Welcome to the Adventure

Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the road..Puerto Escondido

In the past two weeks we have hit the road twice to Puerto Escondido. An hour and half away, we might go up twice a year, and but definitely not twice in two weeks. I don’t know why. Actually I do. Larry does the driving, and it ain’t an easy drive. It will be soon though, because hot damn, progress and a four-lane highway are coming to Huatulco (any year now). But Highway 200 has already been widened in parts and so now we know it’s really coming.

We were up there last week in one of the communidades, Cozoatepec, with Piña Palmera participating in one of their outreach days. This is a lovely community, nestled into the foothills of coastal Oaxaca, maybe a half hour from Puerto Escondido. The outreach program brings about 25 adults and children with disabilities, together with family members and community members to work on social and life skills in general, as a group. About three hours are devoted to team-building activities. One thing I did notice, in the group sing-off throw down, the Mexican peoples know way more songs by heart than I bet anyone else in the world. It was great! I hadn’t laughed and had this good a time with kids, since the retirement. I’d be talking away in my very poor Spanish to someone, they would nod, laugh (a lot), and look me dead on, until Pilar (a treasure of a born to be teacher) whispered in my ear they don’t speak Spanish. Oh! Zapotecan. At the end of the activities, there was a celebration for Day of the Children (gotta love Mexico). All the families brought something to share for like 50 people. We had etole (a drink made of corn - served hot) made with peanuts, tamales of various kinds, lots of vitamin drinks (as there are failure to thrive babies, who are only nursing - at the steps of malnutrition, hard to believe....)

This is how cool this community is: Larry left his (very expensive) camera there. A community member picked it up, passed it back to Piña, and we picked it up Thursday, when once again we headed up to Puerto Escondido. I’m writing a road trip piece on that drive. There is a serious reason though to now embrace that drive, a chocolate dude has moved to Puerto, a Belgium who makes chocolate in the European style, and has brought a bit of heaven to our already near paradisiacal life. Plus we found a beach community, La Escobilla, an eco-tourist cooperative of environmentally minded people, who are working to ensure all those baby turtles that make a run for it in June, July, August (full moon best time they say) when thousands hit the beach for the run to the ocean. If this were California they would have closed this stretch of the beach off for life, with posted guards (if there was any money left in that state’s budget).

The La Escobilla community rents cabanas on the beach for about $20 a night, and you too can participate in the turtle run. The turtles lay their eggs from December to February, and thousands come ashore at that time to lay the eggs. The babies start their journey back in summer. We are checking moons as I am typing this now. So what with the chocolate guy, and the turtle beach, and some semi-decent food on the beach there, the trip up is not so bad.

We did check out a development that I had seen on House Hunters International (addicted). Just to see. Puerto Escondido is a rapidly growing city, and I am sure it will hugely benefit from the new highway down from Oaxaca city that will cut a 6-8 hour drive (depending) into 3-1/2 hours. We in Huatulco know it will bring huge changes, but hope not. Puerto Escondido may have less constrictions in building and is undoubtedly going to get bigger - I fear shades of Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Escondido used to a hardcore surfer town, with serious surfers from all other the world, finding their way there. In the last few years it has been gentrifying up, and attracting Canadians and Americans who want to live on the beach, in a nice house. It still has a hippy, surfer, ganja vibe to it, and is far more “European” in their community, with people from all over the world opening up coffee shops, vegetarian-natural food restaurants, and hanging on the beach, retired hippy surfers (with hair long enough to tell a story), and the usual cast of characters who only come to Mexico for the “season”. It attracts a different crowd from Huatulco (which is yet to come up with an “identity” like say San Miguel de Allende)....but it is different from here. For one, when Fonatur (government tourist agency) is involved in a developed area, they tend to keep the place to a certain level of pristineness, that is actually enhanced and maintained. Plus Huatulco has most of it’s land set aside as national park, so it’s development was unique to other Fornatur projects....anyway.

Puerto Escondido has way more “hip” places for sure. Not just the chocolate shop, but there is a solar energy store up there, selling solar and self sustaining type stuff, a great beach and harbor, and some good food. It also has started to install solar street lights, now that’s hip. It’s got character.

The trip back goes quickly, we pass beaches we say we will visit next time. We see little restaurants that beckon us on for just a taste, and the coco frios at every curve are offered to refresh us until the next curve, but there will be four lanes between here and there soon enough, and I'd hate to see too many changes on this road.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dia 7 and very warm nights

Sunset on a warm evening.

Dia 7 is this rock and roll band here the other night at the El Charro. El Charro is one of those kinds of places here that one could get used to going down to every Saturday night, for the music, of course. Dia 7 rocked the place. It’s been a long time since I have heard this kind of music, live, and in of all places Huatulco. We so rocked. Our good friends, Melissa and Kristen, came down for 4 days (they’re young) and we ended their last night there at the bar. Obstensibly we were going to hear a friend, Gabby, sing with the house band, but upon arrival was told the night was switched up. When we were hanging out front for a second, so was that night’s band. They looked like Huatulco wasn’t thier home, they had that sophisticated swagger to their grungy - sweaty - laid back look, that was perfect on an evening where at 11PM it was still 90. Hot.

Grasshoppers (crunchy - typical bar snack)

We had just come from dinner at La Finca near us in Bocana. Those of you have been here, I’ve dragged you to that BBQ place. But the guys who own it sing. Like angels. Ballads. They are brothers and nephews who sing and run the restaurants. If God was handing out gifts to families, these guys got the voice and BBQ rub, I swear. They are well known in southern Oaxaca, and sing at their two restaurants, and private events. We dragged along friend Shirley, an expat from England. It was a change up for her too. We had ended a very fun 4 days with them, in a whirlwind of catching up, seeing and doing things here, scuba diving, horseback riding and sangrita with shots of tequila, well, it was busy.

Not feeling the crunch

Melissa and Kristen have come in the throes of the “hot” part of the year here. Where from 3-6 PM everyone goes home and lays under the fan, then goes back to the business of living later. As in most warm, tropical countries, businesses are open well towards midnight, commerce is conducted only in the early morning hours or evening hours. Even doctors and dentists work evenings here. So sensible.

Anyway, it was such an opportunity to see/hear some great Latin rock. Dia 7 even did a little rockabilly thing, an old Elvis number - so gooood. It was great fun to be able to spend time with the women from SF. Makes me miss San Francisco when they talk about where they are eating, what happenings in The City keep them busy. But, they are so busy. This retired life tends to slow your ass down a bit. In the end, I’m soooo glad I am not in the working world anymore. Although an Iphone would be lovely, “but to what purpose”, I hear in the background (ahem, husband). But it is fun to hear about their world, I know they are havin’ fun.

We’re ready for the heat. Our routines for survival have been established. We keep an eye on the thunder/lightening storms over the mountains, and ever so slightly wish they would just move over a little bit more, for say, us. It’s coming. The rivers are starting to pick up content and speed in the last few weeks, it’s raining in the mountains. All tourists and most snowbirds have bailed. Nice. We’ll muster on, just rearrange our hours.

A friend is coming down in June. We’ll be doing a little mezcal tasting trip to Oaxaca. This should be fun. I’m working on an article about mezcal for our local rag, Huatulcoeye.com, that will be in one of the summer issues. I am also working on a project for Piña Palmera, a brochure (and this is a slow process for me), so I’m thinking I’m filling time efficiently, but not stressfully, enough these days. Melissa and Kristen where great company, and they reminded us how much we like living here, just for how it goes, riding horses through a river, eating at the local dives, running into friends and catching a rock band at the local bar....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Piña Palmera - an oasis and opportunity for people with disabilities on the southern coastal Oaxaca

Piña Palmera, an independent-living program, based in Zipolite, for persons with disabilities including children and adults, has been a major resource in our area for over 20+ years. Adults and children from the rural communities that dot our coastal area have an opportunity to become independent, develop skills to facilitate their independence, and promote the acceptance of people with disabilities with dignity and respect. Clients are referred to Piña Palmera by doctors, outreach workers, families, communities and word of mouth. They come as outpatient or live-in clients, for education, vocational training, and learning independent living skills. Many clients have mainstreamed into their communities, living healthy, active lives, creating their own families, raising children, and earning respectable livings from the skills learned at Piña Palmera.

Using a wheelchair myself, it has been interesting/frustrating to experience accessibility throughout the world, and getting around in Mexico has been a challenge.... Ignorance, lack of publicity and enforcement of disability laws are all components that hold back opportunities for many people with disabilities in Mexico, especially in the rural areas, including Oaxaca. Anyone who has traveled in Mexico can attest to the challenge. In Oaxaca this is compounded by the very fact that it is still a very rural state, with little infrastructure to facilitate people with disabilities. Inclusive schools are haphazard at best, as a result many children are excluded from an education. Job opportunities in rural areas are almost nonexistent, and typically, many disabled workers are self-employed or do not work.

Piña Palmera’s mission statement says it all: “Our mission is to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families in the southern coast of Oaxaca.” Our tour guide, Helen Heule, a volunteer there for four years, spoke to us at great length about Piña Palmera’s programs and their clients. They serve over 400 individuals right now, from communities including Puerto Escondido, Rio Grande, Morro Mazatan, Candelaria Loxicha, Tierra Blanca, Zipolite, and Cozoaltepec. Founded by Frank Douglas in 1984, it was initially built as a shelter for children with disabilities, and in the early days, many children were abandoned there. There are still four clients there from those days, and you would have to be very tough at heart to not want to reach out and do something for them and all of the others that come into Piña Palmera. In 1997, Piña Palmera was completely destroyed by Hurricane Paulina. It has since rebuilt into a what feels like a small African village, with round houses (brick) with thatched roofs, set in groves of palms and mango trees. Both the Swedish and Japanese governments have made contributions to the rebuilding and continuation of Piña Palmera after Paulina. Pina Palmera does not receive any funding from the state or federal government.

The day Larry and I visited, we had an opportunity of observe an early intervention session, with therapists working with toddlers in developing their physical/cognitive skills. Our tour led us through the lovely, park-like campus, and we visited the wood shop, paper making shop, and various therapy rooms. We met several volunteers, most of whom have been there for more than two years. Their enthusiasm, integrity, and skills have created a unique, compassionate, experience for their clients. The wood shop and paper making shop are run by former clients, now responsible for the business of creating beautiful handcrafted products and running the businesses. Francisco, himself a former client, was supervising the paper making process the day we visited. These lovely pieces of art are sold in Piña Palmera’s gift shop, run by Patricia, also a former client, which winningly displays the beautiful (and famous) flying wood birds, in brilliant and subtle colors, and diaries made of the homemade paper (colors are all natural dies including the reds from almond shells, and flowers and leaves are often in the paper). They also sell artisan crafts made by other persons with disabilities, artists in the area, allowing an outlet for many of these talented people.

Piña Palmera, though needs help. The world economy has hurt their funding tremendously. Flavia Anau, the director, indicated they are succeeding by a fragile thread, and are greatly in need of an infusion of money and volunteers. The money issue is obvious. It is expensive to pursue the dream of independence and acceptance in an area like Oaxaca. Of their many needs, a carpenter with machine experience would be greatly appreciated. Their woodworking workshop needs a leader that can teach others to work in wood, and maintain their machinery. A perfect fit for a retired carpenter!

Piña Palmera has started up an internet cafe as a way of funding the facility (minimally) , and they could use a computer tech type person to troubleshoot the computers, and train others in maintenance and solutions to the myriad small problems that come with computers. On Saturdays, one can have a massage ($250 peso donation) or a temazcal and massage for $300 peso donation, another fund raising project. After your temazcal and massage, there is pizza served (included in cost) made in their new brick oven. The brick oven is also used for their fledgling ceramics workshop, as they just made a pottery wheel in their wood shop, and are using the oven for their ceramic projects (along with the pizza!). They are also selling used clothing once a week, to help acquire more funds, but at this point it is all too little.

Volunteers come from all over the world, Europe, the US and Canada. They ask volunteers to stay at least six months for obvious reasons. Relationships are built slowly. Working with families, communities, and schools takes time. Volunteers come with credentials such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists,and medical doctors, but this is not required to volunteer here. All they ask of volunteers though, is their willingness to do what needs to be done, and learn Spanish if they do not yet know the language. Volunteers can live on the campus for a slight charge of $150 pesos a month, which covers room and board. Meals are cooked in a community kitchen for both clients and staff.

Volunteers and clients interact with the ease of family. We felt it even upon our arrival, being welcomed warmly, and introduced around as seemingly old friends. Helen greeted everyone with a touch, and show of support and respect. She represented the very best of one of their major goals “to generate social acceptance in the region towards people with disabilities”. This is one of the major thrusts of this organization. They have been particularly active in the communities, especially in the schools and municipalities, in sensitizing people to the acceptance of people with disabilities, and to facilitate the goal of independence through accessibility. But it has been a mixed bag at best. Some schools/communities embrace students with special needs. They are supported by Piña Palmera, and train not only teachers but students in practicing inclusion. (Sign language and brail are taught at the facility by former clients. Families, teachers, and community members are encouraged to take classes.) Other schools will not take these children, who obviously then are left out of any opportunity of attaining independence and dignity, except through the programs at Piña Palmera.

If you are in the area, visit! If you can help by lending a hand, do it! Go to their web site:
http://www.piñapalmera.org and read their extensive information regarding their history, purpose, and progress reports. If you care to donate money, information is on their web site. Donations of educational toys and developmental tools would be helpful, but if you have a skill you can teach others to facilitate independence, all the better. We all can do something during this time of economic struggles, to lessen theirs. It is a worthwhile, admirable project.