As a child, I spent many evenings gazing skyward, with my father pointing out constellations…the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia. I never could see Draco the dragon and finally said, “yes Daddy” to stop the pointing and the neck strain. In Mexico I visited the Mayan pyramids of Palenque, home to the ancient astronomers and was awed by the night sky. Moving to Austin to attend the University of Texas, I needed a science elective and choose Astronomy. I stood on the roof of the math-science building for my final exam in 1975…Taurus, Pleiades, Andromeda, you could see stars then. I’ve always loved the dark. I walk in my neighborhood before dawn and wish the neighbors would turn off their lights and the city, the street lights. I just want to see the night sky. The stars of Big Bend National Park had me laying out and feeling insignificant and pondering the universe. I managed to travel home from Big Bend by way of the McDonald Observatory, high in the Davis mountains. It was beautiful even though the sky wasn’t that clear and prompted our usual conversation, “Could we live here?”.
The sky that affected me the most was in Thailand. Lisa and I had taken a three-day trek into Northern Thailand at the foot of the Himalayas. We hiked into villages where people spoke indigenous languages. The second night we stayed in a hut perched on the side of a mountain. I got up for my usually visit to the bathroom and stepped onto a balcony under the stars like I had never seen before. I immediately woke Lisa and dragged her out to gaze skyward and point. She is a good sport and stood with me as I missed my dad and wished he could have seen a display of stars he didn’t know existed.
As I ticked off my list of requirements for where we were to retire, I needed the dark, a place to see stars. I was initially disappointed staying in Bacalar, where the sky wasn’t very clear and I could see light pollution coming across the lake from Chetumal. So much seemed perfect and I was afraid that I was going to have to choose between a beautiful lake or a starry starry night. A visit to Teresa, our soon-to-be neighbor changed all that. We sat on her porch making small talk, imagining our own porch on the adjacent property overlooking the lake. Saying our good-byes at the front door, I looked up and saw a sky that rivaled Thailand. That’s when I knew this was where I wanted to live the rest of my life, in the dark and under the stars.
I do not remember celebrating Mother’s Day while living in Mexico in 1974, but I do remember how children were treated. At 21 years old, my focus was not on children, but the difference between what I observed in my US life and my Mexican life was unmistakable. First, there were no crying babies. NONE! Babies were breastfed and mom was always close by. Children and babies were everywhere and were content. I’d never seen a baby at it’s mother’s breast in New Jersey. In Mexico it was the norm, but it was more than a way to feed a baby.
Second, babies were transported on the body in a rebozo, a shawl wrapped over one shoulder and under the opposite arm used to sometimes carry chickens or cabbages, but most often a baby. Little feet would be sticking out while suspended hammock-like from the front or back of the mother’s body. If older, curious eyes observed the world perched from mom’s hip. There were no bottles or pacifiers or strollers. Attachment parenting was the norm. Dads were also very involved with their children. It was not uncommon to see a man playing with his children on the bus or at the park. Children were visible. There were no baby sitters, with the exception of an older sibling. Children were an everyday part of life. A toddler running down the aisle in church was not met with rolling eyes or clucking tongues.
Recently I was introduced, from two sources to a blog Revolution from Home, written by Beth Berry, a mom raising four daughters and living in Tulum, Mexico. Her observation of the treatment of children and the importance of family tells a better story than I, and supports one more reason for our move to Mexico.
Wearing the Baby
Keeping a Baby Close
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Austin by waving green, white and red Mexican flags. So much so that I once heard someone point to a Mexican flag and refer to it as a “Cinco de Mayo” flag. It’s a day for family, friends, eating tacos, listening to conjunto and drinking cerveza. Few know what the holiday is really about. When living in Mexico, I visited the Fort de Puebla where a fight for independence took place in 1864. The French, with their highly trained forces thought they had a cake walk in taking over Mexico. A rag-tag militia of about 500 strategically placed Mexican soldiers proved them wrong. Mexico’s independence took years of battles with French, Spanish, US, and British troops. It’s no wonder everyone celebrates a win by the underdogs.
But Cinco is a celebration of much more than the Battle of Puebla. It’s the celebration of a strong, proud, independent people who love to celebrate just about anything. As a youngster from New Jersey, I was wary of a picnic in a cemetery for Day of the Dead. It was a delightful day that allowed me to experience another culture in a very personal way. There are birthdays, saint days, quinceneras, religious holidays, Sunday picnics, and many more events that I hope to learn about and participate in.
We continue to pack containers, take books to Half Price, have dinner with friends and plan our escape. There are no “final” goodbyes. Just about everyone is invited to visit. So if you think that southern Yucatan may be a vacation destination in your future, get your passport, practice your Spanish and bring a “celebration state-of-mind”, and remember your hammock.
Alex enjoying a sunny Lake Bacalar day
Sunset on the Bay of Chetumal
The Adventure of Dos Tortas has required endless planning, list making, scheduling, re-scheduling; it’s mind boggling! My Excel spreadsheet is long gone, replaced by a calendar on the dining room table. BTW, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s almost May! With a goal of leaving town by September 1, vamanos muchachos.
This past week saw two HUGE checks off of THE LIST (at least in my head). I found an outfit for my daughter’s wedding! Planning a wedding in the middle of our “adventure” hasn’t been the easiest. I am thrilled for my daughter and she and her fiance are doing all the work themselves. Finding the perfect outfit had me more stressed than I could have imagined and my goal is “NO STRESS”. So, wedding outfit, CHECK.
Actually, the biggest and most stressful, at the top of our to-do list and the least under our control has been the sale of our house in Bastrop, TX. This week we got an offer with a contract. Selling this house has required much faith and breathing and frankly not much fun. We learned that all the best planning still didn’t come out the way we expected. It’s been a real nail biter and a lesson in living with uncertainty. Even though we don’t close until June, it’s a huge CHECK off of my list.
…and now, reminders of why we’re doing all this:
Large Tree Along Laguna Bacalar.
Big lush bromeliads – Casita Carolina
Yellow Flowers Growing Everywhere
Blooming Succulent Hummingbird Attractor
This week we celebrate Earth Day 2013. I remember the first Earth Day in 1970, the year I graduated from high school. I was surprised that my father would join a group of students picking up trash in Ken Lockwood Gorge near my childhood home in New Jersey. I thought only young people cared about the environment…LOL!!
In researching the Pueblo de Bacalar, I was curious about the town and what it would be like to live there. Austin is a green city and people are very conscious about the environment. I know from our travels that the rest of the world isn’t always as committed. One thing I discovered about Bacalar was an Earth Day Celebration from 2011 that I wish I could have attended. People coming together to celebrate the earth, the laguna and their comunidad. In a declaration of intent, residents committed to protecting the earth, the inclusion of all people through non-descrimination, and the education of children to continue the work. The faces in the pictures are mixed in ethnicity, race, age and resource. During our visit to Bacalar in December 2012, I noticed blue recycling barrels everywhere. There were bi-lingual notices asking people to protect the lake by picking up trash.
Seemed like my kind of town.
People Coming Together
Ritual to Bless the Earth.
Earth Day photos by Jacqui McGrath
Spring weekends like this one are frequently thought of as, “the reason I moved to Austin”. Not too cool and not too hot. I enjoy it before the scorching, dry summer starts. On Friday I was riding my bike home from work anticipating this lovely weekend when a thought popped into my head crisp and clear, “we’re really going to do this!”. It made me laugh out loud. We’re moving to Mexico! We’re going to build a small house on a beautiful lake and retire. OMG.
I want to thank my friend Karen. It’s one thing to read a book about someone who chucks it all and moves to a foreign country, but it means so much to me to KNOW someone who’s done it, to talk to them and visit them and say, “I can do this” and then doing it.
We had another garage sale yesterday. Poco a poco, little by little. Time to start seriously packing things that we ARE taking. It will make staging the house for sale easier. Off to enjoy the rest of this lovely weekend. Next spring will be a whole different story.
Bacalar Rising – Time for a Swim
When visiting the town of Bacalar, populated 11,000, situated about thirty minutes north of the Mexico/Belize border, I didn’t expect to find so much personality and ambiance. Since we do not eat out a lot, it wasn’t the restaurants but the people, the lake, the mercado and Fort Bacalar that captured our hearts. The town itself is situated on the laguna with Fort Baclar at its edge.
“After the town was sacked by pirates in 17th century, the Fortress de San Felipe Bacalar was completed in 1729, and may still be visited today.”
Pirates? Yes, apparently the mangroves made it possible for long boats to work their way inland from the sea and attack the tiny pueblito. So they built a fort, with deep moats to protect the villagers. Today it houses a fascinating museo chronicling the history and the development of the area. The site has been used to make movies and entertain tourists for years. While living near Fort Bacalar wasn’t our first reason for choosing to retire in this quaint town, it certainly will entertain the many friends who promise to visit us.
What is an adventure? When I think about having an adventure, I think of an experience outside of my day-to-day vida loca that is foreign or sometimes a bit scary. The numero uno question that we get when we tell people we’re moving to Mexico is, “Is it safe?” While I admit that everything in life is a risk (when I’m feeling snarky, I’m tempted to say that if I wanted to be safe, I’d stay in bed) some things are riskier than others. When people talk about Mexico and safety in the same sentence, I find that they:
1) don’t really know much about Mexico except what they read in the news.
2) don’t know us very well and don’t consider that we know much about Mexico and have done our homework; and
3) don’t really put risk into perspective.
In 2012 34,767 people died in automobile accidents in the US, almost exactly the number killed in the four year period prior to 2010 in the Mexican drug war. While it’s not a perfect comparison, it’s a bit of perspective. The country of Mexico is big, three times bigger than Texas and the drug war is not targeted at US expats.
In spite of the risk, we still ride in cars everyday and we’re still moving to Mexico.
1. an exciting or very unusual experience.
2. participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.
3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
4. a commercial or financial speculation of any kind; venture.
a. peril; danger; risk.
b. chance; fortune; luck.
I’m especially fond of Mexican mercados. It is one of the things I am moving to Mexico for. Growing up in NJ (the Garden State), I was accustomed to stopping at roadside stands to purchase corn, watermelons and especially those fabulous Jersey tomatoes. Visiting my home state a few years ago, I was amazed to find that there was not a roadside stand to be found. I guess those small farms are long gone. In Texas, I frequent the farmer’s markets looking for that connection to fresh farm-grown food. It’s a special experience for me.
My memory of Mexico in the 70′s was of visiting the mercados, big and small. They were a cross between a farmer’s market and a flea market, made up of temporary stalls, in large open areas or closed off streets. The mercado was usually held once or twice a week depending on the size of the community.
I remember the fruit tasting like nothing I had ever eaten in the US. Whatever was in season was piled high for several weeks, only to be replaced by the next seasonal fruit. I made myself sick on mangos, bananas and avocados.
In Bacalar, I searched eagerly for the mercado. Pineapples and papayas were especially good in December. The market is housed in a permanent building and is open every day. Of course there are also other small stores in town that sell fruits and vegetables and a supply of packaged goods that would rival any 7-11. I look forward to getting to know the vendors and inquiring about the possibility of bulk buying. One thing that did surprise me was finding green grapes from California for sale. The world really is getting smaller.
Please share your thoughts or experiences in the comments section.
Lisa joked yesterday that our house is getting larger! LOL As we clean out closets, empty shelves and sell furniture, there is more space and open-ness to our home. We have filled the storage trailer with our garage sale items and when they’re gone, it will hold our “goes to Mexico” possessions. Eventually the house will be empty and then we put the FOR SALE sign out, hopefully the process will be fairly painless. We’ll see.
Telling people at our sale that we’re moving to Mexico brought different reactions. Everyone seemed to wish us well, but a few seemed somewhere between envy and “I’m going to do something like that, I’m just not ready yet.” As usual I handed out the link to this blog.
We made $200 which is peanuts compared to what the books, yarn, clothes, tools, furniture, dishes, CDs, cost us. It only adds to my resolve to not continue to acquire so many possessions I don’t really need. We are building a small house to support that commitment. I guess a home without so much stuff doesn’t have to be very big after all.