(A special thanks to everyone for giving me permission to take their picture. Note: click on picture to enlarge.)
My adventure begins during Rick’s fourth hospital visit.
Ibana, one of Rick’s nurses, has invited me to visit her mom, Julia in Santiago. Santiago is a small town five hours north of Puerto Vallarta, near San Blas. She, Jose (her husband), and two sons are leaving that night. I had to make a difficult decision quickly.
During each hospital stay I’ve been with Rick almost everyday and slept in his room nearly every night.
My adventure was last year, in October 2011. Rick was staying in Hospital San Javier, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Ibana, Rick, and I had formed a friendship and I want to go, but I’m reluctant to leave Rick, even for 48-hours. On the flip side, I can’t stay with him because he is in ICU. Rick can see I’m torn. Rick convinces me he’ll be OK. Dr. Rios agrees because his medical condition is under control, and the ICU nurses will provide excellent around-the-clock care.
Rick’s ICU Nursing TeamRick’s ICU Nursing Team
Feeling uncertain and excited, I decide to go. Our first stop is Ibana’s apartment to get a refrigerator. The refrigerator is on the fourth floor. No elevator. The men carry the refrigerator down the narrow stairs. Then tie it in the back of their pickup truck.
Their two boys, Angel and Max are riding with their aunt and will meet us in Santiago.
Next stop Marina La Cruz so I can go to LA VITA pack a change of clothes.
I climb back in the truck and we take off for Santiago. The three of us are sitting in the front seat. My seat is in a permanent recline position.
There is a boom-box just behind me. Suddenly the base is cranked to full volume. My body begins to vibrate.
I’m beginning to feel vulnerable for the first time in Mexico. I’m in a foreign country. I speak very little Spanish. I only know the name of the town where I’m spending the next two days. And Rick is in the hospital.
I ask myself, “What am I getting myself into? Will Rick be OK while I’m gone?”
We arrive in Santiago around 10pm. The base has been booming for 5-hours. It was impossible to relax. I’m exhausted.
All I want to do is use the bathroom and wash my face. I am escorted to the bathroom and told there is no running water in the house. With the exception of water to flush the toilet and shower.
I am reminded to put my used toilet paper in the waste paper basket (not in the toilet). This is the normal practice throughout Mexico. The plumbing system cannot handle wads of toilet paper and the excess paper can clog the pipes.
Next, I want to wash my hands and face. I am taken to a patio area behind the house. No light except for a soft glow from the kitchen. I can just barely make out a large square box with dishes in a drain rack. I see a waterspout sticking up and ask, “Where are the faucets?” In the dark I couldn’t find them.
Ibana dips a small plastic bowl into a dark pool of water and hands it to me. To my astonishment, there is water in the middle of the sinks. Now I can see two large cement-counter tops on each side of the water basin.
In the morning, I take a good look at the pila lavadero or “washing station.” Ibana tells me pilas are used for washing clothes, hands, face, dishes, and so forth.
If you look closely, you can see the water spout mounted in the rear of the pila lavadero.
This one has a large open water basin (reservoir) in the middle. There is a flat shallow sink on each side. The left side is used to for washing clothes. The right side is for washing dishes.
Rinse water flows out the back of the shallow sink area into the garden. Great care is taken to keep the water in the reservoir clean. Sometimes, the City water is suddenly shut off so the water in the reservoir helps the family get through these dry spells.
These pilas are really a very functional design and provide a lot more room for washing dishes than my small galley on s/v LA VITA.
In the morning I pitch in and help by washing the breakfast dishes.
In many Mexican towns the City water pressure is extremely low. So the homeowner must provide their own water pump.
This family’s water pump is located in the patio. A garden hose is attached to the pump. The pump provides the water pressure to fill the water reservoir in the pila lavadero and pumps water to the roof and fills the large black water tank. Water in the tank is gravity fed to the toilet and shower in the house.
A few years ago, the family built a detached bathroom in the side yard. Just as in the main house, ground water is pumped to the roof, stored in the black water tank, and gravity-fed to the bathroom.
|Second Bathroom||Black Water Tank on the Roof|
|Second Bathroom||Stand Alone Bathroom with Roof Water Tank|
There is a huge tree growing in the backyard. It’s called Yaka or Jackfruit.
Yaka is originally from India and grows along the coast in the area around Santiago, Nayarit, Mexico.
|Backyard “Yaka” or Jackfruit Tree||“Yaka” Fruit or Jackfruit|
|Yaka Tree In The Backyard||Yaka Tree Fruit
In most Mexican homes, drinking water is purchased in 5-gallon plastic bottles. The bottles are stored in a metal frame that tilts. This makes it easy to fill containers such as glasses and cookware.
There is a pot of beans simmering on the stove.
When Ibana’s dad was alive, they ran a local tienda (small store). It’s the red and white building behind the pickup truck.
Just outside the front door and a half block away is another tienda. Ibana and I go to the tienda to buy a few groceries.
|A Local Tienda||Inside the Tienda|
|Local Tienda||Inside the Tienda|
On the way back to Ibana’s house, we stop to talk to a mother and daughter selling homemade flan from their scooter. The flan is kept cold in a small plastic cooler and is sold in Pyrex bowls. They collect a deposit for the bowls that is refunded when the bowls are returned. The daughter keeps track of each deposit/refund in her record book.
|Flan Sold to the Locals||(left) Ibana Buying Flan, (middle) Mother Selling the Flan, and (right) Daughter with her Record Book|
|Home Made Flan Sold to the Locals|| (left) Ibana Buying Flan Mother and Daughter On Scooter
When we return home we discover the water pump has run dry. Julia is busy priming the pump and soon everything is working again.
|The Water Pump||Mom Priming Pump|
|The Water Pump||Julia Priming the Pump|
I walk back inside and into the living room. The room is comfortable and the pictures on the wall reflects their love of family. The entertainment center holds the TV with a rabbit ear antenna and snow-speckled picture.
|Entertainment Center||Comfortable Living Room Filled with Memories|
|Entertainment Center||Living Room Filled with Loving Memories|
I’m feeling anxious and worried because Rick is in ICU and I haven’t talked to him today and I’m so far away.
My Telcel cell phone is out of minutes. I’m reluctant to ask to use the house phone because of the long distance expense. Ibana assures me it is OK to call Rick because the adult children pay for a long distance phone service that includes calls to Puerto Vallarta.
I call Rick and it is wonderful to hear his voice. Rick was OK, but he has a slightly raw throat from the air conditioning. I promise to bring him some Chloraseptic throat spray when I return to Puerto Vallarta tomorrow night.
After the call, Max an I go in the backyard and I show him how to use my camera. We practice by taking pictures of each other.
By now, I am convinced I am the only gringo in the local area. I’ve only met three English speaking folks: Ibana, Jose, and Angel (Max does not speak English). Often I haven’t a clue what everyone is talking about. It is an odd feeling not to be able to talk freely to the people I meet. It’s as if I’m mute.
Ibana is excited for me to experience everyday life in her Mexican hometown. She asks me to follow her, so we head out the front door.
Just up the street there’s a local street cart vendor selling a unique local drink called Tejuino. Ibana encourages me to try it. I take it on faith that I’ll survive. It helps that Ibana is a nurse.
First, lime is squeezed into a plastic bag.
|Local Food Cart Selling Tejuino||Lime Squeezed into a Plastic Bag|
|Food Cart Selling Tejuino||Lime is Squeezed into a Plastic Bag|
Tejuino is a slightly fermented corn liquid. It is ladled into the plastic bag and a pinch of salt is tossed in.
|Fermented Corn Stirred in a Plastic Bucket||Closing the Plastic Bag|
|Tejuino is Ladled Into A Plastic Bag||Closing the Plastic Bag|
Add a straw and now it’s a drink to-go!
I’m not sure I’ll like the drink, but I’m willing to give it a try. I’m surprised, I really like it!
|Add a Straw and It’s a Drink To-Go!||It’s Tasty, Cool, and Refreshing|
|Drink To-Go!||Lynn Drinking Tejuino|
It’s tasty, cool, and refreshing
It’s time to deliver the refrigerator. The kids stay with their grandmother, we climb in the truck and off we go.
We drive through downtown Santiago. The streets are lined with small business.
|Time to Deliver the Refrigerator||Small Shops in Downtown Santiago|
|Refrigerator In Truck
||Busy Downtown Santiago|
On the way we stop at the local ice house. A block of ice is dropped into a grinder and crushed ice shoots out a long tube and fills our ice chest and covers the beer.
|Ice Plant||Crushed Ice Shoots Out the Blue Tube|
|Local Ice House||Crushed Ice Shoots Out the Blue Tube|
The main purpose of our visit is to deliver a refrigerator to a poor fishing family. They live in a small fishing community that catches and sells shrimp for a living. The government grants each fisherman an exclusive section of beach to fish.
A simple barbed-wire fence defines the property line for each family. Next door a baby pig tethered to a tree.
Jose and the father carry the refrigerator from the truck to the house.
|Neighbor’s Tethered Pig||Delivering the Rrefrigerator|
|Pig to a Tree Tethered||Delivering the Refrigerator|
The family we visit has three children. Two are disabled and medication for their care has severely depleted the family’s limited financial resources.
|Side Yard and Neighbor||Side Yard of the House|
|Side Yard and Neighbor||Side Yard and Neighbor|
Ibana volunteers to hold the baby while mom makes a quick run to the local Tienda.
The baby starts to cry. I ask Ibana, “Is the baby was hungry?” And I volunteer to get the baby’s bottle. Ibana gives me one of those ‘How you be so stupid looks?’ and says with a grin, “Out here, mom is the baby’s only source of milk.”
After a few minutes, the baby starts smiling again. Ibana puts the baby down for a nap in the cardboard lined hammock. Within moments the baby is asleep.
|Ibana Holding The Baby||Baby Taking Nap in the Hammock||Mom Rocking the Baby in the Hammock|
|Ibana Holding the Baby||Baby Taking Nap in the Hammock||Mom Rocking the Baby|
Ground water is used for cooking and bathing. The well is in the backyard and a tire circles the opening. Water is brought to the surface with a rope and bucket.
|The Well is Inside the Tire||A Rope and a Bucket Brings the Water To the Surface||Inside the Well|
|The Well is Inside the Tire||Rope and a Bucket Bring the Water To the Surface||Inside the Well|
It’s time for lunch: Ceviche is on the menu. No soap in sight. I’m positive I’m going to die of food poisoning.
Their pila lavadero, is a multi-use shallow cement sink. This is where they prepare food, wash dishes and wash clothes. This pila does not have a water basin.
The cucumber is cubed, the onions are chopped, and raw shrimp mixed in. Lunch is almost ready.
|Adding Onions to Chopped Cucumbers||Raw Shrimp in Sieve|
|Adding Onions to the Bowl of Cucumbers||Raw Shrimp in Sieve|
Dad squeezes fresh lime juice on the Ceviche. He adds plenty of lime, to make sure this gringo doesn’t get a tummy ache.
|Daughter and Dad at the Table||Lime Juice Added To Raw Shrimp|
|Daughter and Dad at the Table||Lime Juice Added To Raw Shrimp|
In Mexico, it is common to serve shrimp whole and it doesn’t matter if it is raw, dried, or cooked. Each presentation often includes shell, head, antenna, and “poop chute”.
As a guest and not wishing to offend, I eat a whole dried shrimp. Just like my host, Jose. As you can imagine the shell is crunchy. Not my favorite way to eat shrimp.
|Dried Shrimp Served Whole||Lunch: Whole Dried Shrimp|
|Dried Shrimp Served Whole||Dried Shrimp Served Whole|
We all enjoy shrimp ceviche and tostados along with cold beer. The cold beer is especially welcome. The food was much better than I had expected. Another lesson learned.
|Lunch is Served||Shrimp Tostados|
|Lunch is Served||Shrimp Tostados|
The local fishermen dry their fresh catch of shrimp on drying racks in the sun. A pound of dried shrimp sells for around $3.00 USD. They are often sold on the road side from truck tail-gates or on tables under a make-shift shelter.
It’s Sunday afternoon and time for us to head home. I say thank you and good bye to Julia and Chelo (Ibana’s sister)
We have a five hour drive ahead of us. I’m anxious to see Rick. This time the boys are in the back seat and the music is just fine.
Jose stops to buy some Yaka fruit. He wants me to taste the tropical fruit that is growing in Julia’s back yard.
As we are driving I eat a few pieces with my fingers. It is very sweet. Tastes something like cantaloupe and pineapple. And extremely sticky! No paper towels or rags. I hang my fingers out the car window to dry. After about an hour or so, the sticky syrup has dried and my fingers feel normal.
|Whole “Yaka” or Jackfruit||Arils (inside Yaka)|
|Whole Yaka||Arils (inside Yaka)|
We stop at the marina so I can go back to LA VITA and pick up some throat spray for Rick. Apparently, they don’t sell throat spray in hospital pharmacy or other drug stores in Puerto Vallarta.
After I get the medication, Ibana drops me off at the hospital. It’s after visiting hours, however, Rick is the only customer in ICU so they let me for a brief visit. It feels so incredibly good to put my arms around him! I really missed him!
It’s late so I take a taxi from the hospital back to the marina. I have my toiletries in my backpack so my first stop is the marina showers. As soon as I get on board LA VITA I hit the sack and sleep like a baby.
The next day, I return to the hospital and I discover Rick is busy learning how to play a new card game!
Thank you Ibana for inviting me into your world. It is an experience I will treasure forever.
Max and I become friends. Before we leave Santiago, he gives me a gift. A ring made out of copper colored beads.
|Max and Lynn||Max's Gift to Lynn|
|Max and Lynn||Copper Colored Bead Ring
Angel loves his video games. When I visited his family in their apartment, I showed him Google Earth. Within moments Angel had it downloaded and installed on his computer. Within seconds he was able to navigate to his birthplace and then get a bird’s eye view of his home here in Puerto Vallarta.
Hopefully, Google Earth will help him realize there is more to life than video games.