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!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sustainable Water - A plea

As I was coming into the house today, coming back from the dog refuge yet again, I remembered what my friend Jackie Hastings had said one time while she and I were chatting when she was in Oaxaca. She asked me if I volunteered for anything here. I didn't, at the time, and told her that I had not found my "thing" yet. I now do some work with the Oaxaca Lending Library, and I for the past few years, I have helped with the dog refuge in Zaachila. I have posted about our work there on this blog in the past.

Today, I am doing something I am remarkably uncomfortable with. Here we go...

I am asking for financial help from you, readers and friends. 

In a week of exasperation, of feeling my heart sinking, my spirits rather than soaring at the incredible work we are doing at the refuge, I felt dispair. Again, we were without water. When we should be cleaning the cement floors of the pens we helped build, we were so short on water that we didn't even wash our hands as we left to drive home, as I wondered how the hell we were going to get water, I thought - I can't do this anymore. I can't keep wondering, every week, not only where food is coming from, but if there is going to be enough water. It's not all about kissing puppies.

I believe in God. You don't have to, but I do. And so, as we are driving away and all I want to do is pull the car over and have a good cry, I see a sign on the side of the road. "POZOS". Wells. Water. I pull over and tell Carlos to go take a picture of the sign. He gets back in the car and we look at each other. Water.

As we are driving away, talking about what our rescue friends were telling us a few weeks back - that the federal government has been fining people for putting in wells, we see a man on the side of the road riding his bicycle, to which is strapped to the back a black sign with brightly painted letters. It says: POZOS. Wells. I tell Carlos to call the number that was on the sign. I took it as a sign from God. Well, I guess, two signs from God. Dig, Tanya.

And so, we made the arrangements and the guys came, three of them on bicycles, with little divining tools in their backpacks, and they said for 10,000 pesos of labour and about 5000 pesos of materials, we could have a well in two days. Sustainable water in two days. It seemed impossible. I had to ask - were there any laws preventing us from having a well? Their answer: not at this time. And so, I agreed. We would dig. And the dogs would have water. And you know how I decided to not look any further for other guys who also do the same work, and maybe for a better price? They were good with the dogs. These three guys walked their bicycles from before the entrance gate to the refuge, and calmly walked through the sea of fur and barking to where the water was closest and as they answered my many questions, they pet our resident pitbull, Barbie, and played with our old chubby girl, and so I said yes. I didn't and still don't know where all the money will come from, but it will come.

Can you dig into your pockets and help me dig for water?

  • Canadian? Send me an email money transfer to
  • American: PayPal your gift to or
  • Oaxacan or in Oaxaca: Contact me at 951 287 42 88 and I'll make meet up arrangements, or leave me your donation with either Dr. Sonia at Veterinario Madera (DivisiĆ³n Oriente 315) or at the Circulation Desk at the Oaxaca Lending Library in an enveople with my name on it (Tanya Lapierre)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Day of the Dead: Newcomers to a 5000 year old tradition

I just finished Phase 1 of our Day of the Dead altar. There is always a Phase 2 because we build it with our neighbours and then we forget the odd thing, or decide to add some things once we have it set up. A picture of Helen, Ralph's sister is needed, and a Coca Cola without sugar for Patricia's mama, who left us last year. As we set up the altar, we chat, and some believe it is our chatting that brings souls by for a visit. We talk about the deceased, but we also just chat about what we're doing, what plans we have. The idea is that the souls that come back to visit want an update on what we've been up to and what we have planned.

There are sad moments, of course. This morning lying in bed before I went for a run, I was thinking that this was the first year I would celebrate my Grandfather's passing. You don't celebrate someone on Day of the Dead if they have not passed more than 12 months. In practice, the tradition started from when you would bury your dead under your kitchen floor and then once a year (once they had passed for more than 12 months), you would dig up their skull and place the skull in the house in order to have that soul "visit". No one wants to dig up a semi-decomposed skull. No one. So, the "story" is that those recently departed stay in the land of the dead to keep it safe while the older souls go back and visit.

But then this morning on my run, I started thinking about what my Grandfather would have thought of coming back to visit. I wonder if by my living here has now obligated him somehow to come by and visit. This idea makes me smile. There he is in Canadian Catholic Heaven and someone knocks and says - OK, put the chocolate down, you need to go and visit Tanya in Oaxaca sometime in the next 24 hours.

And I can just see both the look on his face and the twinkle in his eye. His crazy grand daughter went to live in Mexico (where he thought I would be murdered) and now he has to come by and visit. But the twinkle and the half smile would show that he would be happy to come, to see, to explore. Had he been able to visit when he was alive, we would have sampled all the street food together and he would have had the runs for a week and he would have shed tears in the Tlacolula market for all the fresh food and yellow chickens. He never did manage a visit, but he is with me here every day. When I make bread, when I grab my cookbooks, when I talk about Oaxacan chocolate...

And so over the next few days he will come to visit. He was here once before, his spirit came to visit just after he had died, when I felt him so close I could almost smell the aftershave (Old Spice and Azarro, forever!). And now he gets to come back. Along with so many others who we loved while we could hug and hold, and love now that they live on only in our hearts and memories. Sisters, parents, grandparents, friends, cats, dogs.

Enjoy Day of the Dead, whatever your custom or beliefs.