So we’ve made it back home after our whirlwind adventure to San Pancho, Mexico and I have been dying to get this post out of me. The two weeks we spent on this vacation have been some of the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. Certainly, one of the most rewarding vacations I can remember, and I’m pretty sure I speak for the entire family when I say that we were all very happy to make it home to our familiar and comfortable lives. But, no sooner had we arrived to our house, that I began to recognize how much we take for granted in our everyday lives.
Living in a very small village in Mexico was perhaps the first time all of us were tested with so many challenges to going about our everyday life. I can only sum it up as being, well, tiring. But rather than go on about how difficult the trip was, I would much rather reflect on the many things that we have in our lives that we just take for granted. I spent much of my first day back reflecting on this thought and though this list only takes into account our recent experience in San Pancho, much of this applies to living in any underdeveloped area or region. This trip gave me a broader perspective of the world and the ability to truly appreciate how lucky we are to live such comfortable lives. And so, here are the 10 things I was grateful to return to at home, that I will no longer take for granted. I count them as blessings after spending some time without them.
1) Clean drinking water: If I had a peso for every time I heard, “Don’t drink the water!” from someone after I shared our plan to visit San Pancho, I’d be able to pay for… well… dinner! Fortunately, I can say that only 2 of us had a mild case (if at all) of the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge during this trip, though we all had at least one bout of loose stools (sorry if this is TMI, but it is the reality of travel in Mexico). But since it was all short lived, I have a feeling it was simply the side effect of the malaria pills we were taking daily.
But the fact that the risk of drinking the water was a serious concern (I’ve had Montezuma’s Revenge and it is no picnic), something we had to pay close attention to, made a big difference in how we went about an ordinary day; brushing our teeth (remember.. 3 kids) became a family project, to be sure nobody inadvertently rinsed under the faucet. We did everything with bottled water, though when we could we avoided water (and ice) altogether. The kids don’t normally get to drink soda at home, so this was a welcome change for them. In fact, the first Spanish words Little Son E used on his own were to order his drinks from a waiter, “Me gusteria Sprite!” We all bust out laughing the first time we heard this…
2) Choices for food: If I never see another quesadilla, it might be too soon. Ok, maybe that’s an exxaggeration. But, the downside to staying in a small fishing village is that there are a limited number of dining establishments. And after two weeks of dining in local restaurants and taco stands, we realized, pretty quickly, that the menus at most places included pretty much the same food. The only difference was in the preparation – some tostadas had just ceviche (cold cooked shrimp salad), while others were covered with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, beans. But, every restaurant served tostadas. And tacos, burritos, quesadillas. So, if it were possible, I believe we literally got tired of Mexican food. I came to this realization the day before we left when I actually turned down a side of guacamole (what?!) and ordered a plate of good ole fashioned french fries. (Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of french fries, that day…)
3) Salad! Or more specifically, any fruit or vegetable that requires rinsing before eating. The nice thing was that we didn’t have to take out a loan to buy a mango, in fact they were literally free on every corner, but to order anything at a restaurant that did not require peeling – i.e. lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. – meant risking ingesting water from rinsing in tap water. So we just avoided them unless we rinsed/prepared it ourselves. Thankfully, because of the peel, mangoes, avocadoes, and pineapples were fair game, which has resulted in my minor overdose of avocadoes.
4) Pest control: In a previous post I mentioned the warm welcome we received from the mosquitoes, when we arrived. They were very happy to have us visit their town because as it turns out, they were very hungry. We quickly learned that the 40% DEET repellent that we brought with us to protect ourselves from the monsters is actually much like salad dressing to them. I distinctly remember Josh covering himself in a layer of repellent, only to watch two of the monsters land directly on his wet arm. By day 4, you would have thought I was suffering from the Chicken Pox, and by day 6, we threw out the DEET in exchange for the all-natural lemongrass – eucalyptus blend given to us by my mother-in-law. Seemed to work, or perhaps the blood-suckers tired of us, but our second week was a bit better.
But beyond the bug bites, we had to get accustomed to all kinds of critters that crawled, flew, climbed, buzzed all around us, in and out of the house. Again, with our facilities open to the elements, we never knew what we would find each morning when we visited the bathroom. We found lizards, giant moths, crickets, army ants, and much more. I will not miss having to worry about pests at all times, everywhere we go.
5) Smooth roads: This one surprised me a bit. I mentioned to someone that if I were to return to San Pancho again, that I would not choose to drive anything less than a Jeep or off-road vehicle. Most of the roads in San Pancho were quite literally, cobblestone roads. The only vehicles that could travel faster than 5 MPH were ATVs, the dune-buggies, and Jeeps. Everyone else was better off parking and walking, because the roads were so uneven!
There is one highway that runs through all of the towns in Nayarit – from Puerto Vallarta all the way to the capital, Tepic – but even that was an infrastructure nightmare – with enormous potholes that seemed to come out of nowhere. Oh and the driving…
6) Traffic laws: I will never again curse a speed limit sign. Because at least I know that for the most part, in the US, we are expected to adhere to it. During our day trip into a northern part of the state, I quickly came to realized that the traffic signs on the highways were either there for decoration or simply as suggestions. As I followed the “suggested” speed limit, I was constantly passed by local drivers with angry or quizzical looks on their faces. But I had a hard time driving 100 Kph when the sign posted said 40 kph. I was happy to be the gringo out for a sunday drive, which annoyed the heck out of my speed demon husband willing to just ‘go with the flow’.
7) Temperate climate: Here’s another surprise…Portland has nothing on the Mexican rainy season! In the month of July alone, San Pancho recorded 19 inches of rain. That’s about equal to the average rainfall in Portland from January to July! And the rain in Nayarit does not come quietly. We had nightly booming thunder and lightning storms that should be classified as tropical storms in my book. One morning it rained for an hour straight, totalling 5 inches, and flooded the town’s main artery for several hours. I’ll take Portland drizzle over that any day!
Oh and did I mention the hair situation? Humidity and curly hair do not mix, so I pretty much had a bad hair vacation. I am so grateful for the climate we returned to and every morning I thank heavens that I have at least some idea of what my hair will look like by the end of the day.
8 ) Clean, indoor bathrooms: This should probably be higher on the list of things we take for granted. Imagine exploring an open air market in a hot busy mexican village with a recently potty trained 3 year old who, when she has to go, really has to go. And you can begin to appreciate how clean and accessible our public restrooms are.
9) Toilet paper (and for that matter, toilet seats): Ladies? Enough said!
10) Time: At the end of the day, there was nothing that we encountered that threatened our survival. But what we came to appreciate was all of the luxuries that we are accustomed to, that make it possible for us to focus on life. The biggest challenge we faced during our trip was that we had to really think and plan everything we did; from brushing our teeth, to eating every meal, to just sitting and relaxing on the deck. Having to spend our time with this thinking and planning meant we were not able to do other things… like relaxing by the pool with a book and a pina colada… well we did do that, but I could have read so much more….
Now after a list like the above, it would seem that I would never want to return to a place like San Pancho, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We had some amazing experiences that we will likely remember for years and there are a handful of things that I will truly miss about San Pancho, Nayarit and the Riviera.
1) Authentic guacamole – Although I’m taking a break for a while, I proved that I could pretty much survive on an all chips and guacamole diet. With the right spices, peppers, onions, and fresh avocadoes, you can’t find that here.
2) Primo margaritas!! (this probably should be listed first) – Because I avoided drinking water, I decided to replace it with … margaritas. And in doing so became quite the connoisseur. The secret, I learned, is in the tequila.. And, well, the tequila is no better than in Mexico!!
3) Turtles – I’ve written a whole post about our experience with Project Tortuga on my STEM blog, Educate to Innovate with STEM. Suffice it to say that this part of the trip was the most memorable; an experience that impacted me beyond words.
4) Fresh tortillas and shrimp tostadas: nowhere fresher!
5) Warm ocean and pool water: coming from someone who very rarely sets foot in the ocean or pool, this was important. And made it possible for me to truly enjoy laying out by the pool and on the beach, because I could very easily jump in to cool off. I’ll miss that!
At the end of the day, we all had a wonderful time. But it is nice to come home to the familiar and if I ever get to the point of forgetting all that we are lucky to have in our lives, I’ll at least have this list to remind myself of our blessings.