Our Beautiful Life.
“Our beautiful life.” This is what I think every morning when I wake up and peer out the screen door to whatever destination we have recently arrived. I have traveled to many places, most of which were beyond fabulous, but there is something to be said about traveling in VW that was worked tirelessly on for years with the love of your life and your two favorite doggies.
Generally, after I wake up, I put on the water for yerba mate or tea on our little stove next to the bed. Hydro’s tail starts thumping louder and louder until I reach across the van and scratch his and Lika’s heads. I go outside and say good morning to the sun and gaze out at the waves. I judge the size of the waves and plan my day around that. If they are too big for me, that means Tom will head out solo and I will read, write, and study my Spanish. When Tommy gets back in an hour or so, we may further explore our surroundings and walk about or ride our bikes for a few hours. Then, during the heat of the day, we rest on our two person hammock. Generally, Tommy falls asleep and I do an hour of yoga practice and meditation, before we start to think about dinner and possibly meeting up with recently made friends.
If the waves are manageable for a beginner like me, I lather up with sunscreen, grab my Stewie (my surfboard) and walk out into the ocean. Everyone talks about the rush you get when you surf down a wave and how that is what hooks you for life. Since I have only experienced that maybe once or twice, I am going to talk about another rewarding aspect of surfing, the paddle out. Your body temperature is instantly cooled the moment you enter the water. You jump on your board and are able to swim faster than going solo. You watch the movement in the water to try and avoid rip tides. At first, the white water waves pass over your head, which is quite refreshing on those hot days, then, as you get further out, the large waves are constantly threatening to crash overhead and press you down to the ocean floor with all her strength. When this happens, you know you can’t fight it. Mother Nature always wins. You just have to stay calm and wait the handful of seconds it takes for her to loosen her grasp on you. Once you pass the waves, you rest on your board until you are ready to attempt to catch a wave in and then paddle out again.
Not all of our days are filled with biking, surfing, and relaxation. We have our travel days and also my working days, but both of those are fun as well. We took a ferry from La Paz, Baja to Mazatlan on the mainland. Since we hadn’t really spent much money on camping so far, we decided to splurge and get a room for the 16 hour ferry ride. However, besides sleeping, we didn’t really spend much time in the room. We were out on the decks watching huge turtles swim by and dolphins playing in the waves made from the boat. We met a ton of interesting people as well, including a guy from Germany riding a motorcycle down to Nicaragua, a couple of guys riding their bicycles from Alaska to Argentina, and a group of kids white water kayaking through Mexico. Besides the horrible, violent movies they had playing non-stop in the main parts of the ferry and the dogs being very angry at us for kenneling them for 16 hours, the ferry was quite fun.
From Mazatlan, we headed to San Blas for a few days. It would have been amazing, but it was so hot that we couldn’t even sleep. Our only respite was to be in the ocean (actually I think this is why I have attempted to take up surfing). We befriended several locals and would hang out in the evening on the beach around large bonfires. From San Blas, we headed towards Puerto Vallarta where I had to work for a week. A few years back my brother, Tom and I visited a little town about 40 minutes north of PV called Salulitas, so we decided to go back. Since I was trying to recover from a cold and I needed constant internet access for work that week, we decided to rent a room. All the hotels turned us away due to the dogs. We were almost about to head to PV and try our luck there when we noticed a beautiful casita that was for short term rent. We called and we were in the place not 5 minutes later. This casita was a block from the beach, had a bedroom, a kitchen, and a living room. The best part- there was AC and our own little private pool! It was wonderful.
After tailoring my training materials for Mexico, I met with the US Consulate staff and trained them on violence against women, primarily in the Americans overseas community. Two days later, I presented to the Americans overseas community at the Puerto Vallarta Community Center. We had a great group of people turn up and I can honestly say it was the first time I presented to a group of people drinking margaritas. The human rights and women’s rights activists were incredible people and the Americans that attended were awesome! During the work week, I was also able to submit a funding application for my friend’s nonprofit where I sit on the board. It was a busy week, but it felt great because a). it is my passion doing women/human rights work especially while working for an amazing organization, and b). when everyday feels like the weekend it can be easier to appreciate them after a little work… although Tommy disagrees with this statement.
After PV, we camped for a night here and there in random locations trying to get to our next surf destination. One day, we pulled out to camp just for the night at a place we have never been nor heard about. After driving through an adorable town, we stumbled upon the most breathtaking beach and perched ourselves on the hillside next to it. We ended up staying in this place for almost a weeks’ time. Tom was able to surf daily. There was a big cluster of boulders in one concentrated area on the beach that shielded a beautiful swimming hole from the giant, crashing waves. And there was a beautiful lagoon where the dogs would swim (until we learned there were crocodiles!). We made friends with an old expat that would bring us fresh fruit and update us on the news since we couldn’t get internet or cell service and with another expat who started a conservation project a few miles away.
Lika and Hydro loved this beach, especially the crabs. There was an abundance of crabs in the area and the doggies would spend the days chasing them, only to be pinched on the nose by said crabs. That would momentarily stop them, but they resumed the chase immediately. We have never seen Hydro so intrigued by any other creature (except for dead cows, but that is another story for another day). He would spend hours running around just to get a better look at them.
We got our first flat of the trip here; luckily it was a bike flat. We had decided to ride to town and to another nearby beach. When we left our camp the sun was shining and the weather was perfect. Once we were as far as we could go, thunder clouds appeared overhead and instantaneously began to downpour. At that exact moment, my bike tire went flat. Oh, the irony. We tried to seek shelter under a nearby tree and realized that we were already soaked to our undies even while wearing trash bags as make-shift ponchos so we decided to walk the 5 miles back to camp in the pouring rain.
The most amazing thing about the place was the turtles that lay their eggs there nearly nightly. We were going for a moonlit stroll down the beach one evening and we saw a HUGE turtle slowly climbing up the beach. We quickly turned back so as not to scare the turtle and were so delighted about what we had just witnessed. A local surf school collects all the eggs in the morning and puts them in a fenced area to protect them from poachers. Apparently, some folks steal turtle eggs to provide their families with protein as they can’t afford to get it elsewhere. It is a sad predicament, but turtles are endangered and need protection.
The day before the Day of the Dead, we headed a little bit south and stayed at campsite right next to a graveyard (directly across from a crocodile sanctuary). Some may consider this morbid, but the Day of the Dead is all about honoring loved ones that had passed. The graveyard was covered in flowers, shrines, and lit candles. Early morning on the day of the dead, families trek to gravesites and basically honor and remember the ones who have passed. We went to a celebration in the town square where folks had their faces painted like skeletons and deathly things. Someone was selling these amazing Day of the Dead dolls- a pair of bride and groom skeleton dolls that I wanted to get for our wedding decorations, but Tommy thought the morbidity of that may be beyond humor for some… huh, no fun.
As we headed south, we decided to turn down another road leading to the beach. We were in the middle of nowhere and drove down to the beach. We thought driving into deep sand would bear no consequences… we were stuck instantly. The tires had dug themselves a hole so deep that the car was just resting on its frame. All of this occurred while the approaching high tide was slowly creeping toward us. Although we were in the middle of nowhere, Tommy asked me to see if I can find anyone to help while he desperately attempted to dig the car out. While I was gone, Tommy thought we were in deep…sand. Then he heard a loud mechanical roar and thought, “it’s a plane, a helicopter, no it’s superwoman!” It was me standing on the side of a large 4-wheel drive backhoe tractor in my best super woman pose while singing the tune of what I thought was the superman theme song* and the tractor driver laughing at the pathetic gringos. He got us out in about 10 minutes.
*I was actually singing Jobe’s magic song from Arrested Development.
Our next destination is one of my top three favorites. It is the little town of Nexpa; a small surfing community that is quaint and clean, and apparently has one of the longest lefts in the world. We enjoyed watching the election from here and listening to a very heated debate between a couple of expat guys well into their 60’s. Voting overseas is a pain, but each time I’ve voted from abroad the outcome is generally in my favor. We are very excited about this outcome!
I had a great time attempting to paddle out (it takes about 30 minutes) and with Tommy’s help, I caught my first large wave all the way back to the beach (though apparently I surfed right and it was breaking left), oh well. Tom went out when the waves were 3 times as tall as he was and surfed like a champ while I sat comfortably under a palapa with some newly made friends drinking Limonada. The people in this town were simply amazing and from around the globe. We made friends with Oregonians, Canadians, Aussies, Brazilians, South Africans, Mexicans, and many more. It was very hard for us to leave this gorgeous place surrounded by rolling green hills with an abundance of rivers and streams. However, we have to be in Belize in December for work so we had to keep moving. That is until we once again got stuck in the sand. Luckily there were people nearby to help us push the MotherShip out.
This morning I am sitting at my outdoor table in my $4.99 Fred Meyer camp chair, eating leftover homemade vegetarian pozole verde and drinking sun tea while Tommy surfs. We are at a place called the Ranch, a deserted little beach lined with gorgeous trees. I am looking forward to heading inland in a few days, exploring ruins and experiencing more of the beauty of Mexico. I can’t stop thinking, “just look at our beautiful life.”
A blog from Tom: My life basically summarized: eat, surf, get stuck in sand, repeat.