Saturday, May 11, 2019

72 Hours in Puebla

I had been thinking about a mini yoga retreat for myself for about 6 months. Every now and again I would go online and look at prices and places. I wanted to do Bikrham yoga, which I fondly call "my yoga". It's not that I don't enjoy other practices, but there is something special for me about the 26 posture series in the heat that allows me to be just with myself.

The closest you will get to a pic of me in a yoga pose.
Here I am with my yoga mat.

I have an acquaintance who is a therapist and she posts about "self care", and what that means. I struggle a little with some of those ideas for myself, because sometimes they cost money I don't have to spend. (Or at least, not spend on me). Back to the self-care loop. Even going to the dog refuge or walking in the mountains requires money for gas, getting in the car, time. I struggle with that balance of not having infinite funds and needing the time away. So, for a long time I just looked and dreamt, and then one night I decided, enough looking, I was going. I needed the time, I needed the yoga, I needed to move forward. And, I needed to step into a truth, but that is for another blog.

Had I written this blog after my first 90 minutes (Tuesday evening at 6:30), I would have told you about the heat and the humidity. How my hips welcomed the stretch and how the hot air on my skin and the prickly carpet under my arms in my final shavasana were gifts that made me feel.

Had I written this blog after my second day, taking two classes within 12 hours of each other (6:30AM and 6:30PM), I would have shared that yes, we learn something from every teacher we practice with, and that on that day, I had learnt  being frustrated with the teacher helped no one. (And that not all teachers have learnt humility in their practice.) It didn't matter how annoying the teacher was, what mattered was that the dialogue was there to guide me through my practice and I needed to rely on it. No matter who it was delivered by or how it was delivered.

Had I written this blog after the third day, when I accidentally ended up in an intermediate class (my fault, I read the schedule wrong) I would have written that I needed to spend more time making my arms and abs stronger. As much as I loved the basic practice and it taught me every class exactly where I was with my body, this 90 minutes taught me where I was not.

But what I learnt, the learning that 9 hours of sweating so much you don't think you can sweat any more and yet you do, the learning that falling out of postures, taking too long to get into postures as an excuse to be lazy, avoiding/cheating in heart opening postures like camel because you cry after them, the learning that comes as you find your balance in a posture that has eluded you for years, the learning that sits now deep in the bones of my legs, in the joint of my big toe, is something Janice, my first Bikrham teacher, had tried to teach me years ago. That balance in the yoga room reflects the balance in your life. I thought back then that she meant the balance between your left and right, your work and pleasure, art and science, your happiness and your reflection. No, what she was trying to teach me was that balance was about being in that moment, and not letting anything else into the mind. It was about being present, 100% right there, all the time. And my mind is my worst saboteur. When I struggled in the balancing series it was because I was THINKING. About Ralph, or Carlos, or the dogs at the refuge, or giving things up, or getting things done, or being at my cottage. I allowed those thoughts to creep in and steal that special sweaty time I had created for myself. Why, I wonder. Can you imagine if every time we let our mind wander when we were sitting at dinner with friends we fell out of our chairs?

My homework this year, because I have decided to go back to Puebla next year for a similar "retreat", is to work at just being present in the moment I am in. Whatever that brings. Whatever that means.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Ugly...

For the past few weeks I have had little time to head out to the dog refuge, and I was back there on Saturday to drop off my friends' monthly donations of food. I had picked up 4 other donated bags from other volunteers, and wanted to buy the 16 posts I needed for shade shelters we are going to put up this week, funded through a kind donation in the name of Rico, the little dog I had tried to save from the refuge just over a year ago who recently died.

All these dogs. So little time.

I had written some time ago that every time I arrived at the refuge there was some sort of drama - real or imagined. I am not there every day nor can I be there very day, and I go for the dogs and I am, I think, somewhat realistic about the impact I can have on these animals. My time and resources are limited. We all do what we can.

Recently both Ralph and a friend had sent me an article that was in the online English language paper. People seemed to be pleased with the initiative. I'm not, and I thought this was a good time to get out a bit of frustration but also some thoughts to share.

In brief, a bunch of guys set up stations to feed the street dogs in Oaxaca, Mexico where I live. OK.

Healthy street dogs means they will get pregnant more often with a higher chance of bigger litters and a higher survival rate. They will be having their litters of puppies on the streets, crating more street dogs. Let's conservatively say out of ten street dogs, 4 are female, and although they can have 3 to 4 litters per year, again, playing a conservative role, let's just say they have 2 litters per year, of, again, conservatively 4 puppies. 4X2X4 = 32. 32 new street dogs. Sure, some may get adopted, and some will die by getting run over by cars. However, I do see an advantage. Having dogs come to reliable food source means that organizations who run sterilization campaigns can also use that reliable food outlet to run street-side sterilization events to try to spay and neuter the dogs that are on the street. Want to fund one? Let me know.

This brings me back to the subject of the refuge and the drama.

The refuge, as I call it, is not a nice place for dogs to be. My view is that they are marginally better there than dead on the road, or beaten by their owners, or suffering tied up without food or water and left to starve. It's called a refuge. It's not a spa. We work hard to keep it clean and the dogs fed and parasites managed and health cared for and mange at bay. I try hard to balance that it is not mine, I go for the dogs, and let's be frank, the woman who does "manage" it cannot read or write and in my uneducated opinion may have some hoarding issues, and cannot say no when someone shows up with a box of 12 puppies or if someone comes in the middle of the night and drops off a dog, tied up by the front and back legs, what is there to do? What are those people miraculously expecting... what?

Tonight I am upset and I am going to tell you what happens. You usually see my posts and my pics and I am smiling and holding up dogs and encouraging you to give/adopt/help and THANK YOU.

But for those of you who donate in other ways. Your dog that is tied up that you left at the entrance to the refuge? Defenseless, tied up, confused. The dogs outside the refuge killed it, because it smelt different and was considered a threat to their food source.

The box of puppies you dropped off. There are at best 4 left, and they may or may not ever be adopted. The lady who runs the refuge didn't/couldn't/wouldn't send you away with those little helpless puppies. So instead when they died, she buried their little bodies or put them in the trash. She did your dirty work for you.

Don't want your dog anymore because it is too big? Don't have enough space? Your new boyfriend/girlfriend doesn't like it? Couldn't be bothered to go get your dog fixed, but somehow you can manage to find the time to drop off the puppies at the refuge? Thanks.

For years, humans have "outsourced" this dirty work, burying our dead, slaughtering our animals for food or profit, and putting an end to something that makes us uncomfortable. I am a little sore tonight in my heart. Spay and neuter your pets. Don't breed them. And if you don't want that pet anymore, bring it to a vet and sacrifice its life. You do it.You. You. You.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Things You Never Expect

About 6 weeks ago now, our friends Carol and Bill were in a terrible car accident while on vacation in Playa del Carmen. I blogged about going down there for about 5 days to be their legs and arms and a sounding board and family & friend updater and comic relief, ballon and cupcake fetcher, coffee smuggler, to name a few things.

We're a few weeks now back in Oaxaca, and I feel like there are a few things I want to share but also to write down to remind myself.

  • I did a good thing when I got back and I let other people take the reigns in caring for Bill and Carol once they were back home. It was hard, as I had been with them almost non-stop through some pretty terrible days. I learnt that you show up when you can, and rely on others to do the same. 
  • I learnt that as far as insurance is concerned, you need to know a few things. If you have various insurance plans (say you have a medical plan from a home country and then insurance from a car company in the event of an accident), no one is going to help coordinate that for you. No one.
  • I learnt that insurance doesn't cover everything you might need depending on what accident you have experienced and what your individual circumstances are. Decide what is important to you and look after that as far as insurance and savings is concerned. For example, if an air evacuation back to a far away home country is critical to your happiness, and it is not 100% covered by your insurance plan, don't travel. I am only kidding a little bit, here. Or own your own plane. 
  • Insurance often doesn't cover little (or big) considerations, like if you can stay in your own home to recover or have to move because of the configuration of your current place. It may not cover things to make you more comfortable, like extra pillows or a sheepskin or an airmattress to avoid bedsores. Maybe it covers a capped amount for physiotherapy or massage and your doctor recommends more. what I learnt is there are lots of incidentals that can arise. Have a little fund, for those little things.
  • Be OK with loosing it completely some days. If you are the caregiver or the patient, there are going to be tough, shitty, rough days. They are good for us. And if you are the caregiver, encourage it, embrace it, make tea. As the initial person who was there, everyone one else's love via email and text kept me going and positive and gave me the much needed energy I needed. Thank you to all those folks who did that.
  • I learnt that if you are one of those people who "moved away", then making sure you have a community where you live is vital in so many ways. Sure, I flew out and helped my friends because I could at that moment, but when we were back in Oaxaca and I was back to working, what seemed like 100 people "showed up". From getting beds and spaces organized to groceries to cooking to managing a visitor's schedule to organizing nurses to texting doctors, our community showed up in spades, and that moves me to tears.

Finally, I learnt that I should not put off things that I have a bit of fear about that I have been wanting to try. I have been thinking about Carol, who will have been in a hospital bed for about 8 weeks. And then after the 8 weeks, she has to build up her muscles again and learn to walk again and can't do stairs for likely a long while yet. I thought about how I would feel if that was me in that bed, with those plates in my body and screws holding me together. So, I decided I was going to do two things, with the help of Bill & Carol, that I had been putting off for a long time. I am going to try to paint (with Carol), and I am going to learn to play my ukelele (with Bill). That should make for some interesting blog posts!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Day Off = Adventures!

After a few months of hectic work, we have a little break over the next few weeks. No house guests until my sister-in-law and her husband arrive, no AirBnB guests, no tours scheduled (we all know that can change in a minute!) and yes, likely lots of other work but nothing that couldn't wait for a day. A while back a taxi driver told me about this place that was "better" than Hierve el Agua. A place called La Salina, in San Baltazar Guelavia. Today, with water, not enough snacks and our bathing suits, we headed out!

For folks who have not yet traveled with me, Ralph will tell you that I am famous for wanting to follow tiny litle signs with arrows along the side of the road, or for reading in some book that is 10 years old that you can pick up a guide at the "miscelanea" and hike 6 kilometers uphill to a ruin no one knows about.
A cropped version... it's the blue sign on the building in the photo below

Today was one of those days, and it was magical. Ten years ago when we first lived in Oaxaca, our weekends were filled with these adventures. We missed our turn today, and laughed when headed back towards Matatlan, there was a perfectly well indicated sign to San Baltazar. I guess no one wants to go there if they are traveling from the other direction. (For other travelers, when you see kilometer marker 58, be prepared for the upcoming left hand turn bu the roadside Mezcal producer. If you get to the intersection for the righhand turn to Ocotlan, San Dionosis and other towns, you have gone too far, U-turn and head back, and, well, you'll see the sign...)

The obvious sign.

We head up through the town and when passing the municipal building, a little man with a machete and a young man with a shoulder bag wave us down. I smile and tell them we're here to go to "Las Salinas". Yup! We will come to a fork in the road and from there we follow the arrows. Passing through the town costs us a fee of $15 pesos each, and I am promised that we'll pay our entrance into La Salina when we get there.

So, we followed the arrows, and around a bend is a view of Hierve el Agua. (See that white smudge in the mountains in the picture above? Yup!) We laughed and realized we were driving on those roads we are frequently asked about when we are at Hierve el Agua, looking off into the distance. At the end of this road is a little palapa hut and Raul is waiting for us. He charges us our $50 pesos (maybe for the car? maybe $25 pesos per person?) and then proceeds to show us this incredible canyon which is a mixture of fresh and salt water. We scramble down ladders and through the water (next time: water shoes!) to this gorgeous pool with a little waterfall, petrified but still active cascade on one side, limestone cliffs on the other. Although Raul had suggested we change, I was not convinced I would swim, but as soon as I saw the cascade and the clear pool below it sort of enclosed in rock like a cenote, I was in my suit in seconds. What a swim! Clear cool water and the formations on the walls were breathtaking.

After we finished putting in the pool, we walked gingerly (did I mention the water shoes??) through the canyon and then into a 3 meter deep pool of slightly saline water, it has that blue grey color and I could have stayed and played there all day.

We climbed out and sat by the side of the river and ate plums and chatted with Raul. He told us two tour companies go there, Coyote and Zapotrek, and we were happy for them. He asked how old Ralph was and how old I am, and told me I looked older because of my grey hair. He also asked if I had kids and I explained that no, I didn't, and he informed me that he had 4 daughters, one studying at university, and that in the village of you are married but don't have kids you would divorce. I smiled. I was used to this discussion. At least he didn't suggest I visit the local medicine woman to be "cured".

You can evidently hike from Hierve el Agua to La Salina, which is what the two companies I mentioned above do, and I am happy they bring people here. It was a magical spot but one Ralph and I think we will save for visiting family, friends and maybe a few return Go Well guests. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Signs from God

This post is about faith, and if that makes you uncomfortable, well, then, it makes you uncomfortable.

I am often asked if I am Catholic. I consider myself Catholic, but I suppose what one would consdier to be non-practicing. I was raised in the Church. I don't got to mass weekly. I have may reasons, but mostly I believe in living a full life with lots of love, patience and service to others which in my life includes animals.

God works in mysterious ways. Look for the signs. Ask and wait. He will provide.

When I had decided to fly out and help my friends Bill and Carol in Playa del Carmen, I lay in bed filled with doubt. How would I manage? I had a business to run, a life and husband in Oaxaca, travel plans in June (would there still be $ to go see my little sister graduate and become a doctor?), would I be useful? Why was I going? Would I just be in the way? I asked God for guidance, and immediately remembered something a friend's father told my sister about money when she told him she wanted to be a Doctor. She said she worried about money as a single mother, and he told her: Do not worry about money, God will provide.

So, I woke up the next morning and started to organize the trip, and in the afternoon, a friend went by my home with an envelope with some cash and an email that said it was to help with my trip.

I arrived in Playa del Carmen and while shopping for a few groceries, I thought - shouldn't Bill and Carol had a momento from Playa del Carmen? No, not a mug...

No, not a t-shirt with a saying that makes NO SENSE...
There were lots and they were 30% off. Not sure what that says about, well, anything...

wait a minute... YES!! The Vigin of Guadalupe, of course!!

Many times while I lay in bed trying to sleep or at least calm my crazy brain, I thanked God for giving me the strength to just keep going. Sometimes I might have a little cry, but in general, I always had faith that things would get sorted as they were supposed to.

Sometimes, God's signs are less than pleasant. Sometimes the signs frustrate you and make you angry and make you think: are you KIDDING ME? And yet, from that frustration comes a better, brighter, happier solution that you would not have thought of had God not slipped in that little meltdown moment. Once those are sorted, you treat yourself to a hibiscus flower water as big as your head.

Other times, little things show up when you don't expect them. Like this image of Jesus on my pear. I showed it to my friend Bill and he suggested I eat it up quickly otherwise the next thing I knew, the entire ward would be in our room and we would be more famous than we already are.

Jesus on my pear...

Jesus in Brazil. Same same.

When in doubt, pray. And then go for a run!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Playa Del Carmen - 2 friends, 2 busses, 2 taxis, 1 flight

On Wednesday evening, I got this text from my friend Carol, who lives in Oaxaca.

Just seconds before I had gotten an email informing me of about the same - that Bill and Carol had been in a terrible car crash and that they (and their visiting family from Canada, Bill's two sisters and his brother-in-law) were all in hospital in Playa Del Carmen.

Ralph and I had just gotten home from work, and I stood in my hiking clothes and looked at him and said: We need to go.

Here is all I knew about the Mexican medical system: If you are in the hospital, you need help. In Oaxaca, it is common to have someone from the family with you all the time. ( I exaggerate, I do know a tiny bit more, but you get the point - support is key.)

Ralph and I sat and talked about it. Our question was - if it was us, what would we want? We agreed, we would want someone there. Timing was good on our side, so we decided I would go. So many other friends had considered it but the timing was wrong - their own trip out of Oaxaca, family visiting, etc. I feel like I am here representing all of those other people who wanted to be here but couldn't. And Hilda. Of course. She was ready.

So, I spent Thursday morning arranging the trip, and I also wanted to do it somewhat cost effectively. I took a night bus Friday from Oaxaca to Mexico City, then a taxi to the airport, then a flight from Mexico City to Cancun, then a bus from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen, then a taxi over to the hospital directly. I have a few travel notes:

Dear Backpackers: If you can't carry your monster backpack, get luggage, with wheels. Signed: the lady who caught you as you almost fell over from the weight of your bag.
Dear Cell Phone Users: When in a public bathroom, once in the stall - PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY. There are lineups of people who actually have to pee. Badly, sometimes. Signed: The woman who knocked agressively on your door in the CDMX airport while you "chatted" and the lineup grew longer and longer.
Dear Google: Is it too much to ask for you to indicate where roads are paved and where the municipality has thrown down river rocks in order to try to not have the entire road wash away? Signed: The girl with the luggage with wheels.

Questions Tanya's Mexico Taxi Drivers may be asked:
 - Is there a "real" market closeby?
 - Is it safe at night or early in the morning to run?
 - How do the taxis work, by zone or metered?
 - What time does the sun set? (For the record, he was WAY off on this answer.)

I arrive at the hospital. Begin farce: There is a door that says: Administration. Nope, they send me upstairs. There is a nice big reception desk. Nope. They directly me to tiny little desk over on the side with Francisco. I explain I am here to see Bill and Carol Watts. I appreciate the names may be strange, I say them slowly. Francisco asks me if they are patients here. (Because I guess they have TONS of folks who just rock up asking for people not staying in the hospital...) I explain that yes, they are. I say that the woman (Carol) may be in surgery and they may or may not be in the same room. He says he will go look. He returns. Asks if the man is in surgery and the woman is here to look after him. No, no, I assure him they are BOTH patients, and the last room number I had was 101. He excuses himself again. He comes back. He has located them. But visiting hours are over. I said that was nice but I jsut arrived from Oaxaca and I would like to see my friends please. He says sure, I am provided with a visitor tag, hand over my ID, and then he asks if I will be staying there and if he should arrange for a cot. End Farce.

Other than the above, the hospital has been great. My hotel is a 2 bedroom suite and very close to the hospital, and reasonably comfortable but new, so there are funny things missing, like matches to light the stove and mirrors anywhere. Maybe Playa del Carmen people don't use mirrors? Francisco was also very surprised I was leaving last night, and I felt, as I walked back over the river rock attempting not to break an ankle that I was somehow lacking in my Mexican Hospital Family Duties.

I was at the hospital today and will blog a little about that in another post, but now time to update everyone on today's developments and then have a nap before heading back over.

My cousin said there is a beach here. Really. I may just see that...

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

No tourists were harmed in the writing of this post...

It's not with every tour that my guests get the opportunity to have an upclose and personal experience with a man carrying a glock and another carrying a semi-automatic. Not sure if the third guy was carrying, or if he was just the driver.

Let me back up a little. I set out for Hierve el Agua at the usual 7:30 and picked up Ed and Gracie. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent. We set out and get just outside the arceological site of Lamityeco and suddenly, the van stops. RPMs go flat, no power steeering. Just electrical and good old-fashioned coasting. I am thankful for the nice wide shoulder as we pull over and stop. In spite of about 20 minutes of best efforts by both Ed and I, including taking out the air filter and giving it a shake, the van is not starting. Decision time: call the day off, go back and get their rental car, or take various forms of public transportation and just go for it. Ed and Gracie were game to go for it. We decided to leave lunch behind, tossed towels, suits and snacks into backpacks, tried the van one last time, and then turned around and - ta da!!! Literally the next car was an empty collectivo. After a little discussion, the driver agreed to take us all the way to Hierve el Agua for $350 pesos. And we're on to Method of Transportation #2.

Collectivos are basically shared taxis. 5 people - 3 in back, 2 in front + the driver.

After a great hike, an amazing swim and some time in the sun, we head up and have lunch with Maria. Maria is my constant at Hierve el Agua. She runs a little food kiosk and seeing as we had left the Go Well lunch in the van, we settled down to eat with Maria. "Que milagro" (what a miracle!), she said, when I told her we were eating with her that day. She was busy so I helped us to drinks and told her our order. (Memelitas - an order is 3 hand made corn tortillas with black beans, avocado and tomato and choice of chorizo, tasajo or cecina. Of course we had one of each.) Maria is always there working, even on the coldest day of the year, when we are almost the only guests and the cold winter wind is blowing through the valley, she is there. I try to show her my appreciation of this by giving her my leftover sedona salad whenever we are there. When her rush settled and she could have a seat, I told her what had happened. La caminetta se descompuse. "The little truck decomposed" is the literal translation, but really, it broke down. We paid our tab, joked about there being no salad today, and off we went to find the pick-up truck style collectivos to take us back to Mitla. It was time to go.

Method of Transportation #3. The collectivo looked almost full and ready to go, but we needed a bathroom break before. I walked over and told the driver we were three, would he wait while we used to bathroom. He said no problem and sure enough, handing over our $150 pesos ($50 pesos per person), Gracie and I hopped into the back and Ed into the second row of seats on the inside of the cab, and off we went. The view over the old road is magnificent as you look out the back through the swirling dust, random donkeys carrying wood piles, cows being herded by two weiner dogs, you are treated to spectacular mountains which your heart will long for when you are either back in the city or away from Oaxaca. I had the jump seat in the middle of the two rows, so spent my time between chatting with Gracie hanging on to the metal grate behind me and trying not to slide out the back.
The back empty holds 1 on the booster seat and 4 on each side.

We arrive safely in Mitla, hop out of the back of the pickup, and like magic, a bus is going to Oaxaca. Now, my plan was to give Ed and Gracie the Go Well lunch so they could have it for dinner, and also drop towels and grab sweaters from the van. Would the bus drop us at the archeological site? Yup. $12 pesos each gets us on Method of Transportation #4.

Get on the bus, Gus.
After a short stop in Tlacolula, where we acknowledged that the only methods of transportation missing from our day was mototaxi and either horse or donkey, we are dropped off at Lambityeco, the archeological site. And now the fun starts.

I had forgotten to lock the van. As we get off the bus, I notice three men and a white pick up truck by the back of the van. Are they stealing my tires? I need new tires...

Alas no. One gentleman is dressed in plain clothes with a badge and Ed later tells me, a glock. There is another man in the standard blue vest with a semi-automatic slug casually over his shoulder and a third man with a great face and a plaid shirt. I smile, introduce myself, and shake hands all around. Mr. Badge tells me he is of a certain rank (I believe judicial, which Carlos tells me are federal investigators with the most power to toss my silly arse in jail) and explains that they were concerned because the car was by the side of the road all day unlocked.

Mr. Badge then tells me that he found my card in the van, and shows me his phone, where through his personal facebook account, he found me on facebook and had both texted me through Messenger and left me a voicemail to try to find out what the story was. He was one step away from having the van towed because they did not want it to be vandalized sitting there overnight unlocked. And then I showed up, smiling and apologetic. We shook hands again, I thanked them all and apologized, and they were on their way. He was sure to advise the van was as they had found it. I said of course it was. I missed taking a picture of the trio.

(Can I just interject, before moving on to Method of Transportation #2(b), that I am so grateful living in Oaxaca. I didn't get a ticket for abandoning my car, or for leaving it unlocked. Grateful, again, to my adopted country.)

Ed and Gracie, through the whole "and then there were men with guns" part of the story, were cool as cucumbers. Only after did they laugh and remark on what seemed like the only appropriate ending to a pretty adventurous day. We got their dinner packed up, heading across the highway, and as luck would have it, another collectivo came by in short order which delivered us respectively to the Huayapam crossing and me downtown to the baseball stadium. Our selfie in the collectivo before we parted for the day.
Still smiling!

As I walked home, I decided I would grab a coffee from the cart at Llano park and ran into my friend Carlos, who asked me why I was seemingly coming back from tour without my van. Where to start?

Meanwhile, Ralph had called our mechanic who was going out to the car, eventually had it towed to the shop and today it was getting a new fuel pump installed.

Yet another amaxing Go Well day!