Tales of Retirement in Paradise
|Chapter 2: But What Do You Do All Day?|
Polly G. Vicars
When you retire to Puerto Vallarta, all your friends come to visit. Charmed by the pure beauty of the land, the friendliness of the locals, the warmth of the air, the music of the sea, and the majesty of the sunsets, they begin to talk of doing as we did - sell the old homestead, and retire South of the Border. Then that old Yankee work ethic takes over and out comes The Question, "But what do you do all day?"
|Señora Gloria takes care of Mi Casa every day and Señora Martha irons our clothes professionally. Beautiful women and wonderful friends!|
|This man and his family taught us several valuable lessons - trust - how not to get 'bent out of shape' when things seem to go wrong, how to relax and enjoy every experience and fixed our broken down VW van to boot.|
|We boated to beautiful and fun places in our panga, El Viejo with Capítan Cheo at the wheel.|
|Capítan Cheo filleted each day's catch.|
|We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and life in Las Animas and Yelapa (The guy with the guitar on the left is the eldest Bambino, Carlos, with his friends Galdino and Jose who were playing for us for the very first time in this picture taken in 1995.)|
|We camped on one of the Marieta Islands.|
|We dined with friends, Vallartenses and visitors from many shores.|
|One of the many colorful parades that grace the cobblestone streets of our paradise.|
|We sat on the curb to watch them go by.|
Settle in, as it will take a while to answer that question and to regale you with the fascinating possibilities that challenge you when you change your attitude along with your latitude. First, I think you need to know that there are many things we no longer do since our move. If you are prone to envy, or are unprepared to turn green, you might want to skip this chapter.
I do not clean bathrooms, sweep floors, clean cabinets, dust furniture, take out trash, wash windows, change sheets, or carry out any of those awful chores that have to be done over and over again no matter how well you do them the first time. (Still wonderfully true!) Every morning a young señora, (Gloria now, it was Meli then,) comes to our condo and does all those tedious chores - with pride and a smile. Our monthly condominium fees (which are less than you might imagine) cover not only utilities, insurance, taxes and maintenance, but also daily maid service. (Of course these fees have increased with the years, but still a bargain in my estimation.)
Washing and ironing? The condo launders our sheets and towels, and once a week another señora picks up our dirty clothes and returns them the next day - washed, folded and sweet smelling. For those few items that need ironing, yet a third señora comes to mi casa, not just to iron, but also to administer a luxurious and therapeutic massage. Can you stand this?
(Only minor changes here. Recently the laundry señora, who had morphed into a señor, disappeared from the scene and Husband valiantly took up the mantle and takes the dirty clothes less than a block down the street in the morning and picks up the clean ones in the afternoon. The third señora, wonderful Teresa, still comes to give me the luxurious and therapeutic massage, but a different one, Martha, picks up the ironing and returns it the next day.)
All these services are performed professionally, at a price much below what you would pay in the States, and come with that warming Vallarta smile. Housework, washing, ironing, and other chores are not considered demeaning. Not doing your best job - is!
I cook (by my own choice,) but the meat and poultry I choose from the mercado come straight from the source - with none of those ukky and unhealthy preservatives added. Fish - we don't buy it, we catch it. When I serve fish, it is still wiggling.
(Here is a big change! After many years of fishing and fun, we decided to do some serious traveling, sailing around the world twice, once for four months and once for three months. The long absences and the expense of maintaining a boat spurred us to give our beloved panga, "El Viejo," to Capítan Cheo in gratitude for his wonderful eleven years as our captain and our friend. He remains our friend and we get together as often as we can to reminisce and to keep up with news of his children, the last two who were named Paulina and Humberto. When that fishing bug hits, we charter one of the many pangas or lanchas available very reasonably here in PV.)
Moreover, we never eat canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. At the market I can choose from corn, peas, green beans, chayotes, tomatoes, jicamas, potatoes, mameys, mangos, melons, bananas, papayas, pineapples, oranges and other field ripened delicacies that will never suffer a cold storage bin or the prick of a dye-inducing needle. And guys, listen to this! Husband does not change the oil or spark plugs, clean, scrape, paint, or repair his fishing boat. He does not even clean the fish we catch! Our jack-of-all-trades Capitán does all of those chores and more for very reasonable wages.
All the changes in our lives are not so mundane. Some are truly fundamental. Time, for instance, no longer dominates us. We find no appointment nor meeting so urgent or so compelling that it can't wait until we finish what we are currently enjoying. It was not always so...
After having lived here a short time and not being totally acclimated, we made lunch plans to meet friends at one o'clock at a secluded north beach restaurant. While the friends were driving to the restaurant, Husband and I opted to arrive by boat, fishing on the way. We planned to anchor the boat in front of the restaurant and swim the short distance in to shore. The sun was shining and the water was calm.
We told our captain (Not Cheo), who came with the boat when we bought it and was struggling to make us deep sea fishermen, of our luncheon time and the need to fish toward the area of the restaurant. Not long after getting the lines set the fish began to bite. We hauled in yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel, and even a few dazzling dorado. Still I didn't forget to remind the captain, several times, of our appointment. Each time he nodded and said, "Sí, Poli."
But as it neared one o'clock and we were nowhere near our destination. I said sharply, "I told you we had to meet our friends at one o'clock and now we are going to be late." The Captain looked at me in utter amazement and not a little disdain, and answered, "Oh! You really want to meet them at one?" He could think of nothing so important that it would cause anyone (not even a crazy gringa) to pull in lines with the fish still biting! But that day, we made him do so. Incidentally, when we arrived at the restaurant, our friends were sipping Coco Locos and enjoying sea and sun. If we were early or late, they couldn't have cared less!
While we definitely didn't agree with everything this Captain tried to teach us, this valuable lesson we took to heart. 'Time is for savoring the moment' became a rule to live by, and we learned it from a Captain young enough to be our grandson! Now, we never let what might be ahead deter us from the moment. If the fish are biting, we stay with them. If the sunset is unusually beautiful, we sit and watch. If the company is especially agreeable, we ask them to stay longer - even if it means missing or being late for a meeting or a party. Those who were expecting us, if they miss us at all, are not concerned - they understand the time rule. They know if we don't make it that day, they'll see us the next day or the next.
Another thing we don't do anymore is get "bent all out of shape" when things seem to go wrong. We no longer think the world has ended if a water pipe breaks, the elevator is not running, the refrigerator goes on the blink or the car breaks down. We know, sooner or later, the broken will be fixed, the wrong will be righted, and in those happenings might lurk a serendipitous experience. Case in point...
A couple of years ago we prudently had our four-year-old Volkswagen van serviced for a six week sightseeing trip to Oaxaco, Chiapas, the Yucatán, Cancún, and the island of Cozumel. We had no timetable (remember, we had already learned the time lesson,) but we did anticipate getting farther on the first day than Santiago, a tiny pueblo about three and a half hours south of Puerto Vallarta.
Husband noticed something amiss in the van when we were hardly out of Vallarta. Every time he slowed for the topes, those ubiquitous speed bumps, he found it harder and harder to shift gears. Several miles outside Santiago and still ten miles from Manzanillo, the closest city of any size south of Vallarta, we spied a ramshackle building with a large hand printed sign, "MECANICO."
We pulled over and stopped - stopped in the most literal sense. Husband could no longer change gears at all. We were completely broken down! A young grease stained muchacho came out. He searched for our problem, seeming to know what he was doing. Gracias a Dios, we were getting fairly proficient in Spanish and could understand his diagnosis. The clutch was shot!
In a VW van, replacing a clutch requires pulling the motor, not a big deal in a VW agency in the States, but in a shop with no lift or hoist, it is indeed a big deal. Still, if we could find a clutch in Manzanillo, he thought he could fix the van by noon the next day.
So Mecanico and Husband hailed a local taxi to take them to Manzanillo while I waited in the van with our belongings - clothing, diving equipment, cameras, and everything one needs for a trip of this length.
Being avid readers, our traveling bags held plenty of books, so I just curled up with my current selection. As I read and waited, the hours began to crawl. I confess to a few stereotypical thoughts; thoughts of Husband robbed, Husband beaten, Husband kidnapped or worse yet, Husband killed.
Later I learned they had reached Manzanillo during siesta time. This is the time when most stores close for two hours so their employees can join their families for lunch (and perhaps take a short nap.) ¡No problema! The cantinas and restaurants don't close. They hoisted a few and the three guys, mecanico, taxi driver and Husband became friends - a perfect example of male bonding.
When they finally arrived back, I was more than happy to see them and the new clutch. It was now well into the afternoon and taxi driver suggested taking us to a hotel and returning for us in the morning.
I asked mecanico if the van and our gear inside would be safe. His look suggested what he thought of my question. He told me he lived upstairs and his amigo lived with his wife and family behind the shop, and even though the van was parked right on the side of the road, no one would bother it. Husband nodded, and without another question, I pulled out what we needed for the night. Taxi driver took us to a lovely hotel on the Bay of Santiago where, typically, they welcomed us like family. Husband invited the young driver, now his friend, to join us for breakfast the next morning.
After a warm shower and a cool cocktail, I looked at Husband and said, "What have we done? Can't you just hear our friends asking, 'You mean you left your van and your belongings with someone you didn't even know on the side of the road in a strange town, and really expected it to be there when you went back?' " With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I suggested we call a taxi and, at least, retrieve our valuables from the van.
Wonderful Husband answered, "If we felt it was safe when we left it there, it is still safe! Have another cocktail and enjoy the sunset." He is a faster learner than I. After a restful night (well with maybe a twinge or two) and a delicious breakfast with our young driver who showed up right at the appointed hour, we drove to the shop. The van was there, our belongings were where we left them, and mecanico was installing the new clutch.
The señora who lived behind the shop came out to invite me to her casa for coffee and to meet her family. Her home consisted of one spotlessly clean room for sleeping, cooking, dining and entertaining. The much scrubbed dining table had benches on either side and two kitchen chairs. Three precious children clung to Mamá's skirts until they became accustomed to their visitor. An elaborately framed wedding photograph of Mamá and Papá, elegantly dressed, served as the sole wall adornment.
Mamá accorded me honored guest status. After coffee and chatting, I went out front to watch the progress with the van. My hostess carried the two chairs she owned outside for Husband and me to use while waiting. What hospitality and generosity of spirit! Her casa was indeed my casa!
We watched mecanico installing the new clutch with the motor, held up by a block and tackle, dangling above him. We held collective breaths when he and his helper slowly eased the motor down into place. We admired his skill, innovation, and diligence; he was a true craftsman. After a trial run proved the job was indeed done, we paid the ridiculously low bill and drove off leaving mecanico beaming from our praise. Get it? New friends and new experiences all because our car broke down!
You know we live in a condominium where all cleaning and maintenance is done by the expert staff; you know our boat is maintained by a captain; you know we have no yard to mow, leaves to rake, or snow to shovel. So, you ask again, "What do you do all day?" Puerto Vallarta, a premier tourist destination, attracts tourists year round. Living right on popular Los Muertos Beach, we are lucky enough to meet people from all over the world. The magic of the tropics fosters instant friendships. When we moved here we did not know a single soul. Now we can't begin to count the number of folks we call friends.
Consequently, we entertain a lot - sometimes on our fishing boat, sometimes in our home, and sometimes in one of the many local restaurants. At times we party on the beach at a palapa-covered restaurant where we dine on the fish we bring in fresh from the sea. Now and then we party at an out-of-way family restaurant, well off the tourist trail. Once in a while, joined by friends, we camp on one of the uninhabited Marieta Islands.
Of course, in return, our friends entertain us, elegantly or simply, but always with that Vallarta feeling and flair. You mark your calendar ahead for traditional parties. Other parties just happen. Most parties, at least the ones we like the best, include all ages, sexes and nationalities.
On fiesta days (and there are lots of them) we all go to el centro, sit on a curb, and view traditional Vallartense parades. Flags, children, colorful costumes, horses, music, and dancing fill the cobblestone streets. The clip-clop of horseshoes, applause, and shouts of bravo mix with the already music filled air.
We take in the many art openings and the monthly cultural events at the elegant Hotel Camino Real. (Sadly, the Camino Real was sold and the new owners opted not to continue the monthly events. We sorely miss them!) Sometimes we see first run movies, in English with Spanish subtitles, at local theaters. On a slow night we watch everything from "The Nanny" to "Letterman" and "Nightline" on our satellite fed TV.
Most late afternoons (after the requisite siesta) we sit on our balcony overlooking the beach, We sip a cool one, and watch the pelicans swooping and diving for their supper. We observe the colorful vendors wandering among the locals and the tourists, selling their wares or just getting acquainted with the beach newcomers. As the kids kick the soccer ball, slam the volley ball, and ride the waves, the plaintive trumpet notes of "Little Boy Lost" or the Latin beat of "La Bamba," performed by the mariachis on the sand below, drift up to us - and provide an ideal background for our sipping.
We work with the AMF and the IFC. I write; Husband builds beautiful pottery fountains. We exercise our bodies with a daily walk; we exercise our minds with the Spanish lessons we take and the English classes we give. (Still studying Spanish, but not giving English lessons after we contaminated hundreds of Vallartenses by teaching them how to speak English with a Southern flair.) We feed our inner beings with awe and inspiration from our ventures onto the sea.
Relieved of all of the chores everyone hates, unsaddled by time, and unruffled by mishaps, we do exciting and worthwhile things we never thought possible. We have learned the value of the siesta and the sense of sometimes waiting until mañana. What do we do all day?
Anything we want to do! (Still Do!)
Polly G. Vicars and her husband of 57 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.
Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars.