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.
I’ve known Sheryl for over ten years. She is my regular yoga teacher and massage therapist. Her website: https://www.elementalyogaretreats.com/
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.