This past weekend was Carnival in Cuyutlan and being our first, we didn’t know what to expect. Over the week we saw the kiddy fair rides being brought in (think 1960′s rides and safety!), the stage/deco being set up and the posters all over. It was basically 2 nights of party, shows, music and fun, but I found the most fascinating part being the Parade. It was perfectly organized and enjoyed without stress! When north americans get together for something like a Parade, we seem to have forgotten that it is all just supposed to be for fun. All the cooperate sponsorships, the media coverage and the crowd control results in possessiveness of “spots” and the crankiness of delays.
We could all take a minute, a deep breath and learn a nice lesson from the Mexican way (which I am assuming is also what a parade in NA would have been like 40 years ago!) :
1. The parade starts when it is ready to go and no one cares. The parade start time was listed as 17h, but it didn’t actually start until 19h. Apparently this is very normal and over the years has started anywhere between 17-20h. When we arrived at 17h they were still painting the floats! If this had happened in canada everyone would be cranky and upset at the organization, in mexico everyone was simply waited happily
2. People can be moved on the fly. As the floats approached, the security moved the crowd into place. Not just 1-2 people, I mean there were spectators set up 5 people deep directly in the road in front of the floats and they were just quickly and easily moved over as the floats were about to come by. No worries ya move or the truck is going to run you over. Your pick.
3. Floats and costumes are all hand made. The artistic ability, care and beauty put into both puts our parades to shame. It was beautiful and authentic.
4. No ads. Not one! Even though the parade was supported by local companies, there wasn’t one banner or ad in the parade. Such a nice change.
5. In canada floats would have to be made under a certain height for clearance on the electrical wires. Here in mexico, it is up to each float to have someone on board with a stick pushing the wires up over the float so they don’t get caught. Not a job I would volunteer for.
6. Time! Who cares? Any of the dancers or floats just stopped whenever they felt like it to do a little show. Everyone else just waits.
7. Three times lucky. The people follow the parade. It weaves through the street and so the people just move to watch it (again and again) from new locations. We saw it twice (over an hour each time!) and thought it was enough, but the happy crowd was racing over to the next street to see it again!
8. Got Gas? Apparently every year at least one truck pulling the floats runs out of gas or breaks down mid-route. We didn’t see it this year, but found the possibility entertaining.
9. Zero aggression. We’ve noticed this before being in crowds in Mexico. Everyone is very, very calm and the energy is that of a family gathering (assuming your family gets along). No one pushes, gets up set or tries to “claim” their space. People are close to each other, but not so close to touch. It makes me wonder why North American crowds can’t be this way?
It is always fun to have friends from home visiting with us. Our regular life is pretty quiet and when the visitors arrive, we feel like we are on vacation with them! Fortunately our house is large enough to easily accommodate 2 families and we have never felt that the house was too crowded.
This week our visitors (Carl, Sylwia, Hugo and Antoné from Val-David) have arrived just in time to help us celebrate Millie’s 7th birthday. She isn’t yet comfortable enough in spanish to invite her friends from school over, so she was very pleased to share her birthday celebration with people outside our family!
Millie’s birthday turned out to be a rainy day (apparently the first time in 42 years here it has rained in February!) and so we thought it was a good timing to go cave exploring. The cave at San Gabriel was an easy choice since it is just 20km from Cuyutlan. Now 20km does not sound like much when you live in Canada, but being in Mexico, these 20km took us 90min (yes by car!).
As we switched backed up a HUGE mountain on a rough cobblestone road there was a lovely view of the valley below. Unfortunately this view happened to be only 1 foot from our tires as the road dropped off cliff-like down to the valley. And forget about a guard rail. It was a 2-way road, but there was only space (barely) for 1 car. If you meet anyone going the other way, one of you needed to reverse to the “passing” points that are spaced out about every 1km. We were pretty happy to make it to the top and then again back to the bottom without meeting anyone else.
The village itself was tiny (about 3 houses), but at the entrance to the cave, there was a guide and it was open for visits! None of us had ever visited a cave like this before. To enter, you had to descend a spiral staircase into the earth about 50 feet down and then through a tiny hole and down a ladder…where suddenly the tiny entrance opened into a large stone room. The open space was about 100′x50′and with a ceiling approximately 30′ high at its peak. The only word appropriate upon entering is “wow”. Finally – it is worth the drive.
I’ve never before attempted to maintain a blog or even a diary and I have been really enjoying the experience. It is fun to document our trip/life and to reach out to our family and friends who are scattered everywhere. However, the past 3 weeks have just flown by without this blog getting any attention. Each post takes a bit of thought and especially with our slow internet situation – it takes time to upload the photos. Since Christmas we have had visitors (my parents since new years and a family of friends from Val-David camping in our driveway for the last week!) and with all the action around the house, I was just too absorbed in our little life to think about posting.
Today everyone has left, our cleaning lady is getting the house pulled together and the kids are back in school. The house is quiet…very quiet. Time to catch up! Over this week, I’ll post a couple more times on our recent exploring.
While all the visiting was happening, we passed the half-way point of our adventure! So far, it has been an awesome experience for us all. We especially love mexico and life at the beach in a very, very, very (times 1000) relaxed village. Millie is the only one amongst us who is ready to go home (she misses playing with her friends). For the rest of us however, it is almost the opposite. Not that we don’t miss all of you !!, but we are so content here that we could easily stay longer. Gino and I have been talking about maybe repeating this experience next year…but finally when it comes down to it, we know we will have to stay at home at some point, so I assume our posts next winter will be of snow/ice in Val-David.
Here are some photos from our recent visits around!
After deciding on Mexico for the winter, the next question was where in Mexico? There is no doubt it is a very large country with many beautiful areas. We were looking for 2 things from our experience: 1) learn spanish by living as close to the local culture as (comfortably) possible and 2) learn to surf.
When looking for good surf in Mexico, the place that tops out all recommendations is a town near Puerto Vallarta called Sayulita. Although it looks great initially, it turns out Sayulita was just not quiet mexican enough for us. It has very much been “discovered” by americans, and not only are the prices really incredible ($2000/mth for a 2bedroom bungalow, 10 min from the beach!), but we were also concerned it would be too english for our spanish goals.
Continuing our (internet) search further down the coast (300km south of Puerto Vallarta), we finally settled upon Cuyutlan and so far are super happy with our pick.
It is an old Mexican tourist town of 1200 people of which about 200 are expats (people from Canada/USA) who live here in the winter. Otherwise, it is virtually unknown to the outside world. From within Mexico it is a well known beach destination and until about 1970′s, this was “the” vacation place for local Mexican city-dwellers. Then cars/highways came in vogue -replacing the train- and other towns took over.
I wouldn’t say Cuyutlan is forgotten, but it is definitely quiet for a town run on tourism. The 15 or so hotels here are fully booked for 2 weeks in April during the school holidays and a few weekends, but otherwise remain open -yet nearly empty – the rest of the year. During the weekends, we are told they might get a couple of bookings…or not.
But this is what is so great here. It is a real live Mexican town. At any point when walking down the main street, there are people out walking, biking or scootering along. There is an elementary school, daycare and high school. A police station, a health care centre, library, pharmacy, hardware store, internet café, video rentals and about 5 convenience stores (with a surprising amount of items in very small sqftage). And of course there are restaurants – about 100 of them if you count each roadside/beachside stand/bar and each hotel. There isn’t much variety in the restaurants however — it is pretty much tacos, fish, fish tacos, seafood, tacos, eggs, juice, tacos, hamburgers, tacos and well you get the picture.
As for tourist attractions, El Tortugario is definitely worth the visit and there is also a museum dedicated to the mining (harvesting?) of salt.
Then there is the beach. As we’ve mentioned in other posts (Our beautiful Black Beach), the beach is really beautiful. Miles and miles (40km?) of soft dark sand beach that outside of the 1km strip in town is pretty much deserted. And we can surf here. We’ve been taking lessons with a local surfer for the past couple of weeks. The waves are rough and although we can catch them, we can’t stand up yet. However, I assume it will come at some point!
A few other reasons on why Cuyutlan was a good choice for us:
- Small enough that we can get to know people and after 4 weeks here – we are starting to see familiar faces and chat in our developing spanish.
- SAFE - according to the locals “nothing” every happens in Cuyutlan and it is perfectly safe day or night. After a few weeks here, I am lead to believe it is true.
- Near a big cities and airports - Manzanillo is just 30km away and Colima 50km. Together they have everything we could ever need including an international airport.
- Spanish – except for the 200 expats, about 99% of the population speaks nearly no english. Great for learning!
- Level - no hills to/from town! Some of the oceanfront towns are seriously in the cliffs. Our ocean-level town/house makes for easy biking to get around.
- Easy access - the highway that passes right by Cuyutlan to the above mentioned cities is a beautiful road that is easy to travel.
- Affordable - because Cuyutlan is so quiet, housing is really not expensive. For example, we rent our 2007 built 4-bdrm, 3 bath, beachfront house with pool for $600 USD a month. A smaller 1-2 bedroom home in town easily rents between $100-$300 USD per month.
- Clean - from what we have seen of other small towns, this one seems pretty clean. I guess because it is tourist orientated, it doesn’t have that grimy feel of some other places.
If any of you out there are dreaming of retirement real-estate, oceanfront lots here are sold for under $50,000 and there are ocean front properties in the range of $100,000-$200,000! For those of you who know us well, let me answer that question….no we are NOT buying! We are here to rest, get away from our life for a bit and regain perspective on what is next. Not to buy…no matter how tempting the offers.
We have been living in our house for exactly 3 weeks and are enjoying our beach more and more every day. “Our beach” is about 100 feet from the front door. I’ve vacationed on the beach before, but never spent more than a week at a time at the same place. Nor have I much experience with a natural beach (ie. one that isn’t combed, cleaned, driven on, shaped, reefed, etc). So getting to know a beach is a whole new expereince.
It is fascinating how it is constantly changing. From one day to the next, the sand moves around, different things wash up and other things wash out. Somedays the waves crash into the shore with huge force and others days they quietly lap into the sand. And the light – wow – the light! The lighting is constantly changing as it bounces off the water and whatever clouds are around. Even in the night (currently full moon), no matter the hour, the view is changing.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a purse at her house just for me. Every time I would visit, there would be something new in the purse. It would be such a little thing, yet it was so exciting to see the change. The beach is like that. Every time we go there is something new to find: a new fish washed up, or new bird we haven’t seen, or even mountains in the distance popping out. This week the tail of a hurricane blew through and we had the chance to see the beach in 60km winds. Last week we found a dead sea turtle washed up (about 1 metre around!).
I was initially scared of entering the water here. The waves are STRONG and I’ve never felt anything pull with such force. We only let the kids put their toes in (and with their lifejackets on!). However, last week we took a surf lesson and were brutally (i.e. think of sand and salt in every place that I wouldn’t mention on this blog) introduced to what it is to go out into these waves. And we survived – and sorta had fun. Another lesson tomorrow and more on that later!
We are now a bit more brave in the water. I’d say that today we started to enjoy it while catching some waves on the boogie board. For the kids though we still hang on to them tight and let them just experience the waves on the edge….and playing in the sand.
On our way to Cuyutlan, we decided to make a 2 day stop in a small town called Ajijic (Ah-ha-hic) on Lake Chapala. It is an enormous lake surrounded by huge (nearly 3000m), beautiful, green mountains. Apparently, because of this unique set-up, Lake Chapala has its own micro-climate meaning year-round days at about 26deg and year-round nights at about 10deg. Also during the rainy season it generally only rains at night.
Sounds like a dream right? Yep, a retirement dream for many, many americans (canadians). This was the main reason we picked this town. I figured that after having to be very “aware” of our surroundings for 3 days of driving, we would appreciate the relative easiness of an American retirement community.
Well it was actually a pleasant surprise and much more Mexican than the descriptions online. The main street is lined with authentic (i.e. dirty, small, cheap and friendly) mexican shops and Mexcians going about their daily lives of work, shopping, socializing and school. We are still a few weeks away from the winter migration of Americans, so perhaps this pleasant scene will be drastically altered in the upcoming weeks.
We stayed in a small guesthouse of one of these retired Americans who has set up a 8 room hotel with outdoor kitchen and living room in his backyard. It was super awesome and we really enjoyed meeting and talking to Skip.
It turned out to be a great place to stop and we were happy to discover it. Now time to get to our house in Cuyutlan! Just a 3 hr drive…
Finally, the big moment we have been planning for all year has arrived. This morning, we were up at 6am in order to be at the Mexico/Texas boarder early.
There is a Facebook page called “On the Road in Mexico” (OtRiM) that has literally thousands of members who often drive Mexico. The majority are Canadian and American snowbirds or expats. Their advice turned out to be invaluable both on the boarder crossing and our first night hotel.
So apparently the “Columbia” crossing is the best one for Americans that are afraid of the boarder and don’t know what they are doing. We decided we would happily fall into this group. It is a small boarder crossing that was an extra 40min of driving, but literally no wait time. Plus- what was great is that the boarder, immigration and car importation were all in the same building. This made it all pretty simple. It was a huge help that we had all our papers ready the dog (they did actually ask for our dog papers!), the car and us for immigration. The whole process was done in under an hour and 20min of that was waiting for the immigration office to open (apparently we were a bit too early!).
The road after was super easy (GPS was helpful) and pretty nice driving. We went through about 5 checkpoints, but didn’t get stopped once. So far, the driving is probably even easier than Costa Rica…at least here they have road signs.
We were going to take a different road, but after about 20 different OtRiM members recommended the first night stop to be Las Palmas hotel in Matahuala, we figured we better just follow the crowd on this one. It took about 6 hours of driving non-stop after the boarder crossing to arrive. Just in time to enjoy the last of the afternoon sun and sink into the (freezing cold, seriously- icy cold) pool.
Tonight we went out to a little road-side shack for our first Mexican Tacos. It was actually a bit of a disappointment…I was expecting better unfortunately. However, we still have 6 months to try to live up to expectations and I assume the better food is still down the road somewhere. The experience did make me realize how fast we are going to need our spanish though. Time to get studying!