Changes in Yucatan… maybe

During my first years in Yucatan, I learned a lot about common practices in the area. And inevitably when I asked why almost everything happened in such established, prescribed way, I’d be told –  “Es costumbre” – “This is the way it’s done.”

For example, it was considered folly to wash clothes in the afternoon. Shopping at the market also happened only in the morning. Floors had to be mopped with kerosene-laced water, and fish could not be eaten at night. As well, it took me some time to accept “the little basket” beside the toilet.

I came to apprecite the reasoning behind many of the cast-in-stone commandments. But I couldn’t get my head around the resistance to less traditional options that might make life easier or safer.

More than four decades later, sometimes I am still stumped – and yesterday was a good example of this.

Our friends, Allison & Cliff came along with Jorge & me to visit Cenote Kankirixche. The road into the cenote’s location was a rough go, but we expected this, and at just 30 pesos a person, the entrance price could not be beat. We were pleased to find a palapa with bathrooms and a small restaurant.  We also saw a strong wooden ladder for climbing down into the crystalline water. We figured the local government must have assisted a cooperative of villagers to build the infrastructure. Well done – we couldn’t wait to swim.

 But in the cenote cavern we encountered wasps – many, many, many of them – darting in and out of about 50 nests suspended overhead.

Even the bravest, non-sissies will flinch at going into an enclosed space where they are likely to get stung. In fact Allison emerged from the depths with several welts on her upper arm. To me, the wasps sounded agitated, and I climbed out quickly. I asked the people working at the cenote why they hadn’t moved the nests? In my opinion, angry wasps and tourists are not compatible.  If you want the wasps to be happy and not go into frenzy, you can’t allow people to disturb their habitat. If on the other hand, the cenote is meant to provide visitors with a unique water adventure – and increase income for the families that depend on this – then the wasps should be taken elsewhere.

I should have known better. My suggestion that the nests be removed was not at all well-received. I had definitely overstepped. “The wasps are used to going in there,” one young man told me. “The trees are flowering and that’s why there are so many of them.”

“Yes, I noticed,” I replied, “but some people are allergic to bee or wasp stings. If the insects swarm, they could cause serious injury.”

“Well if people want to come here, they have to take the wasps,” said another of the cooperative members.

I can understand that people who live close to nature respect the wasps’ right to build their nests where they have always built them. But surely the Dept. of Ecology or an environmental conservation agency must have ways to relocate their nests. In fact I looked it up on the internet, and yes, this can be done. I sincerely hope the members of the cooperative will consider this option.

The four of us hurried back into the car, and a short distance from the cenote, we arrived at Hacienda Mucuyche.  The cost to spend the day here is 250 pesos, but with our INEPAN seniors’ cards we would only have to pay 150 pesos each. We would have enjoyed touring the hacienda where the Empress Carlota stayed during her visit to Yucatan in 1865. And we could have spent all day swimming in the cenote and picnicking. But it had grown fairly late by the time we arrived at the hacienda, so we decided to come back another day. As we got set to drive away, one of the employees told us that the hacienda has been purchased by the owner of X’caret.

Continuing along, we came upon Hacienda Huayalceh de Peon – in its day, this was one of the largest haciendas in the state, and processed as much as 1,000,000 sisal leaves a week! The operation continued on a smaller scale until 2000, but a hurricane in 2002 damaged much of the machinery, and looting finished the job. Now, the owner is elderly and he rarely visits his formerly majestic family estate.  The villagers use the chapel for Mass once a week. Only the caretaker is on site full time, and he had no objections to us walking around the property. Jorge and I have visited this hacienda on many occasions. Even though the entire place is now in ruins, it is easy to see how grand it once was. Here too we were told that “an outsider” is interested the hacienda – about twice a month he shows up and offers to purchase it – he is told it is NOT for sale. I wonder if the would-be-buyer is the same person who bought Hacienda Mucuyche?

Time seems to stand still in the Yucatecan countryside, and in many ways this is beautiful. But if the people who live in these tucked-away corners of the peninsula are to prosper, they should consider their alternatives. If not, financial interests will prevail – and the last of the great haciendas, as well as natural attractions – will be developed for new purposes by those who are not adverse to change.

When I return to the area in a year or so, I hope I’ll see that the wasps have moved on and the cooperative is flourishing in the hands of the local villagers. I’ll definitely spend a day at Hacienda Mucuyche, and hopefully I won’t have to pay the price I would pay to enter X’caret. I wonder if Hacienda Huayalceh de Peon will still be in the hands of the family whose ancestors built the grand estate in the 1840s.

In the Yucatecan cities, villages and countryside, the threat of mismanaged change lurks alongside the potential for positive innovation. I hope that forward-thinking leadership, entrepreneurs and citizenry will work together to ensure a prosperous, dignified future for our amazing state.




Finding a new orbit at 3 am

I woke up with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blasting in my brain.

… Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on …

Although it doesn’t happen often, this is not the first time my sleep has been interrupted by a song. It happens when I get overwhelmed by all that is going on in my life. Usually, my first reaction is to rationalize the situation. “Oh go back to sleep,” I tell myself, “When this event is over… or that issue is resolved… or whatever… there will be time for (fill in the blank) and for (fill in the blank).”

My internal dialogue continues… “But what I’ve been doing is necessary… It is important… I have responsibilities…”

And yes, this is true. Good works are necessary. It is important to fulfill obligations. Living up to responsibilities is what adults do. But at this stage of my life, is it time to reassess what this involves? Is it time to take on less?

The singing has stopped, and a whispering voice has taken David Bowie’s place … it suggests that maybe I should consider making a few adjustments. Truth be told, the voice inside my head is not whispering… it is screaming at me… quite stridently. It is not suggesting, it resolutely maintains that I am not behaving in the most necessary, important, and responsible way. The voice insists that I allow for more unhurried, unstructured time in my life.

It urges me to think about spending more time with my family and long-time friends. It asks why I don’t carve out more time for writing, painting, cooking healthy meals,  and exercising more. It tells me I need to do what matters most to me AND to those I love.

My priorities seem to be askew… and no one but me has caused the imbalance. I like being involved.. it’s a good thing, but I need to set limits. I guess I’ve come to a fork in the road.

It’s time to consider changing my orbit.

… This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today …

Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your bearings?

… Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do …

Hm-m-m-m-m-m-m. I will celebrate my 65th birthday in a few weeks… The time has come for me to listen, trust, and heed the voice in my head.

… I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go …

The time has come for some gentle changes in my life.

Finding Balance

Good wine does not just happen. The owner of the vineyard must tend to his land and the vines. During the growing season, the amount of sunshine and rainfall helps determine the excellence of the grapes, as does the severity of the winter weather. The harvesting and pressing are crucial factors, and the aging process must be timed just right. Producing a good vintage is an art. When the wine is ready for market, the vintner must find the right distributor. He prays the long-necked bottles will be transported and stored with care, and that wine connoisseurs will enjoy the result of his labor.

In ways, writing is like making wine. The more care a writer takes and the more experience she has – the better the results. A writer needs solitude, but not so much that she grows absolutely dependent upon it – the world around her plays a vital part in the creative process. When the manuscript is finished, the editing begins. More revision makes for a better book. Hopefully the writer finds an agent, publisher and distributor who will take her book to market – it has to be where readers can find it. And of course, the author hopes her book will be read over and over again – that it will find a forever home in public libraries, and on private bookshelves.

Those who enjoy wine need some restraint. All of us know that drinking in excess is not a healthy habit.

And writing? Truth be told, too much time in front of the computer is not good either. When I am deep into a lengthy project, it is easy to get so involved that the book’s world becomes my world. I think about my characters all the time. They take on a life of their own, and if I fail to keep perspective, they could become as important to me as my real time family and friends.

And this is the crux. To reach our full potential in any pursuit – winemaking, writing, painting, cooking, carpentry or whatever – we have to spend time away from our day-to-day lives. . I’ve heard it said that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary  to become proficient at anything. During those 10,000 hours, the danger of ostracizing family and frieds is definitely there.

Is excess involvement ever a good thing?  Some artists argue that “the work” must come first. But hey – of those who truly dedicate themselves to their art – how many have happy home lives, solid marriages, and children who do not feel ignored?

The other day, someone asked me when I would write another book. I want to – I do – but my real world needs a lot of attention right now. I hope that I will soon be able to carve out enough time and make the commitment – I’ve got ideas I could develop – it’s all about finding balance..

This Garden

Yesterday afternoon,  I filled a tall glass with ice cubes, and poured hot mint tea over top. The crisp pops and snaps made by the fissuring ice sounded like a promise – a refreshing moment soon to be savored. Taking the drink in one hand, I used the other to pull up the latch of the screen door and swing it open. I wanted to enjoy the last half hour of the Saturday sunlight.

My husband had just finished watering our garden and the spicy smell, unique to Yucatan, floated up from the soaked red soil. It swirled around the leafy orange tree where my chair waited. But before settling down, I picked my way around the perimeter to check on the plants’ progress and wellbeing.

Every year I try coaxing a few non-native species to adapt to life in the tropics. The success is spotty. In this hot, humid climate, they struggle – much like many people I know. The magnolia bush has not budded yet this year, but to my surprise, the dusky blue pom-poms on the hydrangea seem to be holding up. They bring forth memories from the garden I knew as a child – my mom had banks of them along one side of our North Vancouver home. The baskets of multi-colored petunias are thriving but the poor tulip – a gift from my daughter – has completely given up. So sad.

Meanwhile the endemics are thriving. Lilies – the deep coral-colored ones, the white with red stripes, and the delicate-looking ones with long skinny white petals are in full bloom. The Desert Rose, Crown of Thorns, and red hibiscus are also flowering at peak this March. The magenta  bougainvillea spilling over the top rim of the high front wall is a prolific marvel of nature. Basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano aloe, lemons, figs and oranges are as delicious as they are pretty.  But the showpieces of our garden are the orchids.

Orchids are amazing, and most of ours have made their home in the branches of the very tree where I sit to drink my tea.

This garden soothes me and helps me put problems into perspective. I vow to spend more time out here. Life is too short to dwell on issues that are (fairly or unfairly) beyond my sphere of influence.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

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