The view west from the homestead

The view west from the homestead

Sweet Chance

Sweet Chance

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Solstice Storm!

December 17th, 2010

We have almost 2 feet of winter wonderland here!! One cat was brave enough to go out and disappeared to his ears.....seemed like he kind of liked it. His brother looked on from inside with horror. For Zia, it's about as close as he'll come out here to water. The horses are up to their knees and were very happy to get their hay this morning.

This storm welcomes in our 3rd winter here....the kids are in the local school system and thriving. Chris and I work together at the local Community Health Center, are both loving the work and being able to contribute to our community. Life is good with it's usual bumps and hiccups---We got broken into last week which didn't feel good--Mom had a serious stroke in October and is now slowly working to get back some of what she lost at a Rehab on the Cape--Dad is dealing with worsening symptoms of Alzheimer's--Chris's folks are going strong in Iowa--and we're getting all of our meds really cheap from Canada!!!!!

Our Haflinger mare, Morgan (the blondie pictured above) is 8 months pregnant and you can see the foal kick away inside of her. She is due in April and we can't wait for the little bundle to come. We think Sarmin, our 19 year old Arabian, will be a great Uncle. The two are inseparable. We're ready to start our next chapter as horse midwives and raisers- we're avidly reading and talking to everyone on what to expect. Teslin is especially excited about what is to come!

We give great thanks for our numerous friends and neighbors out here in the hills....we have become very close and share horse rides, sweat lodges, and great meals often with our friends across the creek. It is amazing to have moved so far out from things and to have landed near such like-minded friends. There is a great little community out here, all very committed to helping our kids navigate through high school...perhaps home schooling. There are a number of retired teachers who have expressed interest in teaching far we have a geologist, a philosopher, a math, and a science teacher. We'll see how it all comes together. Poca a Poca...

Life has been good to us. Christmas/Solstice is often a time of reflection- looking back at the last year, the past decades, wondering how life all came together to make this "whole" that we are living now. "What a long, strange trip it's been" comes to mind. We still have the "vagabundo" bug and hope to hit the road once more as a family and have more adventures from Alaska to the Yucatan before the kids venture off on their own life journeys. We all share this desire- yes, even the teens! We'll see how this comes together- life has been kind to us so far. I'm sure she'll point us in the right direction one more time!!! Time will tell.

May this coming year bring Peace to all of you and our little family,

The Rugees

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Sitting calmly drinking tea. It's 6am and the sun is just showing itself. Magpies and Stellar Jays are at the feeder and the humming bird food is frozen. Just another sweet fall morning, but NOOOOOO! OUR HORSES ARE COMING IN JUST A FEW HOURS! I feel like a kid waiting for the grown ups to wake up on Christmas morning.

Teslin is up in Colorado with our new dear friend and neighbor Valerie and her 2 girls. They will be picking up Sweet Chance (AKA Fat Chance, Fatty, or Sweetie, known to her owner Teslin as Chance), and Halfie, Valerie's newest short fat sweet thing in 2 hours. They are Halflingers...... sweet tempered mountain ponies, known in Europe as horses since they can carry big adults as well as safely trundling around little kids.

THEN.....on their way in, Valerie will stop by her house, drop Halfie off, and put Thunderchief in (AKA Chiefie). Chiefie is a 16 plus high paint who is like a 1200 pound Zia (our golden). Valerie needs to find another home for him since he is sparring with her older gelding, Apu. He needs to have his own mare (and foal to come!). He also has just recovered from a 2-year long healing of a hoof he ripped open on barbed wire. He's fat and out of shape and sweet as can be. So....after Valerie puts Chiefie in the trailer, she's bringing him and Sweetie over to US. Can you believe it?

We've been working on our barn all fall, and it sits outside our window in all it's rough cut splendor. It's a 36 X 12 fo0t run-in shelter, with a cozy tack room. We had the help of our friends Lloyd and Stephen who patiently taught us the ins and outs of squaring and angles and other such things, and we all, every one of us, helped to build it. I actually got comfortable with the skill saw and have to say, there is something wonderfully repetitive and simple about construction. Much more meditative than medicine. (What was I thinking?). We're hooked. Next thing, a chicken coop.

It's been a huge fall....after a year here in Northern New Mexico, we are all very happy and involved in school and the community. My dear friend from childhood and beyond, Katie, and her 8 year old daughter Anna moved in with us in August. Anna is going to Cassidy and Teslin's school, Rio Gallinas, and Katie is having a much needed sabbatical from delivering babies in Oakland. We can't forget their dog Meadow, who is having a gas with Zia and country living. I've started back to work, and joined Chris at El Centro Family Health, the local community health care clinic. I'm doing women's health and loving it (even if it isn't quite as meditative as putting up battens). Cassidy is in his final year at Rio Gallinas, and we are trying to figure out high school for him. Teslin is in 7th and having a great time. (Did I mention that she is up getting her FIRST HORSE AS I SPEAK?).

Katie has rediscovered cooking, and has been making unbelievable dinners for us. Last night it was Chana Masala, Palaak Paneer, and Tandoori Chicken and Naan. The other night it was Ginger Elk with cornbread topping. Then there was the Spaghetti and Elk meatballs, Spanish Tortillas, and can't forget the simple meals like succluent roasted chicken, or the Chile Rellenos, Felafels, and all her desserts (apple cakes and cookies Oh My!). We're all quite fond of having 2 mothers in the house. I think it is the right ratio....especially if one is working and the other is not. It should be a bare minimum.

There is a squirrel at the feeder now. He sits and eats all the sunny seeds and is SO FAT we think he may die of a heart attack. Katie and I think he has no mechanism to stop, and must have a store of seeds that would last 3 winters already. His cheeks and stomach sag over the edge of the feeder. Life is tough at the edge of the mountains.

Life is full and good and winter is approaching. It is very healing to be getting 2 fat horses after our saga with Blazee last spring. All they need is love and riding and some good green hay. Peace to you all out there!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

En Casa

Poppi is set up out front in a sad kind of way. We are slowly transferring our life inside to our new home. For two weeks now we have been living INSIDE . It's kind of strange....... a real house with windows that don't zipper shut, a full size refrigerator with a freezer (!), our own bedrooms, closets, and flushing toilets. Our square footage has increased dramatically, and with it, the complexity or our lives. Chris starts work in a week, and the kids are off to a new school Friday.

A new life is out there to become part of, but for now we are in a surreal space of Olympics and boxes. Perched on this new life, there is a deep longing to continue on our journey (for some of us!). I understand now the families that took off for a few months, and never went back. Money is the most obvious barrier, but there is also a promise of stability that we have made to our children. Not everyone can stay with the life on the road....Teslin for one, is SOOOO happy to have a home. She was the first to set up her room and now has two new gerbil friends to keep her company. The fact that she knows nothing of Northern New Mexico does not phase her. In a way, settling in an entirely new community in a new part of the country feels like a continuation of our is a huge adventure. Perhaps such a large move was made easier having traveled for a year.

So here we are, nestled in the bosom of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It is beautiful here....we are very remote, perhaps too remote, but it is very peaceful. The most action we get is from the female hummingbirds bombing each other at the feeders. We have rufous-sided and broad tailed hummers, barn swallows nesting in the eaves over the large window in the living room, and countless siskins, lesser goldfinches and grosbeaks. There are spotted towhees and Lewis's woodpeckers, red-shafted flickers and an occasional chickadee. It seems that the migrations are starting since huge numbers of swallows are gathering. On a walk last night we saw 8 Lewis woodpeckers in one tree. We finally got Cassidy's room painted yesterday and he is all set up in the bird room facing the feeders that are in the cottonwood grove. All is strangely well!


Our family is as tight as ever. Teslin has 2 new gerbil friends (see her blog for details: ), Cassidy is getting a breeding pair of parakeets this week, and we are looking for a puppy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Viva Las Vegas--New Mexico that is!

Well, we finally decided after much thought and effort and family pow wows to live in northern New Mexico. We had great options in Tucson with a great job offer for Chris, a great school for the kids and great friends but the spirit of northern New Mexico set in and wouldn't let us go. This land has always been special to Chris and seemed to be shouting "home" with each visit back over the years. We almost moved here in 1997 upon Chris' graduation from UMass as Chris accepted a position in Tierra Amarilla north of Santa Fe and we had started looking at homes but fate kept us on the East Coast for 10 more years. The amazing land, the acequias, the mixed cultures of northern New Mexico and the living history that surrounds one here combine to make it a special place. It's fighting the creeping "sameness" that infects much of the USA and other countries and seems to have survived the sickness so far though not entirely as Santa Fe and other big towns will show. The spirit of the land is still very strong-I don't know how else to say this. We've bought a home and 14 acres of mixed pastureland some 15 miles outside of Las Vegas in a valley nestled against the Santa Fe National Forest which leads up to Hermit's Peak on its north end. It will be a 25 minute drive to work and school but what a drive it is! The trees around the house had Red-tailed Hawks, Grosbeaks, Woodpeckers and other raptors in them during our visits and we found a dead Rattlesnake in the grass that had tussled with something and eventually died from its wounds. Teslin has already drawn up plans for the horse corral and new fences, Anny has spotted the location for the hot tub, Cassidy has claimed the bedroom by all of the bird feeders and Chris has estimated the mowing time for the pasture when necessary. Chris and Cassidy will be doing a "road trip" driving a UHaul truck from Belchertown to Las Vegas arriving around August 2 while Anny and Teslin fly to Tucson and drive the car up, arriving the same day. We hope to be open for business and visitors soon-we'll set the pop-up up right away for extra beds. Just call and tell us when you are coming! School starts August 21 and work for Chris on August 25th so our current dilemna is how and where to play during August. (It's hard to get out of the travel and adventure mode!) Remember, Nuestra casa es su casa and the New Mexican favorite, Una comida sin chile no es comida!
Un fuerte abrazo to all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


We have been camped out in the KOA on the South side of Las Vegas for a week now as we look at our other opportunity for resettlement. Las Vegas is perched between high plateau grasslands to the east and the scrub valleys and mesas of pinon and ponderosa that lead up to the Pecos Wilderness to the west. In fact, it is just on the other side of the Pecos from Santa Fe (60 miles away), and 70 miles fromTaos. It is at 6400 feet elevation has spectacular clear skies. The first night here, Chris went out in the middle of the night and thought it was cloudy when he first looked up, but alas, it was the milky way, clearer than we’ve seen it since the Yukon.

The town itself is small, around 15,000 but has 3 colleges…a 4 year university (NM Highlands), a community college (Luna community college), and an unusual school called the United World College of the American West, a liberal enclave that teaches gifted kids ages 16-19 from around the world (only 25% come from USA) and offers a 2 year baccalaureate program.

Chris has been interviewing with El Centro Health Center and we have found a tremendous school for the kids called the Rio Gallinas Charter school. It is an Expeditionary Learning school, a program adapted from Outward Bound that teaches through “adventure and service”. The classes are small….15 to 16 kids, and the school has expanded slowly and is now up to K-8 grade. Very interesting possibilities…..

So here we are, looking at real estate and jobs again and scratching our heads. The contrast with Tucson is huge… couldn’t get much different:
semiurban cohousing vs rural life,
heat of the desert southwest vs the coolness of the Sangre de Cristo mountains,
winter snows and drives to town after mountain blizzards vs January in the 70’s,
searching out neighbors and like minds vs a ready made community in Tucson,
working with the rural poor vs more of a geriatric population...

It is not obvious yet….we are talking to all levels of life and consciousness, we have searched out homes in both areas, talked to residents, interviewed at both jobs and now interviewing again, walked in the woods and the desert, talked to the grandparents and have begged the universe for a clear answer. The calendar has now demanded we decide as the family plans for the trip back east to Cape Cod on July 1 and we have agreed to figure it out by Friday, June 27. IT’S CRUNCH TIME!!!! We’re open to all advice and suggestions from our friends. This is a tough one. So fill the universe with hopeful thoughts and help us out with this last task of “The Big Year” on the road.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mexico a Milagro

We are just finishing our first week at Milagro Cohousing in Tucson.....we are in love with the place, the peace, the possibilities. It is making the transition from the life of the free to one of home somewhat easier. We've rented a 3 bedroom house here for two weeks, perched on 35 acres of open space. We look west back to the Tucson mountains, north towards Phoenix, and NE towards the Catalina mountains. The cohousing is on the west side of town and is slightly higher in elevation, so we have a great view of things and are not affected by the chaos of the city. The heat has been very forgiving....only today did it climb into the 80' is supposed to climb back into the low 100's any day now, which I guess is good since we are looking forward to seeing what this place feels like HOT!

We have been spending a lot of time doing puzzles and reading the Lord of the Rings out loud. We are half way through the 2nd book and find it is a great distraction to life in the United States. We are getting Popi mended, and our trusty Toyota just came back from a tune up. The kids attended a class at the Paolo Freire Charter school they got into last Thursday, and it was a big success. Right now we are having the luxury of actually living in a place we may be buying (not this house exactly, but one in the community). We will be here one more week checking things out, then up to New Mexico for a few weeks. By the end of June we will have decided where we will be landing, and will head back to Massachusetts to get our things.

We still have June and July to play with and frolic in our pop-up, but something felt very conclusive when we left Mexico.....our time on the road IS winding to a close and the void in our bank account is making whispers of work and home a necessity. However, we still have some wandering to do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Fort Davis, Texas

We are on Day 3 or 4 at the Prude Ranch, 5 miles north of Fort Davis, Texas. Our friends in Paa Mul told us of this place… is a huge ranch nestled in the mountains up at 6000 feet. I’m sitting in the lobby between Chris and Cassidy who are watching the final moments of the Celtics/Calves game 7 and the energy is, well….very tense.

Oooooeeeeee, I guess we are back in the thick of it! Actually, Fort Davis is far from the thick of it. The population is around 500, according to the receptionist here. Maybe 800 if you include all the wranglers and ranchers. There are beautiful rock outcroppings, rolling hills, river beds with huge cottonwoods, and otherwise low brush of the high desert. (There are now 7.9 seconds left in the game and it is even MORE tense…2 point, no…3 point game).

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende was our last stop as tourists in Mexico. It is an old silver mining town which has maintained much of its old flavor and beauty from its glory years as a silver center. It is high in the sierras of east central Mexico and is much cooler than the valleys around it. It is for this reason that money has flowed to this city even after the silver ran out as people from other parts of Mexico and now from around the world have bought property and houses there. The “Centro” is wonderful with narrow and steep streets winding around an area full of shops and restaurants. There seem to be a fair number of expats from the USA and it is easy to see why they come here with its beauty and the sense of safety walking the down its streets. It was a good visit and we’ll have to visit again-when we have more money!

We left San Miguel de Allende after 3 nights and got on route 57 that goes due north to the border. Some kind of wind was sweeping us out of the country and we made it to Eagle Pass, TX, in 2 days. We spent a night in Saltillo and amused ourselves in the car by reading the Fellowship of the Rings out loud. We made it to the “frontera” in record time and then only spent 10 minutes on each side of the border checking out of Mexico and in to the USA- a record of sorts. It must have been the kids. They usually are looking in my spare tires and toothpaste containers-this time they just asked if we had anything to declare and waved us through when we said no (they did claim our salami sausage as contraband). We then drove up to Del Rio through a driving rain and hail storm which cleaned off all of the Mexican dust from the car and trailer and camped at an RV park along the highway before moving on to Ft. Davis.

The Prude Ranch

We are spending 3 nights here at the Prude Ranch which is a combination RV park, cabin and bunkbed destination site and riding stables. We’re one of only 2 RVs here and have taken the time here to catch up on baseball (watched 2 BoSox games), basketball (watched 2 Celtics games) and Internet (contacting Tucson people about places to rent and setting up job interviews in NM and Colorado before we make our final decision). Anny and Teslin did a short 30 minute ride here with the stables which wasn’t much so we all saddled up down at Ft Davis at Lajita’s Stables where we went on a 5+hour ride up into the hills with a wrangler (we brought along our Frequently Used Wrangler Phrasebook to help with language hurdles) and had a great time. Now we are all a little sore but happy and we all spoke the same language in many ways so the day was a success! Now we are off tomorrow to Tucson to start the last difficult process of deciding on a job and home. This is going to be tough!!!!!!!! Travelling was much easier than making these necessary decisions. Anyway, adios for now.

Anny and Chris

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back on the road!

I am sitting in Popi having a nice cup of tea and listening to the traffic and bird sounds of Monday morning in San Miguel de Allende. We are in La Siesta Hotel and RV Park on the edge of town. It’s the closest you can get to Centro with anything larger than a van. There are 2 other rigs here, but so far we haven’t seen any people. Most campers have made their way north by now. Perhaps to avoid the intensely hot weather we’ve experienced over the last few weeks. Coming up through the state of VeraCruz, it was in the high 90’s and very humid. Someone told us the town of Vera Cruz had set a new record 3 days ago…49 degrees C. I remember sitting in our Posada in Oaxaca having Celsius lessons from our friend Dan. He said the low 20’s were cool and comfortable, and approaching 30 is a hot afternoon. 49 must be cauldron weather.

Driving somewhere near the port of Vera Cruz we stopped at a Pemex station and the car’s thermometer was at 100. It was so humid out it looked foggy. I came back from the bathroom and asked Chris…..”Surely Tucson can’t feel hotter than THIS at it’s worse!....?” The unfortunate answer was: “Well…….actually, it can”. The nights here in San Miguel are forgiving….the climate is dry and the temps go down into the 60’s late in the evening. We had 3 nights on our way here that were in the 80’s and humid. The big Kahuna just blew mist on us. There is something to be said about a dry climate that cools off nicely at night.


We left Paa Mul on May 1st and headed to Valladolid via Tulum, about 2 hours away. We spent 2 nights there, camped at a great restaurant, Restaurante Hacienda Ticuch, just outside of town. It was an old Hacienda with a huge grounds complete with a chapel, peacocks, a tiny pool, and extremely friendly people. It’s only drawback (besides the near 100 degree weather) was that it had “Topes” right out front. This meant that during the night all the trucks approached the “topes” going fast and put their jake breaks on (that loud sound semis make slowing down). Then, once across it, they’d slam their foot on the accelerator and take off again. The peacocks also had their stories to tell all night.

Vallodolid was a great jump off point for Rio Lagartos. Cassidy wrote a great blog entry on Rio Lagartos, and you can see his post for specifics on bird species ( . We hired a boat and guide up at the port in Rio Lagartos, and went out for about 4 hours. Our guide was Erik Ramos Celis, and he was very knowledgeable about birds ( We passed on the offer to visit the salt ponds where you could smear salt paste all over your body (a favorite with the Mexican tourists), and concentrated on the channels that led through the mangroves as well as the more open estuaries where the flamingos were. We saw 49 species of birds, and got fairly close to a group of several hundred flamingos. They were quite skittish but we were able to get out of the boat and approach them from behind some dunes. We observed them for several minutes from 30-40 yards away before they saw us and took off en masse. They then continued to circle around for awhile before settling down a bit further away. There was a huge pile of salt in the distance, and evidently they manufacture it in the area. All the places I’ve seen flamingos in the wild have been in areas where salt was harvested (Celustun, Rio Lagartos, and Bonaire). The critters that are the basis of the flamingos’ diet must thrive in the shallow, high salinity waters of these areas.

From Vallodolid, we spent one rather luxurious hot night at the Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows right at the archeological site of Chichen Itza. Chris and I had been there on our 10th anniversary trip, and the kids wanted to see it for themselves. It is a 100 acre spot, with amazing grounds, trees, peacocks wandering around, and lots of birding. We had fun being in a bungalow for the night. Chris and I slept in the loft under the thatch. At dawn, we awoke to a symphony of bird song, a lot of which was coming from the top of the thatch a few feet away. It was like waking up in the boughs of a tree. We found the Chichen Itza ruins HOT, busy, and disappointing after our amazing tours in Chiapas.

From Chichen Itza, we went down to Isla Aguada, a tiny fishing village on the gulf coast of Campeche (a bit north of Ciudad del Carmen). We had our first tire blowout of the trip on the trailer which luckily happened on probably the only stretch of Mexican highway with a level median which we slowly drove on to and changed the tire. Chris had the joyful experience of watching the sun set across the gulf while he did his duty and got us back on the road. We had heard that there was a great RV place right on the water in Isla Aguada that was peaceful and fun. It was peaceful alright….mostly because it was WAY TOO HOT to be camping on the gulf. Anyway…..I’m sure it would be a lovely spot at the right season. However, Chris and I decided sometime during the night to keep on trucking off the Yucatan Peninsula. We left right after breakfast the next day, and made it to Catemaco in the state of Vera Cruz.


Ahhh…..CATEMACO!!!!! We stayed at the Tepetepan Hotel and RV park. Perched high above a river, up at 370 meters above sea level, it was heaven! We were again the only folks there (except for one night when a couple came through on their way north). We parked on the grass under an enormous mango tree that was heavy with almost ripe fruit. Our site was the last one before the river, and overlooked the opposite bank where towering trees and vines were a favorite perch for a flock of black vultures The river gorge was a flyway for all sorts of birds. The first morning I woke up to see flocks of snowy egrets, green herons, black vultures, double crested cormorants, various hawks (Cassidy saw a laughing falcon), and an assortment of wonderful song birds going by. This was easily one of the most beautiful RV parks we had stayed at in Mexico.

Catemaco is an amazing area. It is in an area known as Los Tuxtlas, in Southern Vera Cruz state. It is a mountainous, jungle area with lakes, waterfalls, great swimming places, and lots of rivers. Catemaco is on the edge of a beautiful lake, Laguna Catemaco, and is very popular with Mexican tourists (during holidays and the summer). There is a road going down along the lakefront in town, the Malecon, that is lined with huge trees, currently filled with thousands of nesting cattle egrets. They were making quite a racket, and it seemed that many of the chicks were fledging, dropping out of their nests to wander awkwardly around the lake front, their parents squawking after them.

Our favorite haunt was Poza Reyna (Reina), a waterfall and swimming hole about an hours drive from Catemaco. The drive was an adventure itself winding through the countryside on a dirt road over several cattle guards and going through areas that until recently had been tropical jungle. There were few signs along the way which led to us going 2 miles up a steep 4 wheel drive road into the mountains before a campesino came out to see who in the world had made it up this far to his shack in the mountains. He helped us find a place to turn around and directed us back to where we needed to go. We finally found the water hole which was accessed by parking next to a cattle pen and walking down a path some 5 minutes to the river. The Pozo or waterhole is fed by very cool springs, and was the most refreshing water we’ve found. There is a very large swimming hole under it with several more downriver which we also explored over several hours, and I’m sure Chris will put in some great pics.

We spent 4 nights in Catemaco….it was hot during the day, but had great places to cool off. We didn’t see many travelers, and it was a peaceful, beautiful area. Chris and Cassidy did a birding trip the last day with Feliz Aguilar and saw some Toucans and large flocks of Moctezuma Oropendula among other birds, and we returned twice to Poza Reyna. We’ve marked Catemaco down as a great place to return to and explore for an extended period. There was just too much to do to pack in to this trip.


We drove from Catemaco up the coast to just outside the port of Veracruz and then headed NW up the road towards Xalapa. We had been communicating with a great couple on the internet who had settled up in the countryside outside of Xalapa close to Los Baños Carrizal after moving there from Tucson and decided to stop and visit. Here is their blog: Jim and Mindy had built a great house outside of Tucson “off the grid” which incorporated many solar and other energy conserving principles before moving to Mexico. Their place in Chahuapan was a small block house with mango trees in the yard with their Airstream parked next to it with an additional place where we could park Poppi. We had a great visit with them, sharing supper and breakfast together while we all talked about our experiences and reasons for being vagabundos. We finally left late the next morning continuing our migration northward.

We finally got a break from the heat as we climbed the mountain range around Xalapa, leaving a hot and dry zone in to a lush, green and much cooler area just west of Xalapa. The temperature dropped from 95 degrees to 75 degrees after 2 hours of gaining elevation and we even opened the windows for while. We stayed north of Mexico City to avoid traffic and the “no drive day rules” of the Districto Federal and traveled via Pachuca to the smaller town of Ixmiquilpan. We had some great meals there at local “Barbacao” restaurants where we ingested large quantities of red meat of all varieties. We even had an amazing bowl of “menudo” for breakfast to go along with our “Borrego” tacos which made Anny long even more for the land of salads and stir fry’s up north. Another half day’s drive brought us here to San Miguel de Allende were we have settled in for a couple of nights so that we can do some nice walks through the city and regroup before the final push north.

Anny and Chris

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Head ‘em up, move ‘em out!

Things have gotten a little slow over the past 3 weeks and the natives are restless here on the beach. We’ve had a few adventures, eaten some fresh fish, done some snorkeling, swam in cenotes, been baked in the sun (from Tucson to Tucamcari….) and we’re preparing to head north. We’ve gone some 3+ weeks with highs in the 85-90 range and the nights around 75 and sticky and we’re ready to look for someplace with cooler nights. Things have been heating up since Bonampak and we’re pretty sure our only relief will be when we pass through the mountains of central Mexico around San Miguel de Allende. We think that we will most likely arrive back in the USA the 3rd week of May somewhere in Texas.

First, a little update on our travels. After leaving Bonampak, we stayed several nights in Palenque to visit the ruins, do some more birding and say aloha to our friends Steve and Susan. We hooked up at the campgrounds in Palenque with 2 young Americans, Nate and Nicole, who were looking for a ride to the coast at Tulum and they joined us for several days of travel. We first stopped outside the ruins of Calakmul and stayed outside a small restaurant on the highway so that we could drive in to the ruins first thing in the morning. The ruins were very isolated and few tourists were there which made for an interesting visit. We decided to drive on towards the coast after the ruins and proceeded on towards Laguna Bacalar just north of Chetumal. Anny talked about our visit there which I most remember for the open air toilets with no roofs where one could heat up in the midday sun while contemplating life on the bowl, birds singing above you in the palm trees overhanging the WC. After several days there swimming and relaxing with some side visits to Chetumal to visit the Maya Culture Museum we continued on to Felipe Carrillo Puerto a few hours north. On the way there, we stopped to see Mahahual on the coast which we had heard good things about. We had heard that this area had been hit by a hurricane the previous August which had damaged the cruiseship dock and that things were slow so we thought it might be quiet there. It definitely turned out to be quiet as we found the area almost totally destroyed with most structures and businesses completely destroyed and electricity only in town. The trees were all either blown down by the wind or poisoned by the salt water surge that came several kilometers inland. We had some ceviche north of town under a tarp where a restaurant had been then continued on north towards FCP. Felipe C.P. turned out to be quite a nice little town with little restaurants and hotels and few foreigners. Cassidy and I birded a great road leading in to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere out of town the next morning while the ladies slept and upon returning, we continued north towards Tulum.

Tulum was another shock as the beach south of the ruins is now wall to wall Hotels and Cabañas all the way to where the Biosphere Reserva starts. It was heavy traffic, wall to wall gringos and we fled north without stopping for more than a bathroom break. Probably 90% of the businesses had come in to being since our last visit so it was almost unrecognizable to us and it was way too busy to think of staying there. We continued north to Paa Mul which is one of the last pockets along this coast which has not been ultra-commercialized.

The Yucatan seems to me what pre-Castro Cuba may have been like with unrestricted investment and building by all comers, foreigners and rich Mexicans alike, little protection of the environment, no sewage treatment plants from Cancun to Chetumal that we could see-an entrepeneur’s dreamland. American business people talked of the benefits of lack of restrictions, poor Mexicans flock here from other parts of Mexico to work in the service industry keeping wages low, local villages and landowners have been swept aside to make room for the mega all-inclusives and unplanned and uncontrolled captitalism has shown how much damage it can do in 20 years. Scuba divers are still able to go far enough offshore and to deep enough waters to find some live coral and some fish but the reefs closest to shore and the surface are now almost completely destroyed. The bays all seem filled with a fine silt which is worked up into the water with any wave action, an oily film often is seen in the top foot or so of water and the beaches between the resort groomed beaches are filled with garbage washing up on shore. The only hope that the Riviera Maya may have is if the Mexican Government realizes that it is allowing a national heritage to be destroyed by its lack of planning, regulation and infrastructure and steps in, but no one expects this to happen. They are dependent on the tourist dollars now and like any addict, have little ability to put off current benefits and pleasure in order to save this land for future generations. The lagoons of Xel-ha and Akumal are now cloudy bathtubs filled with bathers trying to see through the silt and oil as they feed the fish dogfood to keep them coming close enough to see. It probably would not bother me as much if I hadn’t been here in the early 1980’s, swimming in the clear waters, enjoying the reefs which were still quite alive and colorful. Time to move on.

We’ll try to visit some of the inland Mayan villages that still fill the countryside on the way out, maybe see the birds at Rio Lagartos, some ruins, then on to Campeche and beyond. Maybe we’re just a little homesick for something we know better, can understand. We’ll shed a tear for the Yucatan, hope for the best for its people and environment and keep on keeping on.

Con esperanza,


Attack of the Jellyfish!!!!

The latest “big event” here at Paa Mul was Teslin swimming head on into a Portugese Man of War some 10 minutes out from the beach during a group swim. We all had been snorkeling along the outer reef for 45 minutes or so and had decided to head for shore when Teslin started screaming. She had been bringing up the rear and was swimming hard to catch up when she must have swum head first into the jellyfish. Its tentacles wrapped around her neck and draped over her back to her waist before breaking off. The pain from this particular jellyfish is known as one of the worst and is described by divers as if a bucket of fire had been poured on you. Anny was the closest to Teslin when she started to scream so turned back to see if she could help but upon reaching her found she could not keep both of them above water. She called for me and I swam the 70-80 yards between us and we all started toward the beach some 10-15 minutes swim away. Teslin was beside herself and was screaming quite forcefully that it hurt and that it was burning her. She was able to hang onto my neck and be kept afloat on my back as I swam in as fast as I could. The swimming and waves pulled off all of the tentacles as we swam which was lucky as they continue to inject their poison as long as they are attached to their victims even after they are pulled off of the jellyfish. We finally made it to shore where we asked for some advice on what to do before heading back to our trailer. Teslin was having difficulty not screaming which made for some excitement for the pool crowd that day. We did some quick Internet searches for treatment options and gave Teslin some Benadryl and Ibuprofen while cleaning the area with vinager and finally after about an hour she was able to stop her screams and just sob when the pain increased periodically. She had large welts across her back and front of her neck and redness to many other areas of her back and fingers where the tentacles had either latched on or brushed against her skin.

We did not see the actual body of the jellyfish which Teslin ran in to so walked the beach that afternoon and the next morning to see if any were washing up on shore. To our amazement, we found many Portugese Man of War who were just washing up on shore north and south of our swimming area. The dive shop said that they had not seen these in our bay for 5+ years and were surprised by their presence. These jellyfish are quite beautiful as well as deadly and we did a lot of reading about them over the next 24 hours. I’ve included pictures of both the Portugese M of W that we found and Teslin after her experience.

We were all reminded of the importance of keeping your eyes open while swimming and also how aware one should be out there in the ocean. We all learned from the experience though Teslin had to pay the biggest price.