I was never attracted to Mexico as a travel destination. I couldn’t understand the attraction to Cancun and Cabo, which seemed to me to be nothing more than a southern version of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Mexico City resided somewhere in the very back of my brain as a hostile city with little to offer except violence. I can’t even say what shaped these impressions except television ads/programs and movies – in a vague way.

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Just a few of the Diego Rivera murals in Mexico City.

Of course, Mexico was so close – how interesting could it be? Same with Canada (of course, I have yet to explore that country except for a long ago trip up a mostly barren Al-Can highway on my way to Alaska in the 70s.)

I picked Mexico for my third excursion into international travel for practical reasons. My mother is turning 85 this June and lives alone after my father passed almost five years ago. She’s full of spunk, but I think it is now wise to stay close enough that I can return in a day if I need to. She’s decided to have a knee replacement surgery in June, so it was a wise decision from that standpoint.

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Mexico is a rich, textured country with nearly constant beauty in everyday life.

The low cost of living projection was also attractive, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. The Universe conspired to place me in a wonderful beachside apartment and my monthly expenses for living run around $630 a month. Not bad!

But here’s the best part. Turns out, I love Mexico. Everywhere I’ve been has had its own unique charm. Although there are obviously lots of areas of Mexico City I wouldn’t want to wander into (just as in the big cities of the US), its historical and business districts are amazing. Oaxaca has a magical quality with its brightly colored buildings and ethereal cathedral. And Guadalajara kept me enchanted for nearly a month, pursuing the perfect plaza of its dozen or so major ones.

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Beachside in Mexico – Manzanillo.

But in Manzanillo, I found a perfect spot – for me. It is definitely not the party spot many desire. It isn’t that far off from a small town in the US, but it’s just different enough so that I’m learning something new every day. For the foreseeable future, I plan to make it my base for six months out of each year, taking long weekends in other towns. I want to see Merida, Veracruz, Morelia and San Miguel de Allende. The list gets longer the longer I remain in Mexico. It’s a huge country, so it could easily take me several years to exhaust my options.

Unlike Asia, I know I can learn to speak the language and I love being able to talk to the folks who have often been born and lived all their lives in the town I’m visiting. The experience is somehow humbling and touching.

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Sunset in Manzanillo

When I’m not in Mexico, I’ll be visiting family in the States and take an extended trip to another part of the world – El Mundo. I have my fingers crossed for the British Isles in 2018. And the list of other countries is really long – from Madagascar to Peru to Portugal and Italy to an artic country (I don’t know which one as of yet).

In the meantime, I truly do love Mexico and I know I will feel I’m coming home when I return in the late summer.

But I still have five weeks to go, so you’ll likely hear much more about Mexico in that time!

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The beautiful cathedral in Oaxaca.

 

 

Hug a Pink Elephant #5

boredomFIRST TRY CHANGING YOUR ROUTINE

“Boredom is the conviction that you can’t change … the shriek of unused capacities.”  ~ Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

This is also a good strategy for keeping your brain healthy if you’re worried about things like dementia and Alzheimer’s. But don’t discard it if you’re thinking you’re too young for that. Here are some things to try:

  1. Don’t go home the same way every time. Today, pick another route, whether it’s from the grocery store or work or from picking up the kids at school. Actively choose a way which takes a little longer and has at least one stretch you’ve never driven before. If your kids or spouse are with you, be prepared for a sidelong glance at the minimum and probably a question about your sanity. But persist. A little change-up will be good for them too.
  2. Play a game of blind man’s bluff with yourself. No blindfold required. Simply start in a familiar spot – maybe the front door – close your eyes and try to get to another room with simply your hands to feel the way. This may sound ridiculous to you, but you’ll be surprised how fun it can be. I tried it once when I was trying to knock myself out of a period of writer’s block. It worked!
  3. Explore your closet! Try to find 5 new outfit combinations from the clothes you already have. Then see if you have accessories to match. If not, maybe you give yourself a trip to your local jewelry/accessories source – I have a weakness for TJ Maxx – and add a new piece to your collection. If money is an issue then make it a game to find something for under $10 – even better.
  4. Do something entertaining which you’ve never tried before and engage! Go bowling, or to the opera and maybe a live performance of any kind. Have you ever seen a foreign film in a theatre before? You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to subtitles. If you have cable TV with 1000 channels, click on something you would never normally watch – Project Runway, wrestling, a Spanish language soap opera, C-span. Whatever it is, give it 20 full minutes of your attention and see if you can’t find something interesting in what you are watching.
  5. On a similar vein, if you live in a household with lots of magazines; some for the kids and teens, women, men and maybe some generic – chances are you don’t read a few of them. Pick one you think of as uninteresting and give it a try. Maybe Field and Stream for women or Cosmopolitan for men. Maybe Highlights for either sex. Anyway, see if you can move through it, picking up some new knowledge.
  6. If you are really, truly, desperately bored right this minute, grab your car keys and head for the nearest freeway or busy road. When you are on a safe stretch of the freeway or at the end of a long line of cars at a stop light, let out the biggest, loudest scream you can. Really loud. Pretend you are getting paid by the volume and ferociousness of your scream. You’re auditioning for a part in a slasher film. Let it out! Now another big one. If you don’t feel instantly better – more relaxed and at the same time oddly energized – I’d be amazed. I use this – Primal Scream Therapy – fairly regularly and I have all kinds of reactions. It has moved me to tears in the past. But I never, ever feel bored afterwards. You may feel a bit embarrassed, even though the odds that someone will hear you are extremely small. It’s the fact that you’ve done something so out of the ordinary for an adult. Relish it. Do it whenever it feels like you need a good scream.

 

So these are just a few things you can do to relieve boredom. Google “brain exercises” or “boredom” for more ideas, but do something about it. Boredom is an incredible waste of time. You can always find an organization which needs some volunteer help if it’s a matter of too much time on your hands. But no matter what, do something about it today!

Names, Faces and the Power of a Smile

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Conchita and Alfredo from my local mini-mart – Kiosko.

I’ve written this before, during my time in Asia, but I truly believe the real adventure in traveling is getting to know the people of an area. Temples, pyramids, countrysides are all good, but fade for me next to the cultures and attitudes that shape a difference, even from town to town, let alone country to country. Each presents its own challenge in understanding and getting through whatever barriers there are to reaching connection.

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Don, my only American friend, and a regular at Costenos.

In a tourist destination, like Manzanillo, one of the biggest hurtles is getting past the fact that normally someone from the United States will be leaving in short order. There is no need or desire to get to know you because you’ll be gone soon. Of course, for me, this is an anathema. I just try harder to relate.

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The beautiful Sandy, who makes a mean cookies and cream smoothie.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve used the same tactics. However, that makes me sound strategic, but this all comes very naturally. I don’t pull out the weapons of social exchange, I just seem to glide right into these three things.

NAMES

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Me and Margarita, whose has just given me a head massage in this picture.

People like to hear their names. Whatever my profession or business has been, I’ve strived to learn the names of acquaintances, customers and even customer service personnel on the phone, whom I hope I’ll never have to talk to again. I always ask for names, repeating them back (especially if they are in another language) and using it the next time I see them. At the end of a good phone call with someone I’m hoping will solve some problem of mine, I always ask their name and thank them for helping me. More often than not, they are startled but appreciative, as are the cashiers, servers and managers whose names I’m able to remember. It’s worth the effort, and it humanizes the people you interact with and pulls you into their world.  Well worth the effort.

FACES

It is true that humans tend not to look into the faces of peoples and cultures they’re not familiar with. Big mistake. Not only does this bad habit automatically separate people, but it robs us of so much information and experience.

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Alfredo’s little brother Brian also works at the Kiosko.

Raising your eyes to a new face that passes you on your walk to the plaza or as you explore the surroundings of your temporary home on a pleasant beach, can only enrich your experience. There will be times when the other person doesn’t acknowledge your greeting or even resents it, but those are few. An automatic reaction of “That jerk!” doesn’t do you any good and, in fact, just serves to close down the part inside which has tried to open up. Brush it off and move on, but don’t, under any circumstances, let that send you running back to your old habit of moving through the mass of humanity we daily encounter without making any connections. You will truly be the richer for your effort.

And the next time you recognize a familiar face, try nodding to the person behind it and see if you don’t get a nod in response. That’s a big win!

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The only picture I’ve managed to snap of Rosie, the owner of Costenos and my landlady, with Sandy.

THE POWER OF A SMILE

No matter where you are in the world, whether home or afar, a smile is truly your most powerful possession. With a grin: you’ll be forgiven your lack of language skills in a foreign country, assisted through nearly any problem, make surprising friends and soothe the savage beast in almost any situation. There are, of course, exceptions but you’ll find a sincere smile will get you through almost any travail.

I have acquaintances who instantly put on a grim face when faced with a problem, especially someone who will not instantly bend to their will. Big mistake. Find that place inside you that realizes that “This too shall pass” and try a smile. I’ll bet most of the time it serves you much better than that grimace that lives inside us all. In traveling, it is a much better option as you’ll find most societies don’t regard your troubles (coming from the Western world) as much of a problem. You may just find that they are right.

I have found that smiling at an unknown person I pass on the street not only makes me feel better but helps that person have a better day, too. In much of the world, the older local women often aren’t noticed at all and it almost breaks my heart how happy they are to be acknowledged – with a smile or greeting. If you remember their names, you’ve given them a gift of recognition whether or not you know it.

As I’ve mentioned, these three things are not just good for exploring the world, but also at home. I can’t tell you how many of my dining companions have shown irritation for my penchant for engaging with servers, but it pays me much more dividends than the reserve some many people regard as appropriate.

To hell with appropriate reserve.

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Valentina, who smiled without hesitation. Oh, to be like that again.

Living Above “The Shop”

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My apartment is just behind the red banner.

As an avid reader, movie buff and writer, I’ve always loved the idea of unique living situations. When we lived in San Fernando Valley – California- I would always point to bungalows, often incredibly tiny and part of a former motel complex, and announce to my incredulous husband, “I want to live there someday.” He’d just chuckle and shake his head.

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Not exactly a Murphy bed!

One other recurring attraction was to apartments above businesses, regularly represented in the old black and white movies I watched every day after school. The “shop” below was frequently a jazz bar or a Chinese restaurant and equipped with a bathtub under the kitchen table, fold-down ironing board and sometimes a Murphy bed hidden behind the front room wall.

I now live above the shop, a café specializing in cake and coffees, not quite as glamourous as a jazz club, but don’t worry – I still get lots of music. Manzanillo, Mexico, is not a busy place, but I manage to live right on the busiest – actually the MAIN – street of this berg of about 160,000 people.

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The Good Friday party getting started behind my place.

Although there is a large Canadian presence from November through March, there are very few foreigners in town at the present, but the party scene Thursday through Sunday nights is still very strong. And I managed to situate myself half a block from the party beach. In short, my nights are noisy. But they are also full of “joie de vivre.” There’s loud music, raucous laughter, sporadic shouts at passing friends and all of it accompanied by the sound of crashing waves. I have come to love it all.

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One of the cool little nooks in Costenos.

During the open hours of the café downstairs, Costenos, I am treated to more the subdued laughter of business meetings and friends coming together for a few minutes. I also watch the tending of the gardens from above on my balcony.

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My favorite people-watching perch.

Daytime also affords me the opportunity to watch people, sometimes from my street-side balcony or occasionally I perch on at a table out front for the best view. I have always loved people-watching and find so many characters I spot end up in a story or novel.

During my last taxi ride, the driver told me that there are about 900 taxis in Manzanillo. I immediately felt that must be an exaggeration, yet in my approximately 40 taxi rides I’ve only had the same taxista once. They all seem to know where Costenos in Las Brisas is. Do I live in a famous place? Is this the 21 Club of Manzanillo? Unknown. I’ll have to suss that out during my next stay.

So, now I’ve had another unique living experience, and have come to consider this my home away from home. I plan on living above the shop for six months every year, spending a month or two at home and exploring the world again for about four months out of every year. Where to next? Who knows. I go where the wind (or plane fares) blow me.

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Can’t forget my backyard!

 

Imperfections

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The offending spot!

I was talking to a local taxi driver yesterday, as he drove me to an unexplored section of town, and we began discussing Americans. He’d lived in the States for a few years and was effusive about how nice most Americans were, which I appreciated – especially now.

I mused that we are, as a breed, a bit spoiled and totally intolerant of imperfections. He chuckled and nodded. “Yes, but so nice.” Then I knew he was being very kind himself.

Make no mistake, I count myself among the overindulged and previously intolerant of flaws. I can easily slide back into that frame of mind if I don’t watch myself.

Here’s what I mean. As I traveled around SE Asia, I would become very irritated by the way the painting was done. Brand-new paint jobs on the walls of my rooms and other areas would have drip spots left on the floor and irregular edges along the ceiling. Nothing drove me crazier than spotting these blemishes.

I wondered, “Why can’t they just do a good job?” The attitude continued through Central America, where I traveled next and the “problem” continued.

One day, somewhere in Nicaragua, I suddenly thought, “Why does this bother me so much?” And I realized that I’d been brought up with an expectation of perfection, or at least the striving for it. I was imposing that ideal on cultures that had absolutely no use for it.

Occasionally, this long-held belief seeps into my brain even still. This morning, I nearly rejected one of the very cute little coffee cups provided in my apartment because there was a tiny pimple in the bottom of it where the ceramic hadn’t completely met in the firing.  I’ve done that several times – just put it back in the cupboard. Today, I stopped my reflex reaction and used the “imperfect” cup, chuckling to myself.

Yes, it’s inbred and I suppose I’ll carry strains of it forever but at least I’m progressing!

Thoughts For The Day ~ Repost

I think this is a terrific post and it fits in with travelers of all kinds! Enjoy!

From the Desk of MarDrag

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“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  ~ Martin Buber

MarDrag’s Thoughts:

On our Journey, our Life Path, there are Destinations we see, aspire to, and reach. Destination is what keeps us going, with the desire, hope, and success of reaching them. BUT…we cannot always know every Destination life has planned for us. Some Destinations are secret…because they either hold a tremendous reward, or a profound lesson. Those Destinations are a combination of our efforts on our Path and the forces of the Higher Powers, Destiny if you will, that guide us on our Path. If we knew every detail or every end point, than would we see a need to even make the effort? Life’s little tricks! In addition, our Paths and Destinations change all the time, depending on our Choices and Decisions.

Experiencing Life is our Purpose, the Destination is the cherry on top.

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Limitations

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This little girl (me at about 4) didn’t have any idea what was ahead!

I think one of the loveliest things about getting older is our ability to understand ourselves. Where most of us have been struggling for years with who we are, in our middle and later years it often seems to come together, magically.

Of course, it’s not really mystical at all, but rather years of trial and error, and an eventual dawning of truth.

Like in the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”, an awareness of the things that are simply part of our package can be one of the greatest gifts.

Since the age of 50, I’ve been stumbling upon these truisms about myself and the latest is earth-shattering for me. I’ve realized I’m extremely limited in my ability to process information and details. While I can often instantly see how information should be organized, stored and shared, I can’t easily use it myself.

I used to tell my shuttle passengers, who wanted to relay the entire directions to their home at one time, to only give me three steps at a time. They’d look at me sideways, but I truly couldn’t retain more than that. Thank goodness for GPS.

There have been signs all along; like my dislike of multiple choices. I’ve had friends who, when trying to accommodate me, have offered me many choices. Then after I’ve chosen one, go on to list more. I’d get very angry, internally, at being forced to reassess. I didn’t realize until just recently that this was because choosing involves detail scrutiny and I hate that. Take me to a restaurant, hand me a menu and I usually choose within a minute. DO NOT point out other things I might like!

This limitation of mine also dictates the way I write. I’m much more of a storyteller than an actual writer. To be precise, I’m more like that old shriveled up geezer, who sits by the fire, entertaining with stories he’s strung out of pure fantasy. You notice, in Hansel and Gretel, we never know why the witch likes to bake children in an oven. What is her motivation?

But this is only one of my many limitations. I’ve embraced them as I’ve discovered them, not tried to change them, unless they are truly changeable and it’s wise to do so.

Instead, I try to see the flip side. Often, what we view as a limitation also empowers us in some way. For instance, I tend to jump in with both feet without much hesitation because the details overwhelm me so I just do the thing. This has helped me a lot during my travels.

Also, my self-knowledge of this trait has pushed me to seek help from others when I need it. My daughter is invaluable when deciding which camera or laptop to buy. She helps me process the options. And because I absolutely cannot edit myself, I have asked a good friend to help me out with that and she’s been wonderful.

So, limitations are simply characteristics that define what we’re not so good at. That’s okay. It’s okay not to be good at everything. Accepting that truth makes life a lot easier.

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But this older woman is fully aware wonderful things are ahead.