Tuesday, May 28, 2013

City mouse returns

We've made it over the mountains, and have landed nicely in Oaxaca City. We were a little sad to leave our warm & wonderful hosts at Quinta Lili, but are really happy to be in the city. We flew in on a 14 passenger cessna (auntie Gwen - I told Otis all about your flying skills!) and O handled it like a pro. We're now happily ensconced in an apartment found through air bnb right on the fringe of the tourist zone and Becca will be joining us this evening. Very shi-shi, plenty of art galleries and restaurants to be found here. 
Otis checking to make sure that the pre-flight trip is done according to regulation

One of my favourite things about traveling with Otis is how pleased everyone seems to meet him. We just had lunch (a fabulous menu del dia from the resto across the street) and each person had their turn exclaiming over him. His gordito little feet, his large size (he's comparatively huge for an 8 month old here), his munequito self. A white haired grandmother with few teeth stopped in the zocalo to give O a kiss on the forehead.

Beautiful scenes abound!

Now, just a few short weeks ago, a woman in Seattle gave Otis a kiss on the cheek and I really was shocked while trying not to show it. Played it cool like the polite, well-behaved, rather waspish Canadian I am (well, I don't actually think of myself in those terms, but compared to this warmth I may as well be!). It's so liberating here for Otis to be so warmly welcomed - in the streets, in restaurants. Otis has seen more kitchens and hung out with more restaurant patrons and servers than I have! Once I got over the stranger danger thing, it's been lovely. I mean, I know it's still wise for us to be alert, but I sure do rejoice in the love of children here. Otis simply laps it up. I'm learning to be more overtly complimentary and inquisitive towards others' children as well.

What a streetheart

The boys are down for a nap after our initial neighbourhood scouting (and first coffee tasting!) and I'm going to start prepping for this online course that Beth (a colleague friend) and I are co-teaching. What a stinkin' beautiful life, eh?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Back in the saddle!

First of all, thanks all for your notes and thoughts of safety and a peaceful remainder of our trip. We've picked ourselves up and are thoroughly enjoying our time again. It really didn't take much to feel free and easy again - it certainly has helped that we're still staying in the most excellent b&b...and Becca and her friend Molly have joined us! The beach in this neighbourhood, Carizalillo, is as gorgeous as we left it a year and a half ago when we came here with Brian's family for his parent's 50th wedding anniversary. It's something about the flight of stairs that takes you down (and back up again), the palapas & lounge chairs right at the high-wave line, the warm water and the surfer-watching. Pair that with excellent company and fresh guacamole and we've got a recipe for paradise.

Yesterday we went to the market (I found some great flan and tried 'atole', a corn & chocolate drink...kind of like bubble tea, but more corny), cruised the streets and bought a pair of shoes (surprise!), and then went on a tour of the nearby laguna. We saw a ZILLION birds - storks, ibis, spoonbill pink-guys, lily-pad hopper-dippers AND a crocodile! Just layin' around. It was so cool. We also got to help some just-hatched turtles to the sea. I thought that the whole thing sounded a little cheesy, but actually it was super-awesome. Just this one dude who volunteers 7 months of the year to collect turtle eggs when they are laid and protect them until they hatch. He sleeps in a tent in the daytime and works all night. I think he really likes turtles. (In truth, it's a pretty important thing to do, protecting these endangered species. Thanks, volunteer guy).

The fellas on the laguna
Otis has hit his stride, I think (or we have learned to match his stride is maybe more like it). I feel like we're getting to 'do' plenty, as well as kick back plenty. I'm really looking forward to the next week and some we have for hanging out with Becca - we'll be going to Oaxaca city on Tuesday, and in the meantime, more sweet-nothings in Puerto Escondido.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's a holiday without some serious thinking?

We've lived an experience that has had my mind moving a hundred miles a minute. I've been contemplating how we impact the world around us, as tourists. We are in Puerto Escondido a few days early, having left Mazunte unexpectedly. Mazunte gave me lots to think about. We stayed in a very cool cabana hotel that sat on a bluff overlooking playa Mermejita. It felt wild. We were quite isolated, up a flight of stairs that climbed the hillside, and a dirt road away from the main strip of the small town. I wrestled with this location over the first evening - it was no quick jaunt into town and  the blend of 35 degree heat and mosquitos were getting me worked up. These things in themselves quickly became a part of the experience - what we did have for a time was absolute peace and a wild ocean to watch. Unfortunately the peace was also short-lived. at about 1am on our third night I woke to see a man in our cabana at our bedside table. I screamed like I'd never screamed before, which woke Brian, naturally. I held B back from rushing after the thief, who ran out the front door. Thank goodness we were all unharmed - Otis was sleeping in the bed with us and didn't wake through the yelling. Needless to say, we didn't sleep another wink.

The shadow side of being in a beautiful, wild and isolated place is exactly that. We were the only guests, and while it turned out that the neighbouring family did hear our screams, they didn't think it was anything to be worried about "Those tourists. Probably just a spider" is what I imagine them thinking at the time. The next morning Brian tried to open the locked door from the outside and was able to with just enough jiggling.

The thief ended up ditching my purse, the 6 pack of beer, bottle of wine, and one half of the baby monitor
by the pool - since there was nothing of re-sale value in my purse, and probably running down a hillside with a 6-pack didn't seem like such a bright idea anymore? He did take our camera and my headlamp (which he stole from beside my head, on the bed, within the mosquito netting...uggggh).

The owners of the hotel were very sorry and supportive and took Brian to the police station to make a statement (which we needed for our insurance). This was the first break-in of this nature that they'd experienced. It was such a shame, because this cost them 4 nights stay, and it cost us our peace of mind. I've been jumpy at noises in the night, though we're feeling so much better and safer now. I'm so glad that Otis has been totally oblivious of it all. Even that night when he did wake up to find all the lights on and both of us awake in bed, he just smiled in his sweet sleepy way.

So the theme that has emerged for me is that there is no 'perfectly good, or perfectly bad'. Everything has aspects of each - a beautiful, isolated, peaceful environment clearly has its cost. Tourism has its costs. We are so fortunate to be traveling and I know that we are part of a complex relationship between the local and international. I know this relationship can generate great things; it can also encourage injustice and the shadow-side. I want for us to be a family that participates in, creates and celebrates the great. And I also want us to remember that everything is more complex than 'good' and 'bad'. The theft, which was a terrible experience for us, happened in the context of injustice in wealth, in the perception of tourists as targets and as the 'other'. Just as we are a part of supporting a tourist economy that brings income to people, we are tourists fueling its shadow side. I know I will be mulling this over in the coming weeks. Is there a way to be a tourist that doesn't feed that dark side?

But don't worry, I won't be thinking about this all the time. I'll also continue to enjoy our time here :) Otis will continue to charm the folks here, men and women alike, who squeeze his pudgy feet and call him sweet names. He loves it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Yeah, Mama!

We've set the bar high. Here in Mexico, Mother's Day is celebrated on May 10th every year, while at home it's the second Sunday in May. Which meant double the joy for me, on this, my first year as a mama.
Just a sampling of the crops at the Morelos State University farm

Aunt Janet took us out on el dia de las madres to buy fruits & vegetables from the university farm market - what an unexpected marvel! Fresh, beautiful, fragrant fruits - mini pears, tiny tart plums, peaches alongside soft, young buttery lettuce that the Sooke Harbour House would envy. We were welcome to walk the fields and check out the crops. GORGEOUS. Long hilled rows of greens, strawberries, squash, beans, nopales (edible cactus) and more. It was a perfect outing for this girl.

On the streets families walked together in fancy-dress, we saw small girls with party dresses and pigtails, beautiful mamas in very high high-heels, men and women rushing from here to there with bouquets of flowers in their hands. It's not an official holiday, but most children have the day off school to celebrate. Street corners boasted signs of what precious gifts could be found inside to honour mother, and flower stalls abounded. It felt like this was a big deal. We sat with the family to enjoy a sumptuous meal of steak cooked to perfection over a coal bbq and the salad of my dreams - young greens, that buttery lettuce and orange & grapefruit citrus as dressing. Otis positively loved the steak, the little carnivore. Thank you, Alberto, Janet, Beto, Sonia, Fabian & Tristan for the feast!
L-R: Janet, Beto, Alberto, Fabian, Sonia, Tristan in the hammock and the fellas

Saturday brought us another treat (I mean, really - what won't be a treat on this adventure? Truly, every day that we have here is a blessing). We went to see the cuenta cuentos at Catarina Marina children's bookstore - Sonia's labour of love, shared by Beto. Otis watched the storyteller with rapt attention as she punctuated the highs and lows of the tale with grand gestures and expressive eyes.

Storytime at Catarina Marina
The store itself is a treasure trove - beautiful books for all ages of children, even the adult kind of kid. That night we went to Alberto's sister's for his brother-in-law's birthday - Otis charmed everyone and we had a great time! I was so surprised that the little dude didn't melt down, though we were out way past his bedtime and he'd been short on naps. I welcome any surprise of that nature!

It's been really interesting, figuring out our rhythms as a traveling family. Brian and I take it easy on our travels compared to some - we don't really worry about covering everything; we like to wander, witness, participate and eat. We end up on all sorts of adventures this way. But I'm learning that we need to modify this approach now that we have an Otis to think about. Basically things are just slower as we are mindful of naps, and transitions take longer. Though I think we're at a pretty ideal time to be traveling with O - he's not mobile yet, so is content to hang out with us wherever we go. The really beautiful thing is that wherever we go, people welcome Otis with big smiles and kind words 'que hermoso' 'que bonito'. Agreed!

We went downtown yesterday for our first adventure as a threesome and had a great time. We walked through artist's alleys and had a drink on a terrace, just like our life before babe, only better. We braved the Sunday shopping street and came back home for - you guessed it - a lovely meal en famille. Happiest of Mother's days. I am so blessed.
My Mother's Day treat on the terrace

Tomorrow we leave for Mazunte. Ocean, here we come!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

"A very good place to do mathematics"

I'm sitting on the terrace, sharing the table with two mathematicians as they discuss numbers and letters that I can't even hope to grasp. They're also discussing these things in Spanish, which has a tendency to flit in and out of my understanding in the first place.
Our first outdoor swim in Seattle!

We've arrived safely, soundly, and happily at Brian's aunt & uncle's home in Cuernavaca. We spent two nights in Seattle, catching our breath and being thoroughly spoiled by Brian's other aunt, uncle and cousins. Frankly, I've been quite worried about how we were going to travel with Otis - not so much the 'getting somewhere' of it all, but rather the details. Checking in, shlepping bags, carseat, hats that are too big for the baggage. And not least of all, how to make sure Otis sleeps on the airplane, on our laps. Typically, he sleeps in his bed/travel bassinet and occasionally the stroller. He hasn't slept ON one of us since he was an infant.

Our flight was 2 hours delayed, so everything was rearranged to make connections work. I have to say, the folks at United were awesome. I asked if we would be given a prize for being at the checkin booth a million hours early (since we arrived for our original checkin time)...I suggested maybe a free drink for mom & dad? And the agent upgraded us to the economy plus seats. Woot! This is the first time we've ever been upgraded for anything. On our honeymoon I tried and tried to no avail. 'Course, the seats didn't come with the kind of free drink I was thinking of, but I'm pretty sure we got an extra 3 inches of legroom each. Amazing what air travel has become, that we celebrate seating that is simply adequate for someone 6 feet tall (...not me. Brian). Not complaining! It was great!

But here it is, the big reveal: we traveled for 15 hours and Otis didn't cry once. He slept on our laps, he handled the change-over in Houston, he even slept again on the bus ride from Mexico City to Cuernavaca at 9pm Victoria time - as far as he knows, 9pm doesn't exist except in his bed. What a love! This is clearly the right time to be traveling with him.

Airplane ride #1
So back to the terrace. It's perfect. The air is breezy and warm, Alberto, Brian's uncle, introduced me to the mango tree overhead, the lime, guava, orange, kumquat, pepper plants, banana trees and his pride and joy, the 500 yr old Indian Laurel tree. And as he says, it's a very good place to do mathematics.

The hammock awaits. Until next time...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Gearing up (and do I mean 'gear' - who knew a babe would need so much luggage?)

Otis will be 7 months old tomorrow and we're setting off for 5 weeks in Mexico. Seattle awaits us as we pack our bags here in Vancouver. Our home & garden is being taken care of by great people and nothing holds us back!

In the ferry lineup - we were one of the last cars to board - phew!
So here's the story. Brian and I have spent time dreaming up what might be possible in this first year of our wee babe's life. What do we want our life to look like? What's really important? How can we make the most of this time, this gift of a year's leave as we learn to be a family of three. Given that we both have the right to take time off of work (though only one person collects EI) we decided that Brian would take 4 months off so we could familymoon. And it was a short leap to making all sorts of adventuring plans - Mexico felt like a great first international adventure, as Brian has family in Cuernavaca and we really liked where we stayed last year in Puerto Escondido. We've heard great things about Oaxaca City as well, so why not?

But don't worry, we've been in training over the last half-year. Otis is well-versed with the BC Ferries, and travels the Malahat like a pro (that's our mountain pass from Victoria to up-island). We've even spent 3 nights in Tofino - land of grand waves and fine sands.

Although, the airplane is a whole other kettle of fish. Trying to pack efficiently has been an exercise in spatial logic and serious prioritizing. Basically, Otis gets all the bells and whistles; carseat, stroller, hiking backpack, and sun-protecting clothes. Me? Well, I've never packed so light. See ya later 'just in case we go out for a nice dinner' heels. So long 'chacos AND running shoes'. One or the other, baby. It's been a major breakthrough.

Enjoying the sun on Granville Island with Stefanie, Jo & the Kung Fu team (Master Zhang & Ally)
3 days in on the mainland, and it looks like our systems are a go. We are so fortunate to be on this journey together, and look forward to chronicling our adventures along the way. Please feel free to send in warm-weather-baby travel tips and encouragement along the way.