Night Train

Night Train

Knowing I’m going to spend the night on a train fills me with anticipation. There is a certain intimacy of sharing a cabin with other passengers, and in India, usually great conversations.

We stand on the platform waiting. There is the hustle and bustle of arriving and then people find their spot, turn their suitcases up and sit—waiting for the train. The tea wallah calls out, “CHai! Chai!” in his nasally voice. The first time I came to India I thought he was calling out,“Joy, Joy, Joy” (Chai is general term for tea in India but usually means masala chai with milk)

There are always beggars at the train station that, like a heart surgeon, crack open your chest and re-adjust the heart strings. The station is filled with colorful blankets and families sleeping on the floor everywhere.

The train arrives and a mad rush to climb on board begins. Indian people are patient and polite except in crowds when they push their advantage as much as possible.

DSC04979Once we are settled and in our compartment the train finally burps and lurches forward. Moving, slowly out of the station—then the clackety clackety clackety of building up speed. It begins like a horse in a gentle walk, then the riotous movement of a trot and finally, at full speed, it settles into a good gallop. I sink into my dark cubby hole of a top bunk allowing “train yoga” to do its work as it jostles my body like jello.

I am almost dropping off to sleep when the rumbling is interrupted by another train passing in the dark night. Its horn blasts an eery sound, a certain loneliness that only trains in India have– even more mournful as it fades in the distance. There’s something mysterious about hordes of humanity rushing to where I have just come from. I wonder, are they journeys of hope, of survival, a pilgrimage? Most people in India are not traveling for pleasure.

This is a first class air conditioned compartment, A certain guilt comes over me as I know the difficulty of sitting in the third class section, families squeezed onto benches with so many others, trying to sleep a little through the night, but David and I are too old to ever do that again.

The air conditioner in our compartment is what we call in the states a noisy ceiling fan. It spews out burnt smelling air, but still it cools a bit and provides additional background music to sleep by. The porter brings a packet of clean sheets, and I pull a wool shawl over my head. It’s sheepy barnyard smell is comforting. I turn, toss. Havent seen any lions in India as yet, but can hear their roar/snores in a cabin nearby..

Wide awake! Listening to the creakings and squeakings of a train that is probably older than the one my grandfather rode as a caboose man. Mind travels to those long ago memories—my grandmother and I sat in her 57 Chevy in the Rock Island train yard in Illinois, waiting. Finally my grandfather appears, his bald head shining in the late afternoon light. He limps over the tracks toward us, his old war injury always a source for another story or one I’ve heard many times before. I run across the tracks to meet him and wave goodbye to his old cronies who always remember my name.

The memories drop me into that snoozing dreamlike state and finally to sleep. In the morning Delhi.

In the dawn light I can see rice paddies like patchwork squares and sugarcane fields far into the distance. Along the tracks are neatly laid out cow patties placed in the sun to dry, later to become fire for the home next to piles of burning trash. Occasionally the smell of sewage comes thru the air. Red plumed pampas grass lines the tracks and women in fluorescent colored sarees walk with water bottles in their hands or on their heads.Train crossings oxcarts and Tata trucks line up. Bicycle rickshaws taking children in fresh uniforms to school, and hundreds of young men on motorcycles all waiting for the train to pass. Another day in India.

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Noida to Rishikesh

 

In India I found a race of mortals living on the earth, but not adhering to it. Inhabiting cities but not being fixed to them. Possessing everything but possessed by nothing.

Apollonius Tyaneus, Greek traveler of the 1st century AD

 

Noida Ashram

October 24

Yesterday in meditation I could hear the Brahmachari laughing upstairs in the hallway so I walked up there. I’ve seen him over the years in Dakshinesar ashram. He has a deep baritone voice, but when he sings it is so sincere and pure. He was talking with a couple of families who were visiting — delightful to see their older children bowing and idolizing this man of God instead of some football hero or a rock star. He isn’t, however, a “book learned” religious man. He exudes something which the word love doesn’t quite describe. Standing near him, it felt sort of like that moment when they lay your first child in your arms and new circuits light up your “mother channel” deep within your being.

David and I strolled in the garden on one of our first days. The cook, who I hadn’t even met yet, called out that she had a gift for me– an extra dress (kurta) I might like to have. Now, the reason this was so incredible was that I had just discovered in the morning that the special dress I bought to wear in the ashrams was still hanging in some closet in France

(or hopefully the cleaning woman is currently enjoying it). We walked further and met another new friend, Rajif, my adopted son. He arranged that David and I meet with two local people who own a travel agency.

In the past in India we often flew by the seat of our pants– planning a few days a head and deciding where we wanted to go. Not now. It has become so much more Westernized that booking ahead is a necessity.

We met our angels, Anurag and Shaifalli, in the library of the ashram. They are partners in a company called Travel Mate here in Delhi. Both are devotees and had lived the corporate life and were miserable. Six years ago they became partners and formed a travel company. In two hours of chatting, they planned the best prices and connections on plane and train tickets for our whole five weeks– all on Shaifalli’s computer– her fingers tap danced on the computer keys. Can you imagine anyone in the U.S. sitting down with you for a free three hour business consultation? (Well, except for you, MaryHelen) At the end of our scheduling session, David mentioned that I loved to eat and wrote a little bit about food. They twittered away in Hindi and then he asked if we join them to sample one of Anurag’s favorite delis in Delhi.

The place looked ordinary like most bakery/delis UNTIL. . . The first dish to arrive was called Pani Poori The plate held four bowls of sauce and a tray of what looked like small bird’s eggs with a center filled with a bit of vegetable and potato. You spooned ea sauce into the opening and popped it in your mouth. textures flavors alive in your mouth at once. They did a little dance on your tongue. Next dish was called Aalu Tikki it was a bowl of yogurt or here it is called paneer. Floating in it deep fried crispy potatos chunks. Slightly sweet strips of red veg over top. A green and golden sauce swirled through Mysterious mix – not really sweet, almost hot, definitely tangy, and great textures. The smell was so enticing. 

David and I see so many good changes in India. More abundant water, more hot water Yea! A garbage system that’s making a dent (in some cities). Fly overs (aka overpasses) So many young people in the local mall carrying many shopping bags. But Anurag says that only 10% of the people lives are improving. The villages haven’t changed much.

Rishikesh

Just couldn’t find our place for a the first few days here. We’ve been so spoiled being around such loving thoughtful people in the ashrams and finally we are on our own. And I was ready for a real bathtub and pretty sheets—just not 30 any more. Now we are in a clean, sweet place with a great rooftop where we can see the Ganges. there is such a smorgasboard of yoga and spirituality here. All david and I want to do is sit on our roof and watch the world go by. I woke this morning at 5:30 AM with sound of a pony clip clopping on the cobblestone street below bringing rocks down to the main road. Sun breaks over the mountain and the Ganges almost glitters in the morning light. By 6:30 trucks and tuk tuks (motorcycle taxis) are revving their engines and the monkeys are squabbling.

David at the Ganges

David at the Ganges

Yesterday David  and I took a taxi to Vashistha guhu (guhu means cave). Mr. Toad’s Ride is nothin’ compared to these taxi drivers on mountain roads (but don’t worry about us). The cave went back into the cliff side, and we sat in there for an hour and walked along the Ganges before all the tour buses arrived. I don’t remember the saint’s name, but he lived there until his mahasamadhi. In India they celebrate not only birthdays but the day they leave the earth, called mahasamadhi. If we had more time, I’d go back there and stay in a guest house far from the commotion of Rishikesh.

Have another new friend in this guest house. Can’t remember her name so we call her Lichtenstein which is where she is from. Anyone know where that is?

 

 

 

 

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Two Hungers

There are places on earth where great souls have lived, not those that have run corporations, made huge sums of money or were world famous, but those that have lived an exemplary inner life. They leave footprints on the earth like the scent of perfume lingering on a woman’s dress. If you sit quietly and tune into them, they have a profound effect.

After visiting the cathedral of Saint Therese of Lisieux, often called the “Little Flower of Jesus,” we had only one day left. We decided to drive the back roads to Chartres (and the airport) stopping at graveyards, Farmer’s Markets, and fromageries (cheese stores). While I explored, David found a cafe for coffee where he had an interesting conversation with an elderly French man who told a few stories of World War II and his village in France.-

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral can be seen from maybe 10 miles away. It is currently being repaired so we weren’t able to take a tour, but inspiring none the less. Again, I wish I had the vocabulary to describe this peeling, crumbling masterpiece of architecture. If you ever read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett; you know that stone masons, glass men and other builders walked from city to city in the tenth to thirteenth centuries building these enormous churches. They didn’t go home every night with chocolate ice cream in the frig and a movie to watch. Life was violence and survival.

In this cool, musty quiet  environment ceilings crisscross into the heavens. All one can think of is hope and a promise of a better life. A group of singers in a far distant corner sounded as if they really were angels singing as the their voices echoed off the stone walls.DSC04520

This was also one of the beginning places for the Pilgrmage to Santiago de Compostela during the Middle Ages. An incredible vibration in this place.

I asked a young man at the travel information office in Chartres where we might eat our last dinner in France. David and I crossed streets and plazas and a river and finally found the place he recommended. My first course was served in a large white plate that looked like a nun’s hat from the Sound of Music. In the center was a small “cup of soup” size bowl which contained tenderest of — lobster, leeks, and French sorrel in a butter sauce with herbs I could never decipher. Main course was a piece of salmon lightly cooked and still moist with a hint of ginger, but the skin side (which I often remove) was crispy and tasty. The vegetables were sauteed in butter and tarragon but oh so subtly. Mashed potatoes were not potatoes at all but maybe rutabaga, turnips, and what we call salad radishes. That was the dinner of a lifetime.

An overnight flight, as if in a dream, we were in India.

India is not an easy country to travel in. Compared to France, I think of it as a “teenage” culture. Noisy, growing in spurts, sometimes stinky, lots of issues and constant movement.

I love how the people of India, of course not all, have so little compared to our lifestyles, yet know how to be happy and content. They are curious and open and ready to break into a smile. I love how proud they are of the progress their country is making. I appreciate how, as older people, we are respected and actually looked out for.  Most of all, I love their 5000 year old tradition of yoga and spirituality; the science of going beyond our limited minds to experience what every religion in the world has written about but doesn’t practice much— the peace that passes all understanding.

And besides, India is never boring. There’s always a surprise around the corner and a personal challenge of patience and acceptance .

We are staying in an ashram in a suburb of Delhi called Noida surrounded by call centers, offices, colleges, and many computer companies. The ashram is connected with the Yogoda Satsanga Society which is the Indian half of Self Realization Fellowship, based on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. It feels like a peaceful garden island in the midst of a raucous world.

I became a student of Yogananda in the late 1970’s when there were lots of “gurus” and consciousness raising organizations all over California charging huge sums to teach you to be peaceful and raise your consciousness. (This still exists.) But for me, Yogananda was love at first sight, and everything he taught has come true more than I dreamed possible.

Our basic room has marble floors and platform beds. It was autumn and chilly in France. Here it is the end of monsoon season and HOT. The air conditioner is vintage 20th Century and sounds like a frenetic ping pong game or a Cuban rock band whose drummer is half asleep. AND David won’t dance with me.

I feel ten pounds lighter here. Not so much in physical weight, but in the burden of my constantly changing mind. This is a very special place.

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Photos

2015-10-07 03.54.40The house. Gardens in front are all pink and red geraniums and

 

 

 

 

Monet’s Kitchen  –blues and yellows and lots of copper.

2015-10-07 04.22.53

2015-10-07 03.41.01In the distance you can see the green Japanes bridge in Monet’s garden

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Last Days in Paris

The place we rented in Paris was a little far away from all the tourist activity, but it just happened to be right near the largest weekday market. It was more than four city blocks long with varieties of mushrooms I’ve never seen before, fish, beautifully displayed vegetables and fruits, breads, wine, cheeses, lots of take home dishes, as well as snails, cow tongues, fish heads, little birds, rabbits, pig feet and everything one could imagine that might be edible. It was inspiring to see so many young and old people with their sacks loaded with their ingredients for the week. It’s a way of life here and, well, taking a hold in our own country. David and I picnicked in our room with ratatouille, cheeses, a basil and lemon tapenade, bread and wine. Best meal we’ve had so far.

Last day in Paris we finally got our travel legs. First priority was the Marmotan Museum—out in what we would call a suburb—it’s a private collection of Monet and other Impressionists. We took the metro but still far from the museum. Dummy country bumpkins! We didn’t even know how to hail a cab.

I wish I had more of a vocabulary to describe or know something about art. Monet’s pieces were ones we rarely see. But he takes you to a perfect moment – on the Seine River, the shimmering light on the water, luminescent weeping willow—well, just nature in all her joyous vibrating beauty. With all the horrible things that happen in the world, it is encouraging, uplifting to know this being (Monet) came on earth to share his sense of beauty with all of us for generations. We sat for hours with just 3 or 4 of the paintings we loved.

2015-10-04 10.00.07Then after a quick metro ride, had the most expensive and worst meal in the tourist section of Paris. (nothing is ever perfect). Finally took the boat down the Seine to see the Eiffel Tower and great architecture. History came alive as the young woman explained much of what happened in these buildings. Then we dashed (actually I was dragging myself) to the Saint Chapelle cathedral —just happened to get there as they were lining up for a concert—a choral octet with a small orchestra. This church is reknowned for some of the best stained glass in all of Europe.

2015-10-02 07.44.40It also just happened to be fashionista week in Paris. Models were in the park and in this one plaza where david and I just happened to walk by. We tried taking photos, but the professional photographers were no match for us. Fashion is a little over the top in france—sort of like health food in California.

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Miromesnil We’re Moving In!

 

DSC04362We’re moving in! Actually, it started a year ago. I helped a friend, judy, with her garage sale when she was selling her house. She gave me a book called Gardens of  France. I wrote down ones I’d like to visit and Miromesnil Chateau was close to our route. As we were leaving the town of Rouen, we headed for the coast and the region of Normandy. It was almost 5 PM when we drove into the Chateau, known for its potager’ garden. I assumed it would be way too expensive but we asked anyway and decided to stay.

David and I instantly liked the owner. He groaned when I said he must work terribly hard to maintain this place. It’s Downton Abbey (but his name isn’t Robert). He told us part of the history of the castle as we walked up the three creaking flights of stairs to our room. this house has been in his wife’s family for three generations. Her grandparents bought it in 1938 when Europe and Hitler were looking iffy. They had 9 children and wanted to find a place that might be safe for them. Spent 18 months rejuvenating the house, and then it was requisitioned by the French army as a training base. Then the Germans seized it . At the end of the war, the Americans used it to finish their work . The house and their family survived all that until a young GI tried to make a fire with green wood in the kitchen and decided to pour a little gasoline on it. Only one half of house went up in flames.

The potager garden (kitchen garden) is surrounded in red brick walls. This keeps out critters, wind, and makes a lovely back drop. They’ve won several awards in France and are conscious about planning for changing weather patterns that are already beginning.

DSC04372I walked out to the family chapel in the midst of the surrounding forest. It all smelled musty and mushroomy. Sunlight filtered through the beech trees as they began to turn yellow. Dedicated to Saint Anthony the Hermit, the small stone chapel built in the 11th Century was once a pilgrimage site. People from the nearby villages would walk here to bathe their legs in the pond (which no longer exists) to cure their varicose veins and other problems.

our room is round and the bath has a big claw foot tub. There are little doors in the halls that lead to little spaces—weird. At night the wooden shutters flap in the wind. I think they whisper “Heathcliff!” Oops! Wrong story wrong country.

DSC04375David and I have been cruising thru villages and getting lost on all the little back roads of Normandy. The countryside and the architecture of many village chateaus and farms is mesmerizing. The soil is a cafe latte color, huge John Deere tractors tilling it up all day long and rolling gentle hills of green.

It has been an incredible blessing to meet the owners and stay in this beautiful old house.  PS Can’t figure out how to turn the picture.

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Afternoon in Giverny

2015-10-06 06.59.02Bleary eyed, the world is glossed over—I’m having a genuine Impressionist moment. Blues dissolve into yellows and greens reign. The truth is, tears blur my vision. I can’t believe I’m here. Giverny, a short drive north of Paris. Well, truth be told told, it took David and I four hours of frustration, and more anger than I care to admit to get here. The English speaking manager at the McDonald’s outside of Paris finally saved us.

Giverny (pronounced gee vehr nee) is/was the home of Claude Monet in his later years. He designed, built, and planted this garden so that he could paint flowers and see them from every window. This is the ultimate pilgrimage—the Compostela of Gardeners. I want to cry because I can feel all my gardening buddies walking with me—Judy, Kristin, Jana, Pat, Renate, Annie. Carolyn, you are so here next to me I can almost hear your words.

This man genius painter understood on a deep level how light continuously transforms the world around us—for his garden . His vague outlines and discontinuous brush strokes bleed altogether as if he were seeing through tears. 2015-10-06 03.43.31I don’t know if Monet was a religious man or not, but he knew. He grokked. He sensed what the great yogis of India wrote about for thousands of years. The world is nothing more than condensed light and flowers whisper to us of something greater than our I, me, mines. In a broader sense, one could say he was self realized.

Sell the second car! Rent the house! Save your miles, but come to Giverny before you die. Every window is a photo, every doorway a scented enigma. There’s a stunning white garden in front of the Monet Museum with Japanese anemone, cactus and dinner plate dahlias, alyssum, Nicotiana and lots of burgundy foliage/ivy in the fall. There are hedges in the museum garden that divide into rooms of colors—pink and lavendars, yellow and oranges.

2015-10-06 03.40.43And I haven’t even been to Monet’s actual garden and home yet. I’ve only walked thru the village. The city has worked hard to maintain its integrity and not turn it into a Disneyland.

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Paris Paris

Paris Paris

Where to begin?

At the metro. We started the day heading for Notre Dame. Parisiennes are like gophers. They tunnel thru the underground on the their way to work and play on the very efficient Metro—layers of more and more trains that take you just blocks from anywhere in the city. It’s fairly clean, and even at midnight feels safe. Any time of day Parisiennes are rushing up the stairs or down the escalator to catch their next ride. It was quite impressive, and encouraging that cities can create mass transit that works.

Our first morning in Paris, we stopped at a spot called the Place de Vosges. A plaza filled with history and surrounded by what used to be a grand palace and now has been broken up into very exclusive apartments. Then a brisk (everyone walks quickly) walk to Notre Dame. We lingered outside for awhile in the garden – incredible, inspiring but the lines to go inside were so long that we decided to hop a bicycle taxi for a region called La Mufetarde and a good lunch. Winding streets near the Sorbonne filled with interesting shops and students eating fast food—crepes.

My salad, like the women of France, was perfectly dressed—light but not heavy on vinaigrette with lots of varieties of textures, pine nuts and a goat cheese that was fried maybe coated with something like Panko. Chicken and vegetable ragout like dish in a light blue cheese sauce was OK. I love  how they eat—slowly, lingering chatting and enjoying. . And of course, Mr. david engaged two handsome older men with his map quest. They actually spent 20 minutes trying to help him find what he was looking for.

Another brisk walk (David was still walking briskly. I was beginning to drag) took us along busy thoroughfares in to Luxembourg Gardens—60 acres of terraced woods and broad avenues for strolling. sunny flower borders were filled with red ruby chard interspersed with red dahlias, light orange geraniums, burgundy basils, red and orange and yellow zinnias. Another mound of lavendar and purple petunias blended beautifully with peachy pink geraniums . All surrounded by fluorescent green grass which you DO NOT walk on. The broad boulevards leading to the Luxembourg Palace are lined with benches where people sit under the canopy of horse chestnut trees. What I especially liked was the statues — not military men or great politicians but artists, poets, and demigods that almost seem like guardian spirits.

It wasn’t the landscaping that was so delightful. IT WAS the people. relaxing in the ate afternoon warmth several pools with beautiful fountains are surrounded with hundreds of green metal chairs that people , sit or lounge or laugh together. More than many having a smoke!

This was people watching at its finest. Business men and taxi drivers come here to unknot their ties. Young fathers snap photos of their twirling toddlers while the bells of a nearby church toll. Properly starched matrons sit with a friend and puff elegantly on their cigarettes. Beaming young mothers stroll with their prams or strollers. And everywhere young people, in secluded spots, intimately entwined with each other.

French people enjoying the art of relaxation and connecting with each other—something I don’t experience much in our own culture. And their government spends money to maintain these lovely surroundings for people. Of course, sales tax everywhere is more than 10% but what a great investment .

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As We Leave the Ground

September 29, 2015

San Francisco, CA

The seat belt clicks and I stash my book into the magazine pouch in front of me. The luggage compartment squeaks and rattles as travelers jostle their baggage to make room overhead. Newspapers crackle, and I can hear the soft whisper of passengers. The man next to me is already putting his eye mask on to sleep without even a friendly hello-nice aftershave though.

From across the aisle David, my husband, adjusts his headphones. He glances in my direction and smiles, but is already absorbed in his music– no one to disturb him. The pace of the last 48 hours, no, the last two months are all but forgotten to him. We chose to sit separately to have some space alone, listen to music, and read. He lives in the moment more than anyone I know which is both admirable and at times frustrating.

Surrounded by strangers, I suddenly feel isolated and a little scared, but also, at last, I am finally excited. It sinks in that we are really leaving. My first visit to France and another journey into the mysteries of India.

The engines roar and this gargantuan machine taxis down the runway lifting all these people into a cerulean sky. Airplanes have been doing this for seventy five years, but as it speeds up and finally lifts off the ground it’s still a miracle to me. The houses below grow smaller. The urgency of the leaves that need raking, the dripping faucets that need fixing shrink in importance. Miniature cars zip along freeways going somewhere, who knows where.

It seems impossible to eat breakfast in San Francisco today and in Paris tomorrow. We soar higher and higher into the blue stillness. The details that were so important are either handled or no longer important.

The beauty of any flight is leaving behind the complications of our stress-filled modern lives and that clear definition of who I think I am—all the I, me, mines. Everyday existence fades as if in a dream. I am a no one in a big world, and all I have to do is observe and accept all I see.

I can smell the coffee brewing in the galley, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. A glimpse of freedom. The adventure begins.

I’m a soul in wonder on the road unseen,” Van Morrison

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Palapa on the Beach

Palapa on the Beach

Outside San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico

January, 2015

Palapa on the Beach” the ad read on the Airbnb website. “Off the beaten track, just a short drive outside the city.” My fantasies were off and running. I was hooked. Just the place for David and I and our friend, Jan, to spend our last few days in Baja, Mexico. The reviews all said that Elena, one of the owners, was a fantastic cook. In my imagination, she would fix the three of us delicious dinners after our days of exploring endless miles of undeveloped beaches. The short statement at the end of the ad, “water in short supply” didn’t really catch my attention.

We started driving from San Jose Del Cabo, the village where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific at the southern tip of Baja. The Periclu Indians lived here for centuries lavishing in its fresh water and abundant marine life. Spanish galleons and many pirates sailed here and were jubilant to find an estuary covering several thousand acres filled with fresh, drinkable water. Today, this historic old town is still a thriving arts community. Its neighbor, Cabo San Lucas, has become a tourist mecca filled with condos and timeshares, restaurants and gift shops swarming with wealthy Westerners or Northerners as the case may be.

We drove out of town carefully reading the directions that owners, Le’on and Elena sent. In a very short time the paved road disappeared into a sandy washboard that our small rental car barely managed at 10 miles per hour. “Past the cement factory, left on the Coast Highway” the directions read. We laughed at the left turn–not the Coast Highway we were familiar with. It was barely two lanes- more sand, more ruts. When a water truck paused on a steep hill, David rolled down his window, “Donde este palapa de Le’on y Elena?” The driver pointed in the direction we were going, so on we went.

Saguaro cactus dot the jagged mountains in the distance and the sand dunes around us. In some places half the road washed out from the recent hurricane and signs blown over with arrows pointing to the sky. “One hour from town” quickly turned into two. Breakfast jostled in my stomach as if I’d pushed the button on a blender. The only thing certain was that this was the most untouched coastline we could have ever imagined—California a hundred years ago.

We had started to lose sight of the humorous aspect of our journey when Jan asked, “Do you suppose they might have exaggerated their advertisement a bit?” Finally, we spotted a palapa sitting atop a hill overlooking the sea and decided this must be the place. We turned up what looked like their driveway past abandoned trailers and run down shacks, pulling into a parking lot filled with rusted and retired vehicles.

Disappointment was beginning to take hold. David commented, “Perhaps we’ve been misled?” We wanted off the beaten track, but this was beginning to feel like lost in translation.

Walking into the compound of palapas was a little like reading a page out of Hemingway’s, “The Old Hippie and the Sea.” Le’on, who I later learned was 80 years old, called out a friendly hello. He balanced on the overhead beams of his workshop pointing and explaining a new roof system that would trap rain water. The smell of urethane stained boards was everywhere. His bushy white hair escaped the cap on his head. Muscular, but cadaverously thin, his weathered skin made him seem like someone you’d known before—perhaps from the Tolkien Trilogy?

Elena greeted us wearing a 1970’s sand colored velour jump suit with no bra. Silver hair surrounded her shoulders and sea blue eyes. She was thin with a sinewy strength, not at all delicate. Like many women who have lived their lives in the dry air of a desert, her face was deeply lined like the ruts in the road we had come from.

Elena gave us the tour which only increased our disappointment. We paid a good price to stay here, and I had assumed certain conveniences. The pit toilet seemed tolerable, but the lack of a shower was hard to take. The biggest annoyance was that our palapa was not a private space, but in the midst of their lives. The main dining room palapa was less than 50 feet from our space. But from the open walls you could see ships on the horizon and cumulous clouds rolling over the sea.

DSC03278_edited-1That afternoon Leon came into the kitchen swearing. His saw was not functioning, and more boards were rotten. “Paradise ain’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he declared with a wry humor that we later came to appreciate. Another resident, Behrto, who I might guess was about 65 years old, walked in and calmly offered afternoon coffee. He had taught English in China for many years and was helping out here since the last hurricane. He had just caught dinner off his kayak and was on his way to cleaning and filleting it.

Seven of us sat around a poured concrete table that night. The fish was served Veracruz style with a creamy tomato pepper sauce and a hint of heat. Grated red cabbage, carrots and jicama marinated in lime juice with rice and black beans—simple but delicious. Homemade beer made for great conversation but was barely drinkable.

As remote as these people lived, they were well connected with Internet. Each had fascinating stories to tell and was extremely well read. Le’on used a small black amplifier to pull music in from all over the world. Conversations drifted between obscure Russian composers to philosophy to driving in China to the corruption of governments and hopeful signs in the world. Elena, who had been fairly quiet, told an incredible story of riding out a hurricane alone in the palapa. By the end of the evening our original disappointment at the rustic nature of the place was fading. What it lacked in modern amenities it was definitely making up for with character and stunning natural beauty.

Palapa on Beach

Palapa on Beach

Sleep came quickly and deep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the wind whistling outside the palapa. The early morning quiet was broken by the chirping of our resident gecko. Two eager puppies appeared to nuzzle and lick my face as if to say, “Don’t sleep through the incredible sunrise.” I grabbed my camera and shoes. As the sky slipped out of its dark veil, the radiance of morning changed moment by moment.

Behrto was already awake when we walked into the kitchen. He handed me his binoculars. A school of whales were playing in the waters not far off the shore.

Le’on shouted over the wall as we finished eating. “The sun’s out and winds are calm. If anyone wants to swim, this is the time.” We watched this 80 year old scramble down the cliffs and slide down the sand dunes with a surfboard under his arm. David, Jan, and I looked at each other and smiled. “I think I could live like this,” David said as we grabbed our sandals and hats and headed toward the beach.

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