While I’m trying to figure out the mechanics of publishing my thoughts on this blog you’ll probably find it a little disorganized. That’s because I’m using a new blog web support thingie and so there’s, once again, a very steep learning curve.
So I’ll stop complaining and just start writing…
We arrived in Borrego Springs ten days ago. It took three days to get here because we like to keep the trailer hauling short and during daylight hours. Since arriving in Borrego we have reconnected with friends and gotten busy doing the things we love to do.
Biking: we have been pedaling around the valley and yesterday we rode up to the Yaqui Pass summit. It was a beautiful day and it takes me about an hour to get to the top. I like that I’m by myself when I’m riding. The desert is beautiful and it’s a great meditative activity. The rest of the group is faster than I am so I lost them (or they lost me). Some how I arrived back at the trailer just a few minutes after Jonathan and it was quite a ballet that we managed to do an out and back ride without seeing each other on the return jaunt.
St Richard’s Catholic Church: We really like the catholic community here and we arrived just a few days before Christmas. There’s a new priest-Fr Fernando. We recognized many of our old friends and were happy to see them. I got the mass times wrong so we ended up with a couple or extra hours. A great opportunity to go out for Christmas Eve dinner at Carmelita’s.
Music: Linda and Steve Kramer are camped near us. Linda came equipped with a full keyboard. I brought my violin because it’s quite a bit smaller than the cello. I haven’t played the violin in about 10 years so it’s not sounding too great. But Linda is quite skilled and very patient and we’ve been enjoying working on some simple classical duets and our second attempt sounded much better than the first.
Borrego Springs Community: Last year the community was deep in discussion and planning for a new library and park. This year it was nearly completed and is absolutely amazing. The new library is spacious and inviting, with outdoor patio area and built to fit in with the desert environment. Across the street is a new playground, various game courts, dog run and the new sherif’s department office.
What could be more fun than getting together with friends to ride bikes? Sun in January, tandems, and lots of good food–that’s what! We really lucked out and had fantastic weather, minimal traffic, and no mishaps.
Morteros, Mud Flats, and Pictographs
Visits from friends
It’s always fun when friends come to visit. Julia came for three days, a whirlwind visit, to see as much as she could see. We borrowed Tom and Stephanie’s fat tire bikes–“fatties” and rode around in the desert with Martina to look at sculptures.
Julia and I hiked up to the Marshall and Tonya South Homesite. I hadn’t been up Ghost Mountain for several years and it was new for Julia so we went with Dan Leidecker, volunteer hike leader extraordinaire on a very cold day. No picture–too cold to take out a camera.
Once again it’s cold and windy in Borrego Springs. One day last week we watched as bucketing rain filled up all the little washes. Puddles formed in the desert. The low spots on the roads, vados, created small rivers to drive (and bike) through. Our phones screamed a flash flood alert. Time to hunker down and work on the blog. This one is about my recent trip to Mexico. Jonathan skips this one because he can’t stand the idea of being off the bike for a week.
Four years ago I went to Mar de Jade for the first time. Caitlin and I went together and shared a room at the invitation of our friend and yoga teacher, Sheryl Grunde. We had so much fun that we decided to go back the following year. Now it’s a wintertime tradition. It didn’t take much effort to convince Sheri to join us the following year so we could all room together. In the years since then a growing number of friends have made the trek to beautiful Chacala Bay. This year my Borrego-buddy, Martha, joined us as did Caitlin, my Rogue Valley-buddy Sheri, and friends, Laura and Stacey. I was really thrilled that our long time friends from Mt Shasta, John Sanguinetti and Pam Newman, decided to jump on in.
Now, when I arrive at Mar de Jade I get the deeply satisfying feeling of coming home. And indeed, the staff recognize me, welcome me with warm smiles, and “Bienvenido a tu casa”. Welcome home.
Traveling to Chacala
Mar de Jade (Jade Sea) is a wellness resort and yoga retreat center located north of Puerto Vallarta (PVR) near the small village of Chacala, Nayarit on Chacala Bay. Now that I’m in Borrego Springs for the winter I take a weeklong break from cycling and fly from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta. After the two hour flight and clearing customs we walk out into the hustle-bustle of the airport arrivals area. Anyone who’s traveled knows the scene. Taxi drivers vie for our attention. But we just look for the guy with the sign that says “Mar de Jade” and the pre-arranged van that will take us the hour and a half drive north to Mar de Jade. We wait a bit until the other folks scheduled for our taxi arrive on all their different flights from all over the country. The more passengers in the van, the cheaper the ride. The airport is on the north side of PVR, not the prettiest side of town; it’s one big-box store after another. You could be anywhere in the world, except that everyone’s speaking Spanish and it’s warm. As we drive north, crossing the line from the state of Jalisco to the state of Nayarit, the stores are replaced by condo developments, and finally the highway gives way to a two-lane road that winds through jungle and farmland, past small villages and the turnoffs for the popular beach towns of Sayulita and San Pancho (San Francisco). Beside the road we see fields of pineapple, and fruit-bearing trees: guayaba, mango, banana, and papaya. Finally we turn down the road that leads to the small town of Chacala. And just before we get to the town, a dirt road leads to Mar de Jade. It’s right on the ocean and if it’s dark when we arrive (as it often is) the sound of the ocean is the overwhelming presence.
A Bit of History
Mar de Jade is the lifetime work of Dr. Laura del Valle and her family. One evening a week she presents a slide show and talks about the development of Mar de Jade over the years, her vision, and the work that continues in the community. I’ve learned about the history in those talks and also at the website mardejade.com.
Laura graduated from medical school and began working in Mexico City but she knew from the beginning that she wanted to practice in a rural, underserved area. In 1982 she headed out in an old school bus with her siblings, and settled in Chacala. She established a clinic in the nearby farming community, Las Varas. Over the years she has provided medical care to the folks living in the area. She says the villagers were a little suspicious that their new doctor practiced acupuncture along with standard medical care. She began inviting medical students from the US to help. To accommodate her visitors, small adobe cabins were built, literally carved out of the jungle. In 1990 she invited her Zen Buddhist teacher, Norman Fischer, to lead a retreat, and shortly thereafter a group of Sufis asked if they could come to the jungle for a retreat. They’ve been returning every year since then. Slowly, and with great intention, the resort became a reality; a place to refresh, restore, eat local, practice yoga, meditate, and generally relax in a healthy environment. Now, the community projects that the resort supports are a reflection of the good heart of Dr. Laura.
The Yoga of Daily Living—January 12-19, 2019
Mar de Jade is a beautiful place for a yoga retreat. For the first two years, my friend and yoga teacher, Sheryl Grunde, joined her friend and yoga teacher, Iris, to offer the retreat at Mar de Jade. Sheryl continues to co-lead with Gavin Kleiman, an Ashland Physical Therapist. Sheryl is one of those great yoga teachers who can help everyone have an experience that is safe and just right for their body. Not too hard, but also not too easy. It can be challenging to intensify your yoga practice, but it is also very rewarding.
Sheryl’s teaching is clear and detailed. To prepare for the retreat she asked us to bring some supplies: a strap, and some tennis balls which we used for self-massage. Mar de Jade provided us with mats, blocks, bolsters and cushions, and a beautiful space for our regular practice: El Templo. Sheryl also likes using sandbags as a prop. I thought it was quite ingenious that she figured out how we could all have sandbags without having to haul a bunch of heavy bags: She brought the bags, and we filled them on the first day with sand from the beach. Voila! We had sandbags.
Our group schedule included yoga practice sessions twice daily: morning and evening, each one lasting two hours. The morning practice included a period of meditation. Each afternoon Gavin offered a presentation focusing on a different body area, with lots of valuable information about how to practice safely and how to develop strength and agility.
She and Gavin made a great team and their aim was to help us develop a daily practice that suited the needs of our own bodies. It’s not “one size fits all”: correct postures and finding just the right practice for you was stressed. She recommended that we read the book Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, by Donna Farhi. I found this very helpful. Though yoga has been part of my life for the past 45 years, I’d never actually read a book about yoga, and I think it was a key factor in helping me to develop my own daily, consistent yoga practice. And before you tell me “oh I can’t do yoga because I’m too (stiff, old, inexperienced–fill in the blanks) let me tell you about our group. The age and ability range was quite diverse. There were young, very agile practitioners, there were students who were brand-new or nearly-new to yoga, people who had been practicing for years, and people who hadn’t practiced for many years. Ages ranged was from twenties to eighties. Of the twenty seven people in our group, seven were men. It was inspiring, not only to notice the changes in my own body, but also, watching other students blossoming in their practice during our week together. We all got stronger and straighter as the week went by.
Lots of Ways to Spend Your Day
In the hours between yoga sessions we were free to do just what we wanted: relax at the beach or pool, soak in one of the two hot tubs, use the sauna, swim in the ocean, walk the beach to Chacala village, or get busy and go on various excursions. A relaxing massage at the spa? Sure! Over the years, I’ve been to the market town of La Peñita, and spent an early morning out in a boat in Chacala Bay, whale watching. I’ve toured the school and the organic farm. Others have been on hikes, one friend spent much of her time birdwatching with a local expert. Personally, I like just relaxing on the beach, reading, breathing in, breathing out. The roar of the ocean is a constant accompaniment: breathe out (roar), breathe in (silence), breathe out (roar), breathe in (silence). It never stops.
Mar de Jade: The Resort
The rooms at Mar de Jade are simple and comfortable. Almost everything there is built locally. This year I decided to room with my friend, Martha. We had an ocean-view room.
Mar de Jade offers meditation and yoga classes which are open to anyone. There’s also a gym for guests. I decided to go to the early AM meditation each morning. This was a sweet surprise and was led by Dr. Laura del Valle. She practices a Japanese style Zen meditation. I really enjoyed adding this to my daily routine. Staff members and other guests, some from the village, were there.
Laura told us that it’s constant work to keep the jungle from overtaking everything and indeed one night we were awakened by a loud crash. In the morning we discovered that a tree had fallen across the stairway access to our room. No problem—by mid morning it was all cleaned up. A team of groundskeepers keep the place neatly trimmed and beautiful.
The staff have become very dear to me over the years. I really should have taken more pictures of them. Our housekeeper, Edith, whom I have known for four years now, never speaks English to me, and she really gets a kick out it when I tell her she’s mi maestra de Español—Spanish teacher. She has worked at Mar de Jade for 17 years. She’s very proud of her daughter who is now attending college, studying for a degree in radiology, with the money she saved working in the kitchen while she was in high school.
With all the fresh local food that’s available and the emphasis on health, imagine what mealtime at Mar de Jade looks, and tastes, like. Three times a day a bell rings and we leap up, like Pavlov’s dogs, trying not to appear to be running to the dining room. The dining area is outdoors. The food is served buffet style with great attention to detail. Everything is carefully labeled in English and Spanish. The menu includes Mexican and International cuisine. From the farm we get organic fruits, vegetable, chicken, and eggs. Local fish is also served.
The cold table is what usually gets me. It goes like this: “I’m completely comfortable and satisfied after that lovely breakfast of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, chia in coconut milk, refried beans, fresh homemade tortillas, homemade bread with local jam. I’ll just take my plate back to the dishpans and….uh,oh! Look at that fruit!—pineapples, guava, mango, papaya, bananas, fresh homemade yogurt…must fill bowl. Num, num, num.” And so it goes at every meal. In the evening that cold table becomes a diverse, fresh and colorful salad bar.
If you need some coffee or tea first thing in the morning, or you somehow get hungry between meals, there’s a snack bar with tea, coffee, bread, fresh homemade jams and peanut butter.
The weird thing is that I never feel uncomfortably full (at least for more than a minute or two), never gain any weight, and no, ahem, digestive “issues” when I’m there. Each day a different liquado is offered: fruit waters, basically. I like them all.
And Speaking of Beverages….
Did I mention that there’s a bar? Once a week–Cuban night. A local band plays, the tables are pushed back, and it’s really fun to have a drink and dance.
As I write this a “state of emergency” has been declared at the Mexican border. The problem of drugs coming into the US and illegal immigration is touted as a reason to build a wall. The citizens of Chacala love where they live. For the most part they don’t want to move to the US. They see the US as a very dangerous country. They don’t understand all the discussion about a “wall”. When a family member moves north to try to make a living that is seen as a last-resort alternative and is a cause for much sadness in families. For the most part folks in Mexico want the same thing that we do: they want to make a living, they want their children to be safe.
Mar de Jade supports the local community economically in a very big way. The prosperity of the resort, thanks to its guests, supports employment and education in the surrounding area. It’s not an accident. It is a part of the mission of the resort.
Educational opportunity is limited and growing in rural Mexico. Mar de Jade established a private school in Chacala, called El Jardín. It’s a Montessori/Waldorf-inspired educational model. And as Angelica, Laura’s daughter, explained on our tour, “We take the original model and tropicalize it”. The school is open to everyone in the village and tuition is about $150/mo with most students receiving a subsidy, thanks to the generosity of Mar de Jade’s guests.
The food served at Mar de Jade is locally sourced and much of it is grown on their own organic farm, El Rancho. It’s about 8 miles from the resort and a beautiful place to visit. Sustainability is key. This is where they grow their own peanuts to grind into peanut butter. Everything is organic. This is where the ingredients for that great salad come from.
The farm employs an agronomist to manage the farm. He is from Chiapas, attended the university, and knows how to manage a farm.
The farm now includes a new industrial kitchen for canning the jams, peanut butter, and other produce grown on the farm.
There’s also a new workshop and trade school, where most of the furniture in the resort is built.
Wildlife: The Birds and Reptiles
In the past I haven’t paid too much attention to the local birds. But this year, with our room being basically in the forest canopy, I became very aware of what I’ve been missing. I saw trogons, parrots and magpies. Hummingbirds of course are zooming here and there. The air is filled with song. They aren’t the same as at home. A flash of bright orange and teal alerted me to a Citreoline Trogon. So beautiful!
There are Iguanas that come out in the afternoon, sunning themselves on a cement wall. They pulse up and down as if doing a perfect cobra pose.
Wait! We don’t want to go home!
Every evening during our yoga practice the sun sets over the bay. We pause to watch and on the last day we went out to the beach and returned the sand from our sandbags and said good-bye.
Two hours from Borrego Springs and just a 15 minute drive from Yuma there’s a border crossing at Andrade, CA. The US side is Quechan (Kwatsáan) reservation land. There’s a big casino at the freeway exit and the tribe operates the secure parking on the US side of the border. On the Mexican side is a very small town, Los Algodones, that now has some 400 dentists, earning it the moniker “Molar City”. Other services are available too: optical, dermatology, pharmacy, plastics (cosmetic surgery), massage, haircuts, pedicures, and so on. We began making trips to Los Algodones last year because Jonathan had lots of dental work that needed to be done. I don’t need to tell anyone that dentistry is very expensive in the US. In Mexico one can obtain excellent dental care at a fraction of the cost. Jonathan went back this January to continue the treatment plan that was started last year. We make the two hour drive from Borrego Springs to Andrade, park the car on the US side, walk across the border, get the work done and then walk back to the car and drive home. In the past, crossing the border has involved anywhere from a ten minute to, at most, an hour wait. It’s a long day but generally pleasant.
I’ve enjoyed going along to visit and see what there is to see. I enjoy chatting with the merchants and exploring the town while Jonathan is in the dental chair. There’s a pretty extensive market place with everything from cheap toys to beautiful jewelry, wood carving, paintings, metal and ceramic folk art.
I have an opinion about Mexico which is based on my travel experience over the past forty years. I like the country and I like the people–friendly, resourceful, smart, quick-witted, and good natured. Respect is an important cultural value and I cringe when our government treats the Mexican government and its people disrespectfully. There are criminals on both sides of the border. I always feel safe when I’m there.
Our first visit this year was in January. Jonathan had dental work, our friend, Layne, an initial evaluation. Most often evaluation and initial work are done on the same day. In Layne’s case she needed a procedure that would require anesthesia so they required that she return the day before her procedure for labs, and then have someone there, with car, at the dental clinic to drive her home.
This gave us the opportunity to experience another way of visiting. Our friends, Russ and Renée, also needed some work done and so they joined us. We drove to the border the day before the appointments, crossed into Mexico by car, drove to a really nice hotel. We parked the car and spent the night in a brand-new condo suite. The hotel is called Hotel California-and we did get to leave the place. There was a bit of a problem at first because our reservation had been lost when they had a computer crash. The motel was full, true to Mexican hospitality standards they were able to provide us with lodging in their brand new condo suite. I think we were the first guests to stay there.
I loved seeing what happens to the town after the tourists go home. The border is only open between 6 AM and 10 PM. After about 4:30 in the afternoon the vendors disappear, offices begin to close, and small-town Algodones emerges. We had a delicious dinner and a restful night.
While I was walking around I met a fellow who was preparing and selling nopales. Nopales are prickly pear cactus paddles. He was sitting on the corner scraping the thorns off with a sharp knife, then placing each paddle in a stack. The nopales that I’ve seen and eaten at home come from a can. I haven’t liked them that much because they can have a gelatinous, slimy, character. But I’ve always wondered how one might get from a prickly pear pad to something edible, so I stopped to talk. Once the salesman knew I was interested, he kindly showed me how to scrape off the thorns and then brought me to another woman who was selling various stews that contained the cooked nopales. It was very interesting and I bought a bag of fresh paddles for $3. When I got home I googled nopales and learned that the key to slime-free preparation is to cook the nopales prior to adding them to whatever dish you have in mind. The nopale has a lovely, mildly citrusy flavor. My favorite so far was grilling on the BBQ. You just brush it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill it for a few minutes on each side.
Spurred by our new park’s impressive bocce court, Jonathan has taken an interest in playing bocce. He’s played it before with James and his neighbor, Jim. He invested in a set when we made our foray to La Quinta for groceries and other supplies. He decided that before he played at the public court he’d better be working on his game and so he has set up a court in the desert behind our trailer. This means that there are some obstacles on the course: rocks, cactus, and definitely irregular terrain. In fact there’s a cable box right in the middle of the field. Pretty soon it became a regular thing and to make a long story short he hasn’t made it to the park court yet. Every afternoon is bocce time and there’s a pretty regular group of players that show up. It’s quite lively.
Thanks to Sue MacDonnell for her excellent bocce photos and to Julia Sommer for her skillful editing advice. And thanks to all for reading and being such good sports. More about Mexico in my next post–Chacala yoga retreat. Stay warm and enjoy the winter y’all. It’s not exactly warm here but when I complain about cold and wind I don’t get much sympathy from the folks at home.
I’m way behind! I love writing this blog. And I also love actually doing the stuff that I’m writing about. I’ve been so busy with the doing that I haven’t had time for the writing. That’s all. Thanks to some bad weather I’m actually able to do some writing. It’s raining and it’s windy. I realize that those of you who are living in areas where snow and icy conditions prevail may find this silly. I agree. I think it is really quite nice here. And the desert is turning very green. We are stocking in anticipation of being sequestered when the valley is invaded by thousands of visitors to see the Super Bloom that may arrive in a month or so.
Anyway, I want to tell you about a hike that we did back in early January. It was a coolish day in the desert-a great time for a hike. Hiking on days that are cool means you don’t have to worry quite so much about this problem:
We decided to hike up Hell Hole Canyon with a group of friends. The hike starts about a mile from our trailer door on the desert bajada just west of the Park visitor center and the more popular Palm Canyon hike. Over the first one to two miles there are lots of Ocotillo and creosote, the typical flora for this area. It’s a gentle, well marked uphill trail and quite easy.
As the canyon walls close in, the terrain changes and the nice easy trail disappears, replaced by boulders. There are three oases and at the third there’s a waterfall with ferns-so says the guidebook and people who’ve been there. I’ve hiked here before but never made it past the first oasis.
We all really wanted to make it to the third oasis because of the waterfall/ ferns. As it got harder and harder I was able to keep walking with that simple little method of focusing on each step individually. I think it’s a great metaphor for life. There’s always challenges and we just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every time I thought about stopping I just focused on that particular step. Quite meditative, it was. “One step at a time. There’s nothing else, just this moment, this step.”
Layne, Stephanie, and I all had our moments when we thought that we might just call it a good day. Tom and Jonathan did a lot of scouting for best routes. There was one particular spot where we stopped to rest on a big boulder in the sun and I seriously wondered why I needed to go anywhere else.
But there’s so much to see along the trail.
Birds: on this hike we saw an Oriole and we always hope to see Phainopepla. (Didn’t see one this day.)
Keep your eyes open for Borrego. That’s the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. (Didn’t see one of these either.)
We never really had any kind of time limit other than knowing that in January it gets pretty dark and cold in these canyons by about 4:30 in the afternoon. That allowed us to just keep pulling up over the rocks, stretching to climb, crossing little rivulets of water. And finally we arrived at the third oasis and sure enough, there was a small waterfall with ferns growing all around it.
The wind is gusting up to about 40 mph and it’s raining intermittently so more inside activities. I’m sending this out and then I’ll start on the next post. Coming up next: Mexico.
The new community park is almost finished. One Sunday morning, shortly after we arrived in Borrego Springs, we strolled around the new park to get acquainted. It’s pretty amazing. Children were playing in the playground and on the basketball court there was a fast game in progress. We noticed the tennis courts (with pickle ball option) and the sandlot volleyball court. There’s also a real Bocce court complete with the crushed shell surface that’s preferred. There’s a dog park too. Bike racks for the playground, at the amphitheater, and at the new library just across the road. And right there on the edge of this property is the new San Diego County Sheriff ‘s Department. It all feels pretty safe, idyllic really.
We stopped to chat with a couple of women who were getting ready to play tennis. They told us that the park was presented to the community a couple of weeks ago. They said it was an emotional event for the town. “People were pretty amazed,” they told us. “We didn’t really know how it would look and how much would be here.” I agree. Last year we were part of the process for input for the building. We reviewed different site design proposals and voted on the ones we liked the best. It was clear that a lot of careful thought had gone into the project. But seeing it in reality has been very moving.
All this got me thinking about community. While we enjoy lots of amenities in Borrego Springs: grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and other services, many shops that stock various “lifestyle” needs, these things come at a cost. We really are isolated by distance from large population centers and by the surrounding desert. I’m always reminded of our isolation on bike rides. Whenever we get a few miles out from town there is no cell coverage. A few years ago, on our way to a hike, we learned about this isolation first hand. We pulled off the highway near a trailhead in an area that looked solid. It wasn’t. Our truck sank into the sand, all four wheels were buried up to the axles. No cell reception. We couldn’t budge. Close to where we parked there was a fellow sitting behind his pickup truck. He eyed us menacingly and said, “Get out of here, you’re disturbing my peace.” He observed us trying to make some progress in complying with his demand. “Oh great,” he growled. “You’re stuck.” Pretty soon he came over to help us. His theme was that Jonathan was way too “old and feeble” to be trying to dig out the truck and that he’d like to ignore us but he couldn’t because he was a Christian. (God Save Us!) This went on for quite a while and he didn’t have any more luck than poor feeble, old Jonathan in getting us out. We were getting more and more nervous stuck out here with this somewhat edgy “Christian” when, out of the blue, a big flatbed truck with “duelies”, 4WD and a winch pulled up and its driver got out. “Do you need some help?” He proceeded to quickly hook the winch to our truck and with one mighty shudder our entire big truck vibrated its way to solid ground. We gave him our heartfelt thanks, he declined money, and was on his way. Mr. “Christian” watched in silence and after our guardian angel left he asked, “Where did he come from? Did you call him?” Nope, he was just a nice guy passing by who decided to stop and help. I could have said more but words failed me.
And that is Borrego Springs in a nutshell. It seems to me that this isolation creates community, it gives the town a unique sense of togetherness; kind of like we’re all in this together. In general, people seem kinder, perhaps more tolerant of differences. In the 2010 census there were over 3,000 residents in Borrego. We aren’t full time residents, we’re snowbirds. Whenever I meet year-round residents I’m always curious to find out what it’s like to be here all year. The short answer is “HOT”, but they also like how quiet it is. And the amazing thing is that they aren’t stingy with it. They let us snowbirds flock in, noisily fluttering around. They share their home. I love the diversity of this place. All kinds of people, some are a little colorful, some rich, some poor. There’s lots of resourcefulness. I love that I hear a mix of English and Spanish being spoken. It makes sense. We are about a 2 hour drive from the Mexican border. I get to practice my language skills with lots of folks who are happy to help out. The diversity of the people helps me to see the diversity of the desert landscape a little more clearly. I don’t think it’s the whole story about community, but it’s a start.