Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Visitors in Chacala: Take Two

It seems like forever ago now since we lived in Alaska. Hannah was born there, and Meira was T-minus-6 weeks when we moved back to Oregon. Time hasn’t diminished the friendships we made there, though, and we were overjoyed to host Ryan, one of our cold-weather friends, for a few weeks in sunny Mexico.
Anchorage is a highly transient city, with people flying in and out regularly. Our close-knit community often drove to the airport to welcome returning friends with an enormous, 3-by-6-foot banner that read, “NORM.” No one was actually named “Norm” (though one day a man came off the plane wearing a nametag that also said “Norm” and we hollered our welcome to him on general principles) and the origin of the inside joke is lost in the mists of my forgetful mind. Anyway…we couldn’t let Ryan’s arrival pass without reviving the tradition.

We all pitched in to make a smaller version of the original banner and Bryan headed out on the several hour bus ride to the Puerto Vallarta airport. He arrived in plenty of time and found the waiting area, where families and friends mingle with hired drivers and tour guides. Apparently, only registered drivers and guides are allowed to hold signs up in the airport. Before Ryan came out, a security guard firmly told Bryan, “If you don’t put that away, there will be trouble.” Bryan tucked the sign away, but when he saw Ryan walking down the glassed-in hallway, he slapped the sign up against the window and then whisked it away. They got out of the airport without being arrested…always a good accomplishment.

They caught a local bus to the long-distance bus stop and took that back to Las Varas, where they grabbed a taxi (the collectivo had stopped running already) out to Chacala. By the time they arrived, Ryan had been traveling for almost 24 hours. It must have been a shock to go from snowy Alaska to a beach in Mexico, but he jumped right into our evening’s plans—live salsa music and dancing on the beach! David, Carolyn, and Will were with us again, along with Michele and Trina. We sat back and watched for a while, but finally the lively energy got the better of me. Carolyn and I danced through a song or two, but when they announced, “Last song!” I tugged on Bryan’s hand to drag him out on the sandy dance “floor” and ended up dumping him over in his chair. The girls’ laughter rolled across the space like a following sea.

The next morning, Meira joined David and Carolyn on their daily swim to shore.


Those of us left on the boat were treated to a visit from a spotted eagle ray.

Trina and Michele had met Ryan when he last visited us in Oregon and they arranged their itinerary to overlap his visit by a day. We started off with a lovely brunch at their hotel.


Well, first, I coaxed enough power out of the boat’s inverter to give Bryan a much-needed haircut.


But then, we went up to the hotel and fed the gang.

…and played with the hotel cat.

Bryan went back to the boat for something (we can never seem to get off the boat with everything we need; you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get all of us out with four pairs of shoes!) and ran into an artist sketching the bay.

That's my boat!
We’d wanted to take the Moms for a hike up the volcano we’d enjoyed previously and decided to wait until Ryan came in and all go together. David and Carolyn joined in and we had another great time.







On our last trip, we’d met a security guard who spent his spare time making beautiful art from shish-kebab skewers, but we hadn’t gotten any pictures. He’d told us he’d been commissioned to make the frame for a piece of native art. Now, only a few days later, the picture frame was almost finished and he laid the art in the frame to give us the whole effect.

The security guard buys plain skewers, stains them different colors, then trims them carefully and glues them in place. He is still relatively new to this art form, but it looked flawless to me!

I love the way the small circles pop out at you or shift into a subtle rectangular snake when the light hits them just right.

On our way home, we stopped to buy another Jaca fruit to share and Michele did the hard work of picking out the edible fruit from the sticky, sticky center. She'd fallen in love with the fruit in Africa and was so excited to try it again.


The evening found us back at the family-run restaurant. Their delicious, inexpensive food had drawn us back several times and the night before, at dinner, the abuelita came by our table and quietly told us she would be making posole “…tomorrow, only tomorrow.” Well. We couldn’t resist the offer of authentic posole (though several of us had to go home and look up exactly what it was.) The flavorful soup was everything you might expect from a sweet, Mexican grandmother. We ate every bite and showered her with praise.

The next day, we made spent the morning saying goodbye to our Grandmas. After a dash down the street for last-minute souvenirs, we sent Michele and Trina off in a collectivo and a flurry of hugs.
Next we carried our laundry up the road to the lavanderia and arranged a time to pick it up. We don’t mind doing our own laundry, but coin-op machines are almost impossible to find in Mexico. For not a whole lot more than we would pay to do our own laundry at a laundromat in the U.S., our clothes come back washed, dried, and folded. Of course, it’s still a bit of a trick to locate the lavanderia, haul all our laundry up there, and figure out the price and hours of operation.
We spent the afternoon boogie boarding on the beach. Despite Meira losing her prescription snorkel mask in the surf (if you’re keeping track…we’ve lost a lot of stuff on this trip!) we all had loads of fun. Here she is a day later, showing off her battle wounds but still smiling.



After the obligatory sunset watch—“Pay attention!” we say to each other. “Or it’s rude to God!”—we went to Chacala’s street taco stand.

The cooks made the tortillas fresh to order and filled them up with perfectly flavored meat. Then they pointed us to the buffet of toppings—onions, cilantro, beans, salsas of all sorts—enough toppings to make eating the tacos a tricky proposition.


As we rowed back to the boat (5 adult-sized people and all our gear—Go Rover!), the phosphorescence in the water mesmerized us all. After a few moments of debate, Bryan, Ryan, and Meira all jumped in. They swam around the boat in slow motion, arms and legs leaving a green glow in their wake while overhead, the stars burned bright.
The next morning, Ryan and I spent a few quiet moments journaling (don’t want to forget a moment of these amazing days!) and then roused the rest of the crew for the day’s activities.

When we’d left Puerto Vallarta, with the Moms, we’d planned to go back in the boat to pick up Ryan. But it turned out to be cheaper and easier for Bryan to bus down to get him. Unfortunately, that meant we were now in Chacala, with lots of adventure planned and not enough fuel (or wind…the weather’s been so mild!) to get us there. Bryan also needed to change the oil in the engine, and I needed to stock up on groceries before a few days of remote exploration. We gathered in the plaza with shopping bags and gas cans and caught a collectivo to Las Varas.


We hoped the collectivo wouldn’t mind carrying gas back for us (we traveled one day with a woman who was carrying a bucket of fish, so we thought there was a good chance) and it didn’t seem to be a problem. Before we all went our separate ways on our errands, we went back to the restaurant from our previous trip to Las Varas. We set our (empty, but still!) gas cans in the front corner where the cashier could keep an eye on them.


After lunch, Bryan went off on his quest and we on ours. “Whatever you find to eat,” he said, “buy a lot!” We found a small produce market and a bulk food store (more popcorn—yay!), and filled out around the edges at a tiny supermercado. I chatted with the clerk at the last store for a few minutes and we shared stories about our respective lives, both so different in some ways and alike in others. At some point, the girls spotted Bryan in the back of the collectivo van and waved at him. The thoughtful driver screeched to a stop and backed up to see if we needed a ride. “Not yet! Maybe later!” We waved him on.

Before we took the trip home, I wanted to find a bathroom for everyone. But public restrooms in Mexico are few and far between. Even if you can find one, you often have to pay to use it. And you’d better have your own TP on hand. I asked the supermercado clerk and she generously invited us through the back of the store into her home. We made friends with the guard chihuahuas and admired the cool beauty of the secluded space.


When we got back to Chacala, we waited around for a bit and then stood on the beach and waved at the boat until Bryan looked up from his work on the boat and came to retrieve us.



Evenings weren’t all sunsets and sparkly-swimming. We also played games or just hung out together aboard.


We made the most of our last day in Chacala and spent the whole day on the beach.
Meira masterfully rowed herself back to the boat through the crowd on the beach

While everyone else went boogie boarding (by now both girls and Bryan had dipped into their savings for a board), I sat at a table and tried to focus more on my writing than my spectacular surroundings.

The girls showed up in the late afternoon, sandy but happy.


Bryan spread out a project on a nearby table and stitched the fabric we’d bought in Mazatlan into a fantastic cockpit shade.



We splurged on pizza and refreshing drinks all around. I seem to remember Bryan using the promise of frappuccinos to bribe Hannah into swimming.

And we made sure to enjoy one more amazing sunset before we sailed off for more adventures.

Sad stab at a photo credit: I can’t remember which were whose, but thanks, Ryan Severson, for sharing so many of your pictures with us!

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