Monday, January 26, 2015

How Much Food is Enough?

Food. It's a tie that binds humans. It's what brings us together daily and what many of us have undiagnosed addictions to. That's right. I said addiction. To food. Allow me to elaborate.

For us, since crossing into Mexico, it has been quite a challenge to continue with an organic vegan (or even mostly vegan) diet.  Organic food is not a commonly seen thing here. So we buy the best-looking produce that we can find at local mercados and wash it well. We peel when necessary and cook what needs cooking. We have a cleansing spray for fresh herbs and things that are eaten raw and unpeeled.

For the first couple of weeks here, I tried to just relax about what I ate and to accept what was so kindly offered to us by all of the loving hosts that we encountered. Our first night over the border, our couchsurfing host offered us quesadillas made with wheat and cheese, neither of which I have eaten much of in recent years. We graciously accepted and enjoyed them very much. Yummy!

Well now...this began a descent down a slippery slope of eating foods that my body wasn't very fond of. I noticed right away that my digestive system was a bit confused. It took me a couple of weeks to finally pull the emergency brake and get off that freight train to wheat, dairy and sugar land. What was I thinking? Somehow the romantic idea of being in a foreign country made it all ok in my mind. "I'll be fine", I told myself, "Stop worrying so much." Well for many subtle reasons (and some not so subtle) I decided to speak up and say "no, thank you/ no, gracias" when someone offered me bread, cake, or tacos, quesadillas, snacks or pretty much anything that is a traditional Mexican dish. Wheat, dairy and meat are the three main ingredients on most Mexican plates. Corn is a close fourth. I don't mind corn and it's darn tasty. Although, it's not so easily digestible and then there's the whole GMO topic to boot...UGH. I can't erase what I know, however, I can listen to the whispers and shouts that are coming from my body and spirit, and respect them. Think that wheat and sugar don't have a hold on your mind and body? Try quitting cold turkey for a few days and see what happens.

We just so happened one night last week to stumble upon the research of a man named Arnold Ehret on Google.  He lived in the late 1800's/early 1900's and basically believed that humans do not need much, if any, food to thrive. I know. It's pretty far out! However, we are a few chapters into one of his most well-known books, the Mucusless Diet Healing System, and it's extremely thought-provoking. He begins by stating that anything other than fruits and non-starchy vegetables cause a state of chaos and illness in the human body over time. He also studied the science of fasting and how well the human body heals itself of nearly all disease when left to its own accord. No food. No medicine.  No medical intervention. Only its own innate brilliance. 

Parallel to us beginning this book, I was scheduled to have two amalgam fillings removed at the dentist. I brought a canister of chlorella powder with me from Canada, knowing that it is a key food in the detoxification of heavy metals in the body and not knowing if I would find it here. In further reading, I discovered that pairing it with cilantro makes a powerful combo that is more effective in binding and flushing the metals from the body. I have put myself on a daily Rx of a green drink to help my body eject those unwanted metals. About 40 days of detox is recommended. 

A key part of toxin elimination is properly flowing digestion. Of which mine seemed to go on a separate holiday than the rest of me is on. So we embarked on a fresh juicing and whole fruits cleanse and in a few days we were both feeling a bit more like ourselves.  Detoxing can feel pretty icky at first. Tiredness, headaches, brain fog and other symptoms can show themselves first as your body begins to purge out what it doesn't need in there. It's been 5 days so far and I'm feeling much better than a week ago. I feel like I have a ways to go yet...I have moments of dreaming of nachos, or pizza or other fun snacks, but then I remember how long it can take to cleanse my body of these things and to feel like me again. It's not worth it! I personally believe that these food addictions are about 99.99% mental. We must simply realize that we value our long term well being more than the fleeting pleasures of food.  

Luckily for us, a liter of fresh juice of our choice is just 15-30 pesos ($1-3) at the mercado. So we have made a routine of a morning 5km beach walk to downtown and back for a daily juice.

We retreated from the busy city of Merida to a nearby beach community where there is Zocalo Beach Hostel (aka Hostel Progreso) full of wonderful people to stay with. We have been here just a few days, and it feels like a home away from home. The new managers are from Chile and they are lots of fun. They came here as travelers for a few days and were offered a long term position as management. So here we all are! There are lots of Canadians here too, as well as Dutch, Spanish, Americans, and more. We are all practicing our Español together over meals and card games. 

Last night, a group of 9 of us enjoyed another temezcal, or sweat lodge, in the hostel's sandy backyard. It was a great addition to our cleansing process. We sang and shared stories and sweat out the old stuff. At the end of the very intense ceremony, we all walked across the street in our bathing suits and had a night swim in the ocean. Together we marveled at the starry sky above and the magic of the dark waves surrounding us. How wonderful life is. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons in Surrendering


Los Jaguares Eco retreat near Tulum was so wonderful. Our hosts, Fausto and Claire were very sweet and welcoming people. We enjoyed "roughing it" in what they called "glam-ping" cabanas. We had beds with mosquito netting, a flushing toilet, wifi, outdoor nature showers (except one morning when no water was present...oh well!) and lots of jungle critters to keep us company. 
It was a refreshing change of pace from all of the sounds, people and traffic of the cities. 

Upon arrival, we were given a little tour of the property. There was a lovely fresh water pool, lots of hammocks, an outdoor kitchen, several cabanas, fruit gardens, a jungly labyrinth and an earthen temezcal, or sweat lodge. They told us that one of the residents was seasoned in leading group sweats, so we attended a group sweat with him on the second night of our stay. 

This was my second sweat ceremony, and the first one in Mexican style. Much of the tradition was similar to the one that we attended in November on Vancouver island with a local First Nations shaman-elder. On the island, and in the native tradition, it is customary for women to wear long dresses and be covered up. Here we all had on our swimsuits. After a very hot, sweaty day, when the darkness set in, we gathered around the ceremonial fire where the stones, or abuelitas (little grandmothers), as they are referred to, were heated until red hot. We said prayers and gave thanks to our ancestors and to the natural world around us. We filed into the hut and sat on a bed of fresh, leafy branches from a tree that I can't recall the name of, but it smelled wonderful. 

The ceremony was about 2 hours long and consisted of music, chanting, prayers, offerings, cleansing and lots of emotion and special connection. There are four parts, or doors, of the ceremony where the flap is opened up and 13 additional hot stones are added to the center of the circle inside, and each stone is verbally welcomed in as it is placed on top of the pile.  It was so lovely to experience the various traditions all coming together. There were about 10 people from various countries and we all shared the desire to cleanse and reflect inward upon our own mental and emotional blockages. I have found both sweats quite challenging, especially at the beginning part, where I have to convince myself to physically go into a hot, dark cave with a group of sweaty people that I don't know. The shaman reminds us that we are all in there healing together and that everyone is facing their own challenges. After a while, my mind settles and it is very pleasant and rejuvenating. Afterward, we filed out and showered ourselves with cool fresh water using a coconut shell, and then gather for a light meal. I look forward to another temezcal experience soon. Each one is different!

The next morning while it's still relatively cool, we go for a trek down the cleared path into the jungle for a medicinal plant walk with a local Mayan man named Umberto. He speaks Spanish and Mayan, and with our pocket dictionary, intense listening skills and lots of humor, we manage to learn a lot about the plants and about each other. He shows us lots of useful plants and describes how they are used for headaches, tooth aches, snake bites, skin rashes, cuts, and lots of other handy things. At one point, we can hear and see the trees shaking and swaying amongst the busy bustling of monkeys. We can't see them, but we know they are there. 

Umberto told us that his grandfather lived off of the land in the area and thrived on a life of simple hunting and gathering and using herbal medicines until the beautiful age of 110 years. He said no junk food, just wild foods! No eye glasses, no diseases. Only healthy people. A good reminder of what has happened to our "food" system in the last century.  We could have enjoyed these lessons all day, but we had to be on our way to our next destination southward in Bacalar, Quintana Roo on the second largest lake Mexico, Laguna Bacalar. We would like to return to Los Jaguares again soon, we feel like there is more that is yet to be experienced there. 

We arrived at Villas Ecotucan just outside of Bacalar and checked in for a stay in a jungle cabana. This place was a very lovely setting. It had just rained for a few days and the humidity level was sky high. Our tile floors and bed sheets were very wet. It made for some chilly sleeping conditions. The mosquito netting on both beds had large tears, so we patched it up the best we could. The mosquito netting was crucial. The mosquitoes were thick there after all of the moisture, which we were told was very unseasonal. I sure donated my fair share of blood to those tiny vampires. It was a bit frustrating, as I would have preferred to spend more time outdoors, but the itching ad scratching was over the top! 

In the mornings, I awoke to flocks of green parrots socializing in the trees. They returned each evening at sundown too. We enjoyed a swim in the cool, clear water of the lake, accompanied by one of the several resident pups. We were happy to move on from there, away from the mosquitoes. We originally planned to head south through Guatemala and loop back up to Merida while stopping at various Mayan ruins. However, the weather forecast was more rain. More mosquitoes. More damp clothing. So we rerouted back toward the west side of the peninsula to sunnier (and less popular) beaches. Half way across, we stopped at a rural coffee shop for a break. A man stood outside having a cigarette and asked where we were from and where we were headed. He told us that the citizens of the state of Campeche were revolting against the development of their land by outsiders and to show their disapproval to the government, they were barricading the main roads into the state. Hmmmm. We didn't see that coming. We thanked him and chose an alternate and more remote route through the jungle and through many tiny pueblos. It turned out that the road we chose was under some pretty serious upgrading conditions. I wish I had taken a video. It was quite a ride. Here is a snapshot of the highway modernization. 

After a very long, hot day and plentiful  bumpy tope speed bumps, we made it to Ciudad Campeche and found a hotel for the night. The next morning we decided to head for a small beach town on the north coast of Yucatan. It's pretty busy and touristy, but it's hot and sunny and sandy and the sound of the ocean is so calming to my soul. We have spent today resting in the sunshine and exploring more bits and pieces of Mexican culture including mercados, zapaterias to find some sandals, and the laundry mat. I tried to find a place where I could wash our laundry all week between the little remote villages, but I finally gave in and dropped it at a lavanderia down the block where they wash and fold it for you (I also gained a few stray men's tees that I will have to return to the shop mañana).  

Seems to be a very common cultural thing here: everyone having someone else do everything for everyone. Pumping your gas. Helping you to park in a public place. Selling you toilet paper squares. 

There are SO many little cultural differences. Like the scented toilet paper everywhere. I even had my own normal TP in my pocket yesterday when we stopped at a rest stop on the highway. A woman ran over to the washroom door with a key and said "tres pesos". I said "tengo mi papel" and showed her my private stash.  She shook her head no and said "tres pesos" as she unlocked the washroom door and handed me a heap of perfumed paper with blue hearts printed on it. Self-sufficiency is not a thing here. Service is a very big thing here. Learning, learning, learning. Tres pesos at a time. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

Ancient Ones

Cenotes are mystical bodies of fresh water that come from deep under the ground. Some are visible from above ground and some are down below the surface, and they create an underground network across the Yucatan peninsula. It is said that the Cenotes were a source of drinking water for the ancient Mayan civilizations and were also seen as a connector to the underworld and were used for sacrificial purposes as well. We visited the ruins and a cenote at Dzibichaltun, just north of Merida. It was a very hot day and a swim in this fresh, clear pool was so wonderful. There were little fish swimming with us amongst the aquatic plants in the beautiful blue well. We didn't realize that it closed so early, so we missed the chance to fully explore the ruins. We planned to be making several more stops to tour other ruins throughout the region in the coming weeks.

We both booked cleaning and exam appointments with a local couple who are dentists. They were recommended by our new Mexican friend and her family. We had the best time ever at a dentist's office. It was so much fun trying to communicate about mouths and teeth in Spanish. We had lots of laughs and left with gleaming teeth as a bonus. We plan to return to their office for a little dental work in the next few weeks....but in the meantime...

We learned about Dia de Los Reyes on January 6th being the kickoff to a few weeks of more celebrating.  It kicks off with a tradition of eating a Rosca de Tres Reyes, or a giant ring of cream cheese-filled Danish-type bread that is topped with red and green bits of fruit. Inside each loaf there are six small plastic babies baked in (health hazard??). These represent baby Jesus, and whoever finds the babies in each loaf has to make a supper of tamales for their friends and family on February 2nd. 

Well we were all using the Internet and sipping coffees on the night of this annual celebration at our favorite cafe in Merida. We had been in there a few times in the last week, so the owners invited the three of us to join in their combo Tres Reyes cake sharing and a birthday celebration.  We had a lot of laughs and Barba Grande got the first baby, so we promised to return to Merida for February 2nd to help make everyone tamales! We had better take some tamale cooking lessons...el vegetariano style. They also told us that you will have wonderful luck for a whole year from finding a baby in your bread.

In the meantime, my partner and I, and his mom and auntie all piled into our little Jetta and headed east toward Valladolid to visit the Mayan ruinas at Ek' Balam. What a magical place. The energy was very strong there and I could easily envision the ancient civilization that was once living at that very spot. We climbed up the long stairway of the main temple and from the top we could see over the entire surrounding jungle in every direction. Wow. The detail in the construction and the carvings was astounding. We stopped to enjoy a fresh coco frio afterward. Yum!

Local Mayan artisans sell their goodies in every direction around here. The colors and patterns are hard to resist in the weaving, pottery and furniture. However, when you are in a small car with not much room to spare, and have no "home" to speak of, the temptation for home decor is only brief. I will just enjoy looking for now.

While in Valladolid, we stopped for a dip in Cenote Zaci right in town. It was a wild place. The cenote plunged down 180 meters into the ground and was a magical clear blue. From up at the top we could see lots of black fish that looked like catfish. There were lots of people from all over the globe visiting the ruins and Cenotes. 

After hitting the local mercado, we drove to Tulum on the Mayan Riviera. It seems to be a very touristy place with lots of young people. We discovered that accommodations were in very high demand. After practicing many times how to ask for a room for 4, we finally found a place called Casa Rosa, or Pink House. It was pink and surrounded by roosters who did not know what time it was all night. Part of the real Mexican experience!

We toured the Tulum ruins on the cliffs above the sea. It was a perfect day and the ocean breeze made it feel so nice in the hot sun. The iguana kingdom now rules these ruins. There were so many of them that it felt like a game to count them all. They were very friendly and loved having their portraits take.  

These ruins were so majestic overlooking the turquoise waves and palm trees. It must have been so fascinating to live in a place like that.

Ironically, tonight we have the best Internet service that we have had since we crossed into Mexico, and I am sitting in a mosquito-netted bed at an Eco lodge in the jungle. A symphony of crickets, geckos and the occasional bird (non-rooster) will sing us to sleep tonight.


Monday, January 05, 2015

A Bustling Start to 2015!

We arrived in Merida after dark on the night before New Year's Eve. We arrived at the casa where my AMIL (almost mother-in-law)/friend and her new friend are staying. Out front were laundry lines, a garden and a big lighted showcase that displays a relic of the Virgin Mary.
Our friends told us that a tiny stray puppy appeared inside their gated front yard the night before. He was so tiny. I picked him up for a snuggle and noticed that he was riddled with fleas. I decided to give him a good scrubbing. He felt and looked much better afterward. He got a second bath the next day too. He also had ticks, and his ears were filthy inside. I wish I did a "before and after" of him. He hung around with us for several days, then we discussed finding him a new home, a task that is not as easy here as it would be in Canada. There are stray dogs and cats all over the place across Mexico. Some appear well-fed and others are skin and bones. Our neighbor here told us that someone was feeding poison to the strays in the neighborhood. It's sad, and I wish I could think of a simple solution to the overpopulation. Well, the little guy must have heard us talking because he disappeared that night as quickly as he showed up, hopefully to a safe new home.

Besides the domestic wildlife, we have been learning to love the outdoor critters that invite themselves inside. The beige geckos scamper across the walls and ceiling when you aren't looking. You occasionally spot one, but you can mostly tell they are around when they make their loud call that sounds like wild laughter.  In the bathroom the other night was a large millipede. As we cooked supper, a huge cucaracha zoomed across the kitchen floor. If you have never encountered one, it is the insect equivalent of a racehorse when it comes to speed, and they make a creepy skittering noise. We captured it and took it to the vacant treed lot across the street. One night, a spider the size of the palm of my hand waited at the front door for a visit. There are iguanas of all sizes lounging on the tops of cinder block and stuccoed walls, soaking up the sunshine.

Thank goodness for Mexican auto insurance. We used a company based in California called Lewis & Lewis, recommended by a friend of a friend. It came out to about $40 CAN per month- Much cheaper than in British Columbia. There are traffic circles all over Mexico called glorietas. They, like many other things in Mexico, are a bit tricky and a little unpredictable. In Mexico, turn signals seem optional. Anyway, on New Year's Eve day, we had a slow speed crash with the side of a Honda SUV at one of these glorietas. Luckily for us, our trusty Jetta just got away with a couple of scuffs on her front bumper. The SUV was less lucky. The passenger door was crushed in. We both called our insurance companies, which happened to be the same company. A friendly police officer showed up too. We were so grateful that our Mexican Amiga, Melvy, was with us to translate. She is blind, so she couldn't really see what happened but nevertheless, we would have been there all day long if it wasn't for her assistance. Papers were signed and we all went on our way.  They all wished us a happy new year and asked if we were going to party. We weren't sure what to expect on New Year's Eve in Mexico. 

We were invited to our friend's family's home for a party on New Year's Eve. We made guacamole and a dessert to bring with us. The party was at their neighbor's home. They were from Honduras. There were lots of Mexican family and friends and also a couple from Colombia. By the end of the night my brain felt scrambled from working so hard to translate and speak in Espanol. Mexican parties seem to focus around food. Soooo much food. There was Latin music thumping from a boom box. We got a tour of some Mayan ruins that were just across the street from the party. There were many stone structures and a deep stone well that was fed from an underground cenote, or spring. We were given a chunk of stone with seashell fossils in it as a gift. It was a good intro to the many Mayan ruins that are scattered across this part of the country. 

After dark, the fireworks were in full force, along with burning balloons floating all around us in the sky. They are called globos aerostaticos and they are paper balloons that are lifted by a fireball that is lit underneath. The ones at this party were homemade and were unsuccessful in flight. Flaming fire balls flew through the air and fell to the ground. It sure was exciting. 

The next morning, our friend's papa came to harvest a bunch of bananas or platanos, as they are called here. He chopped them down using a machete and they were set aside to ripen. After a banana tree gives a bunch, it dies and is cut down to make way for the next little sprout to grow and give a bunch. It's an endless cycle.

We love going to the mercados for fresh fruits and veggies. The colors, smells and music are a fun experience each time. Fresh produce is very affordable here and it's delicious too. Some of my favorite things so far are the giant aguacates (avocados), the piñas (pineapples) and the sandias (watermelons). Mmmm!

Internet is not quite as common in the average household here. Not everyone can afford it and the networks are limited. There are many Internet cafés here where you can pay a small fee to use the wifi. However, there is no guarantee that there will be a good connection at any given time. This is how I am posting my blogs. This particular cafe we are in is big and new and breezy and the owners are very sweet. The first time we visited here, we ordered coffee and exchanged some rough English and Spanish with them. Many people know as much English as we know Spanish so it's a fun conversation! They said "here is a gift" and they gave us two heart shaped cookies. That is the real Mexico. Peace and love. Paz y amor.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Tamaulipas to Yucatan

Our car got the royal VW treatment in Puebla, the VW capital of Mexico, where she was built over a decade ago. She got a new thermostat, a new heat sensor and a new water pump, all installed for about $250, Canadian. We were so grateful for our limited Spanish skills and the limited English skills of the mechanic shop manager. Plus, just before we crossed into Mexico, we purchased a Spanish-English which has been a lifesaver

While our car was in the shop, we had time to explore the historic city center of Puebla. We went to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo and the Rosary Chapel. Neither of us are church-goers, but these buildings were breathtakingly beautiful. The details inside and out were astonishing. We happened to be in el centro on a Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, so we had to squeeze in for a look between the 6 masses. 

After the churches, we went to an outdoor cafe for some lunch. There were two amigos playing marimba, a beautiful, carved wooden xylophone-type instrument, for the patrons. While we waited for a table, a teen girl and her family approached us and asked en Espanol if we would pose for a photo with her. We laughed and said of course. Then later that afternoon, we sat in the setting sun in the courtyard of the Cathedral de Puebla. Two ladies approached us and asked if they could each take a turn sitting with us for a photo. We agreed and thought it was so funny that this happened twice in one afternoon. Are we that strange?!

There was lots of celebrating in the square and thousands of people swarmed around the downtown. Lots of characters in costumes like Disney World posed for photos. There was even a "snow box" like a sand box, for the kids to play in. There was also an ice skating rink and a climbing wall, all set up for the festivities. We walked the streets that evening and looked at all of the vendor booths selling everything from soda to bananas to meats and cheeses to cooked meals, to toys and clothing and pottery-and everything else you could imagine. It was extreme stimulation to every one of the senses! We came across a beautiful yellow church and walked in to explore the courtyard. There were niñas chasing pigeons and laughing together... and the colors in Mexico are so perfect for beautiful photos. 

We departed Puebla the next day and headed east toward Villahermosa. We drove over winding mountain passes that were covered in lush jungle. We came to an area where at every overpass on the highway, there was a vendor selling fresh piña juice. After we passed a few, we decided to indulge. We bought one liter for $2 from an elderly señor. After we tasted how insanely delicious it was, we stopped at a second vendor and bought two more. There was a whole family selling together at this stand. The two little girls were so adorable and were showing off their dolly and posing for photos. 

Something we have noticed about Mexico is that as a traveller, you will never go for more than a few minutes without being offered food and drink. At every toll booth and bridge and at all of the tope speed bumps, there are vendors selling snacks and juices. It's a good idea to keep some pesos in your car's ashtray or console in case you are hungry or thirsty on the road. We enjoyed some platanos fritos, or fried plantain chips, on several occasions. Mmmmmm!

We arrived in Villahermosa after dark and there was major highway construction so it was very dusty. The air was also thick with smoke from fire nearby. We pulled into an auto motel. I had never heard of such a thing. We slept upstairs in a hotel room and our car slept below us in a private garage. It was a very bizarre place and it was so loud there all night that if we had better Spanish skills, we would have asked for a refund. Luckily, it was inexpensive!

The next morning we exited Villahermosa and headed for our first destination, Merida, in the state of Yucatan. We enjoyed our 7-hour drive up the gulf side of the peninsula. There were hundreds of various ocean birds floating along beside us. We passed many pescadores selling their morning fish catch on the sides of the roads. There was even one man selling turtles on a stick. Poor little guys. At one point, we passed a small herd of camels grazing on the side of the road. Unexpected, but not that surprising. We passed through several small pueblos and the locals had so many decorations out for the holidays. Christmas lights, trees, nativity scenes, Virgin Mary shrines and old man mannequin-scarecrows that people created to represent the old year that passed. We were told that at midnight on New Year's Eve, they light TNT and fireworks and explode and burn them to represent letting go of the old year and welcoming in the new.  

We approached Merida as it was getting dark and we got a bit lost. We stopped at two different OXXO shops, which are an equivalent to 7-eleven at gas stations. We bought a map and it took 6 of us to figure out how to get where we needed to be. Two employees, two patrons and us. It was quite a scene. The Mexican people are so hospitable and helpful. We finally made it to Ciudad Caucel in Merida. We arrived at the home of our friends and we were pooped. It is so much hotter and more humid on the peninsula than up in the northern half of Mexico that we sweat while doing nothing at all.

I'll stop there for now. I have lots more to share but I'm exhausted from the New Years celebrations. Buenas noches mi amigos.