10 March 2014

Last Stop / Next Stop

La Paz, Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur: A long journey come to rest:

A quest ending... in failure or success? It depends on one's perspective. If the goal of the journey with my partner was to find our mutual home, it didn't reach the desired goal within the limits of our endurance. If the quest was to embark together and explore, discovering what showed itself along the way, evaluating and responding, resonating or not, and finding out who we were, where our inner homes were at the end of the process, how could it not have been a success?
In the meantime we were grateful for the many signposts and synchronicities which got us through some tight spots with rays of unexpected connection.
1. Croatia

In the ferry lineup in Vis, Osnat met a woman she spent time with in Abadiania, Brazil. A pretty Irish lady, suffering from a shoulder ailment, and a chill remove in her manner, as if encased in an aura of protection. Osnat gave her an astrocartography session and then, under the gaze of the burly Croatian men at the neighboring table playing poker, stood like an ancient healer doing hands-on energy work on her shoulder.
2. Italy

We arrived at 6:30 in the evening in Vernazza with no reservations, as the plan was hatched last minute, after researching that renting a car was a poor option without an International Driver's Permit. So we dragged luggage into town on the cobbled streets, down to a wave-washed harbor replete with tourists, and found only a couple of available rooms at 80 Euros per night. We walked back up the street again, paused to consider calling from a list of accommodations we got at the train station, only to discover the cell phone reception here was nonexistent. At that moment an American couple walking up the street greeted us saying, "Are you needing a place to stay?"
The woman was dressed in flowing colors, her smiling round face a beacon of light. They were leaving next morning and thought we might arrange to stay in the same house, an AirBnB rental that turned out to be in a house whose foundation, they said, dated from 400 A.D.; two floors with full kitchen and cliffside terrace overlooking a spectacular seascape. They phoned the landlord, an actor in Rome, and suggested we offer him $60 per night - when they had paid $120 - since otherwise it would sit empty this week. Reached by their phone, Frederico accepted. Meanwhile a man who earlier had offered us a room for 80 Euros passed us and came down to 65, so we had a place for this night as well.
Amid the bustle of the tourists in the narrow streets, this grand old apartment served for three days as a cool refuge, a haven of old-world charm. Burned once at the exorbitant harborside ristorante, we could cook simpler, authentic fare with local fish and vegetables amid the copper kettles of our kitchen, and sit gazing down at the ever enchanting waves.

3. Portugal

Headed toward Mooji's ashram in the Alentejo, we stopped for the night at the Banos near Monchique. We figured the next day we could find lodging near the ashram in the village of San Martinho das Amoreiras. No such luck, the tourist season had passed and the village was all boarded up, a few geezers and crones remaining in a couple of blighted cafes to turn us away with sour looks of impassive defeat born of centuries of decline. What to expect from a land whose inhabitants forever had left their countryside to venture the seas of the world to plunder others? In any case, we felt our chances might improve by connecting with others at the ashram.
So driving the road to the entrance, we encountered two women walking, one with piled curls familiar, again, to Osnat from her stay in Abadiania: Anita. She greeted us warmly and straightaway mentioned another woman, Brigette, who had a cottage rented nearby and was wanting to leave a week early, so we could probably take over the rent. We ended up staying a week, one of those precious respites from the travel route; and it was luckily sandwiched between two of the only satsang weekends Mooji offered here this season.

4. Ecuador

Giving up quickly on coastal Ecuador, after two noisy nights in a hostel in polluted Guayaquil and another impossible night surviving the boombox surf town of Montanita, we headed for Vilcabamba, booking on AirBnB but not receiving confirmation before taking our flight from Guayaquil, nor afterward on the way to Loja by taxi for the connecting bus. What the heck, though it was 6 in the evening already, we caught the bus and then, settling into our seats, finally got an email from the hosts confirming our booking. When we arrived by taxi at their small farm outside Vilcabamba, Phil looked at me and right away said, "Are you Nowick from Argenta?"

Though I didn't immediately recognize him despite the characteristic Kootenay frizz of hair and grizzled beard, it was an acquaintance with whom I had shared memorable experiences playing music for trance dance (he played didge), as well as further personal connections with watershed issues in the Slocan valley where he had a homestead like mine in Argenta. Now he and his partner Suzanne were two years into a full-scale permaculture project here, having sold their land and most of their equipment in BC and moving the rest of it here (in eleven suitcases and a large crate). So we had a lovely place to stay in the lower floor of their house for a month while also being well introduced to the community with their network of friends and activities.

In Vilcabamba, on Osnat's 60th birthday, we walked to Madre Tierra for dinner. Sitting at the bus stop at the bottom of the driveway a young woman saw us, stood up and said to Osnat, "I think I know you. What's your name?" She was Jenny, from Wales, whom Osnat had spent a week with in Koh Samui at a detox retreat 5 years ago.

5. Mexico: San Pancho

A Rat-Sized Chihuahua Named Lancelot

A magical day out of time. Arranged to visit Stephanie in San Pancho in the afternoon. On the way the collectivo (group taxi) made a stop in Lo de Marcos, and in the first block we saw the dundun player for the African group carrying his big painted barrel drum on his back; then, up the street walking one by one, the other drummers, with their instrument bags, on the way to some practice session no doubt.

Wandering the world, scouring the Internet for drumming, and somehow we missed until now the live connection. The drums advertise themselves.

Arriving in San Pancho, we felt right away an affinity, a resonance. The quiet, tree-lined streets, just the right size town: not too big, not too small. Like Goldilocks, we wandered past French cafes, bakeries and cappuccino bars, yoga studios and surf shops. Gaily painted storefronts, friendly English-speaking vacation rental agents, mellow hipsters strolling the cobblestones. The beach stretched Goa-smooth along the coconut palms, surfers idling on boards awaiting bigger waves. We walked back into town for a pastry before finding Stephanie.

While her 11-month-old Theo napped, we caught up on each other's lives, got the scoop on San Pancho as a place to live. A founder of Cirque du Soleil had moved here, teaming up with an American woman to convert an unused warehouse to a community arts, education and recycling center. Today was the middle of a 5-day African dance intensive class; those drummers would no doubt be on hand tonight. After unmatched mahi-mahi burritos at the natural juice restaurant, we headed to the arts center for a tour. Theo well entertained in the 0-5 toddlers' play area, and my energy waning - after three full-moon nights of life-path soul searching, emotional partner dynamics and little sleep - we said our goodbyes and headed for the highway.

Or did we want to hang out at the beach for a bit before heading home? Not really, but I said okay and we reversed direction. Before one more block, though, I realized I was at the end of my reserves, crashing fast. "No, actually, let's catch the bus and go home. I just want to sleep." Dragging then back towards the highway in a fog of exhaustion, we passed a house with a sign: El Sobador de San Pancho: Total Body Alignment, Pain Relief, Hypnosis, Spiritual and Chakra Cleansing, Massage. Osnat the healer paused, intrigued.

Just then a car pulled into the driveway. A small white-haired man emerged, saw us and said to me, "I can see a pain in your body."

"Oh? Tell me more."

"Yes, it's in the toe, and also in the shoulder."

True, I had an old injury in my right big toe and a recent flareup of chronic tightness in the shoulder.

Osnat chimed in, "Plus he's really tired. And he thinks too much."

"Oh, tired, I can clear that up in two minutes. Also the pain. And your mind will be clear."

We agreed to begin right away, with a session offered also to Osnat for her various pains diagnosed with similar accuracy, a two-for-one deal.

"And do you smoke, if we have a joint first?"

"No, I gave that up."

"It might help you relax and release the tightness and pain, and also the overthinking."

"You're the doctor."

Attending our interview was his little pooch, a rat-sized chihuahua named Lancelot.

This Mexican Merlin pulled and tweaked and de-torqued all the joints of all the limbs, pulling and stretching through the back and shoulders, neck and head, till everything was loose. At least, looser than before. With the heightened awareness of the pot I could sense fully where the residual tension lay, the boundary of resistance.

When Osnat was done we agreed to come back the following day for a followup session, and walked away. My posture was totally reformed, my energy refreshed. Osnat felt free of chronic tightness in her shoulders and lower back. At this point in the day, however, we could not take the bus because she had a scheduled meditation coming up in fifteen minutes. And nearly 5:30, the air was getting chilly. We decided to head back to Stephanie's for a quiet spot to meditate and maybe some borrowed layers to keep us warm for the trip back home; we'd return them tomorrow.

At Stephanie's another younger couple was there on the palapa, as she'd arranged them to babysit while she went to African dance. They had driven from Ontario, their second time here, after discovering the place by serendipity last winter. On arriving at the beach, they were greeted by a young woman who invited them to a party and to hear her band. They had a great time, were inspired to return and then this year on arriving headed first to their favorite taco place. Not five minutes later, the same young woman appeared around the corner and said, "Oh, hey, welcome back! You're just in time for the Christmas party I'm having." So it goes, on the travelers' trail.

They have been up and down the Pacific coast, all the way to Costa Rica and back, and this was the jewel that stood out for them, with the right mix of people and amenities, that certain vibe that calls to return and stay longer, to build on connections, to find your way by word of mouth and serendipity to just the right apartment when the time is right.

"The power of manifestation is so strong here," said Chris, "that you have to be careful what you wish for. The key is to be specific. We looked for a week and couldn't find anything. Then we sat down and made a list of what we were looking for in a rental. The next day we went to the juice restaurant, and met a guy there, who knew another guy who just happened to show up with the keys in his pocket, and we saw the place and it was perfect, with everything we were looking for at the right price."

So we left with just enough time to catch the end of the dance class, we thought. On arriving, though, we only heard the soft balaphone music of cool-down, and never did locate the entrance door, so headed to the highway to wait for the bus. We must have just missed one because we stood in the cold for almost an hour. Near the end the drummers arrived, and I was able to make a connection with the sangban player and get an invitation to play for the next night's class. Full circle, from my meeting of drummers here my first day in town, to catching the performances on market day, seeing them on the way to San Pancho and finally again on the way out.

We came home cold and hungry but energized, to a small but symbolic feast, a pair of homemade steamed crabs, Baltimore-style.

6. Mexico: Zihuatanejo

In Zihuatanejo we ran the gamut from fortuitous connection to intolerable disappointment and escape. Our first stop there, the Hotel Amueblados las Salinas, proved less than perfect, with the usual change of room after the first night, the second one proving worse with an ineffective and noisy AC, but the owner happily allowed us to leave short of the third night with money refunded. Meanwhile we had run into an Albertan woman running a shoreside table for Sailfest who turned us onto the Hotel America, $600 per month for an apartment, and we actually agreed to a month for $480, and put a $40 deposit down.
Right next door, however, Osnat was enticed to inquire at the Ada Guesthouse, and we found a nicer apartment with full kitchen and balcony for only $80 more. So we phoned and arranged to take it right away, met with the Hotel America lady who graciously refunded our deposit, and moved in. Later a lunch and then, finally hit that beach: calm waters, 28 degrees; Osnat finally relaxed enough without wetsuit. Warm enough to wade in, getting wet gradually, no shock, no painful adjustment, just welcome. Stay in as long as you like, swim with ease.
On the beach we met a middle-aged Canadian couple, from Naramata, BC. It turns out they were old friends of a friend of mine from Argenta, a woman who had come to BC from Denmark years before and began with a teaching job at the same little school where this couple worked - probably forty years ago.
But then: what a difference a day (and a sleepless night) makes. We spent a delirious, humid Saturday night unable to sleep for the music downtown all night long, till 6 in the morning. Even at 3 or 4 there was an interlude of some male voice crooning at the bar next door, between the episodes of harsh rock, guitar and drums and the ever-present pounding bass. My thoughts obsessively went to the discussion we would have with the hotel owner, to try to get a refund of our month's rent, so we could escape to yet another stop down the road, Costa Rica (and save our flight change fees in the process).
I am back to despairing, or resigning myself to the improbability of ever truly finding this home that we have spent five months and a small fortune questing for, burning also our emotional capital and even our zest for life, our appreciation for the travels for their own sake. Always an insufficiency, the no-seeums around the ankles at dusk, the chatty Quebecoise on the neighboring balcony or the Albertans gabbing at the tables of the Hotel America below; the stench from the streets undergoing sewer repairs; the murky water making snorkeling impossible. All of these negatives lined up on the other side of the blissfully tepid and baby-calm seawater, the charming russet architecture in the town and on the hillside, the cheap and tasty local Mexican food either from markets or restaurants, the relaxed vibe throughout the day, the pure blue skies, the forgiving budget allowing two to live for the price of one.
What to do? Keep moving on. Meanwhile, the local band below graces the evening, again with its mellow constant temperatures and gentle breezes, Simon and Garfunkel rendered with guitar and Andean pan flute. I enjoyed a pair of tasty tamales, chicken with red chile, for dinner for two dollars. The head cold threatening to take hold dissipates under the onslaught of raw garlic, red chile mole, rest in the afternoon, relaxation with our fate one way or another.

7. Costa Rica

In La Legua - not even a town, just a bend in the road - we rented a sweet house for a ten-day retreat of sorts: nothing to do, nowhere to go; catching our breath from noisy Mexican towns and hectic travel arrangements, in a peaceful, beautiful, isolated valley between the highlands and the coast. Next door, greeting us while our AirBnB host was away, lived a couple from Baltimore, who had lived in a house right next door to the school I attended in 1965.
As always, our house reviews would be mixed. This one we called "the musty palace," due to the pervasive smell of mold in the bathroom and one of the bedrooms. We opened the windows and cranked up the fans, and moved to the other bedroom. It was odd, coming to a country and then spending a week and a half going nowhere, lounging in the spacious living room, walking the manicured grounds, catching up on writing projects and meditations. But the bus schedule was problematic; we came prepared with a load of groceries from town; and the sprawling ranch-style "palace" had a priceless view. Costa Rica, the snapshot, "pura vida."

8. La Paz, Mexico

Todos Santos is promising at first, recommended by a few friends, touted as funky, spiritual, laid-back. I have come to Baja traveling solo, after a parting of ways in Costa Rica. The mutual quest, unsustainable, is interrupted, divided; the search for a temporary home goes on.
My first morning I go exploring, found a health food store to replenish essentials: toothpaste, sunscreen, echinacea. I pick up a local map and check the notice board. A friendly young woman behind the counter has been traveling also 7 months including BC; she alerts me to a monthly rental just opening up. When I go there it's not what I'm after, rather a kind of hostel in a house, more communal space than privacy. In fact the town itself, I discover in two days there, proves not as advertised or expected. Yes, a cutesy little version of Sebastopol (California) south. The recommended café, a graveyard of scattered expats gazing into laptops. A reflection of myself?

Later back in La Paz, my neighbor, from Quebec and California, hears my take on Todos Santos, says she went there ten years ago and loved it; went back recently and... never again. She wrinkles her nose. "It's great, if you like rich white people."

I walked through, walked on. The sea, a wild and cold Pacific, raging and roiling. And at that, a forty-five minute trek from town, no taxis.

I returned to La Paz, a basic but cheap hotel. Went right for the beach, a forty-minute bus ride, to check out the main attraction. It took my breath away. Dry air, parched scenery, calm water, utterly clear. Hardly anyone there. It was low tide, so you could walk way out to the water deep enough to swim, and there it was just cool/warm, refreshing; like the best of BC ocean swimming on the hottest summer days. I was hooked.

Setting out in town this morning, I marveled at the perfect cool/warm dry air, blue sky. This place was for me. I started with the hostel, but too expensive. The tourist information place guided me to a hotel, ditto. On the main street I saw a realtor, dropped in and asked about weekly or monthly rentals. He made a couple of calls, connected me with a woman whose tenant, also from Victoria, had just moved out today. On the way I checked out the language school, which arranges homestays for you if you sign up for classes. The house I was going to see was right next to it. Just what I needed, at the right price, I took it on the spot. For now, home.