Thursday, March 26, 2015

COSAS PRECIOSAS – Images of Zihuatanejo

As our month here in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico draws to an end, we're full of mixed feelings. (I've shared some of them verbally in my previous post, The Price of Paradise.)

We'll miss the nearly overwhelming beauty of this place. Like the view from our villa out over Zihuatanejo Bay and a swath of the vast Pacific. We're a couple of blocks away from the beach, so, unlike the view from an oceanfront hi-rise, we see and hear and smell life going on in the foreground.

Still, those vistas, and those of the Sierra Madre del Sur behind us, are pretty much the long view. Those of you who know me—perhaps through my postings here at One Man's Wonder—know I tend to shy away from the long view.

I like to look for the little things: a detail of something bigger; the one member of the flock or school or swarm that's behaving differently; the shadow of something instead of the thing; something poignant or ironic; colors, shapes and patterns.

So here, in pictures, are a few such impressions of this year's stay in Zihuatanejo.

La Casa Anaranjada - The view at sunrise from Villas San Sebastian

Very Varied Berries - Fruit of an unknown shrub in La Ropa
Hot Tuna - A blushing, blooming nopal, Playa Madera
Stuck On You - "Gum tree" on the canal walk, near Plaza Kyoto
Blaze of Glory - Heliconia Psitacorum in La Noria
Foothold - Rhoeo (Tradescantia Spathacea), on cement wall, La Ropa
Dearly Departed - A poignant remembrance on Paseo del Pescador, Playa Madera

"We Liven Up Your Events"- Sign spotted atop a building in El Centro
Two Ways To Climb - Stairs with ficus just off of Playa Madera
Iguana Hold Your Hand - A resplendent five-foot-plus specimen seen in El Manglar
Old Man & the Sea - Jeff fulfills his dream of launching his own boat in Zihua

Abracadabra - A washed-up magic wand, Playa La Ropa
Yellow Streak - A rare rain brings out the colors of rocks along the Paseo in La Madera
Mutt & La Jefe - A black-and-white pup and her bodyguard along Rio Lerma canal

Anna By Heart - Grandkids sharing the fun at Paty's Marimar on La Ropa
Optimism - Typical Mexican construction, leaving re-bar for future new floors
See, Like This - Skipping stones in the canal outlet at Playa Principal
Los Colores - A lively mural brightens an alley at the south end of Playa La Ropa.
Banana Split - A banana tree stump, reminiscent of African Samburu & Sankara necklaces
Chickens Panicking...Too Late - Fresh pollo in a market on Av. Benito Juarez
What a Croc! - One of the three resident cocodrilos in El Manglar
Why, You Yellow-Bellied... - Great Kiskadee, also spotted in El Manglar

Study In Green - Limonada, the essence of refreshment, Zihuatanejo style
♫Hey-y-y, Macarela - Small fish, big thrill for rookie fisher Julie (w/Capt. Bernie)

Sombra Picada - A breezy afternoon on Pedro Acencio

Tequila Sunset - Adios to this incredible place till el sol comes 'round a few more times

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I sit in my dimly-lit hillside villa, overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay. A thin sprinkling of lights suggests the water's outline, the black void itself punctuated by just a row of swaying white anchor lights atop the masts of sailboats moored just off the beach. Beyond them, nothing but the Pacific some 8,000 miles to New Zealand.

Our living room has only three walls; the fourth, seaside, was never built, never needed in this mild-to-hot, two-season climate. Instead, a planter of pink bougainvillea spans the room, integrated with the formed-concrete structure as if it had all come out of the same mold.

So the delicious Pacific air, calmed from this afternoon's rambunctiousness, wafts in, as does the agreeable sound of live Santana covers from the beach down the hill and two blocks away. Still, every twelve or thirteen seconds the surf, like some insistent old lady, tries to hush the band.

   Occasionally, a sound makes me stop what 
   I'm doing and reminds me that this is Mexico.

Our end of Zihuatanejo—the La Ropa neighborhood—is usually pretty quiet. Its only arterial road passes the front entrance of our little cluster of rented villas, but traffic noise just kind of blends into the soundtrack of life—birds, people chatting, some construction activity down the street, and, always, the surf.

Occasionally, though, a sound makes me stop what I'm doing and reminds me that this is Mexico: ranchero music blaring out of some guy's truck; the hypnotically simple flute melody advertising the itinerant knife-sharpener with his foot-powered grinding wheel; and, just this morning, the commanding squawk of a few onomatopoeically-named chacalacas, a nearly pheasant-sized bird we're hearing in our part of town for the first time this year.

Sometimes, it's smells: the haze of wood smoke from brush fires in the surrounding countryside; the fresh, clean scent of the cleaning solution they mop our floors with every day; the floury, flowery aroma of fresh tortillas.

As I write, no fewer than five geckos cling to my white stucco ceiling, waiting for the unsuspecting bug to fly in. (Last year, we witnessed the epic stalk, strike and swallow when one took down a moth nearly half its size.) Now four of them are exchanging words in the corner of the kitchen. They sound like birds—raspy-voiced ones like grackles.

I'm tired. Sally and I walk the couple of miles into town every day—and back. There are a few long ups and downs along the way, as well as a couple where a similar ascent is concentrated into a much shorter run. Sometimes, we do the walk twice.

And the sun is powerful and pervasive. Even if you're not standing in its full, straight-down blast—the kind Richard Dreyfus experienced at that railroad crossing in Close Encounters—you feel it circumventing the shade of your visor, radiating up off the ground and every other surface all around you. We know now why many Mexicans still honor the tradition of the siesta.

While those who know better nap, we walk. We've learned the fine art of pacing ourselves, taking just a few blocks at a time and then resting a few minutes. We've discovered the choicest spots of shade along the route—several of them doubly blessed with not just shade but zephyrs of bay breeze captured and concentrated by favorably-oriented building walls.

It's not just this soft, moist air; this whole place is delicious. I've written many times about the colors, comparing them with rich, savory, spicy food. The pace of life is unhurried, not just for the locals, who know there's no point in stressing out over things generally beyond their control, but for us visitors, who relish their example.

I dream of gabbing away with a Mexican family in a real, unmitigated conversation over dinner or a game of Conquian or dominó.

There's always a sense of adventure here in "Zihua," at least for those of us for whom the locals' everyday experiences seem exotic. The constant presence of the sea. Taking a local bus and pasajero down the coast to La Barra de Potosí or Petatlan. The drama of everyone—from workers to street dogs to huge, prehistoric-looking iguanas—plying always-evolving strategies to compete for scant resources.

There's also the sheer presence of creatures that, simply because we're not used to them, can scare the living bejesus out of you. Last night as I turned back the covers from my side of the bed, I spotted something dark and leggy between the corner of the mattress and formed-concrete bed platform. On closer inspection, it turned out to be one of the biggest spiders I've ever seen—though not a tarantula, it was nearly three inches across.

I'm ashamed that I didn't figure out a way to accommodate the poor thing—like I have so many times, like with bats at home, a scorpion felt inside my pants leg in Texas and cigar-sized cockroaches in Costa Rica. I just couldn't abide the thought of this thing—whose intentions I had no way of knowing—having to scurry just twelve inches to explore my face.

Part of the adventure, for me, is finding situations in which it's sink or swim with my Spanish. For nearly a decade I've made this beautiful, melodic tongue my second language (actually, third, if you count German, whose hard, guttural sounds have never resonated with my romantic soul). I'm getting pretty good at it, and jump on every chance I get to practice my craft.

The other day, I attended a traditional lamb barbacoa with some fellow guests and friends and family of our host here in Zihuatanejo. I hope I wasn't rude to the non-Spanish-speakers, but I was just irresistibly drawn to the end of the table where all the Spanish speakers were sitting.

When I started learning Spanish about a decade ago, my very first objective was simply to be able to chat amiably with a cab driver about his life, his family and the fortunes of the local futbol or beisbol club. Now that goal has been far surpassed, and I dream of gabbing away with a Mexican family in a real, unmitigated conversation over dinner or a game of Conquian or dominó.

     I find myself unable to decide which is the 
     problem: that things are way more complex 
     than I'll ever know…or way more simple.

The people here are wonderful. Sure, we've met the occasional surly cab driver or waiter, but the vast majority of our interactions with Zihuatanejenses have been warm and engaging. In so many Spanish-speaking places we've gone, folks assume we're careless tourists who don't really give a rip about their lives and culture.

But here in Zihua., people seem quicker to take you as you are. It doesn't take them long to recognize my considerable investment in learning their language and getting to know a bit about Mexican geography and culture. They seem to really appreciate that. (Of course, I have to be sensitive to the flip side of the culture thing, which is that many Mexicans are eager and proud to show off their increasing grasp of English and of US culture.)

I don't know how Mexicans ever got the reputation, as they did in my parents' generation, of being lazy (This must have arisen in an era in which all "foreigners"—as if there were ever anyone else coming to settle in the US—were seen as challengers to every previous immigrant's slice of the pie.) The folks around here are some of the hardest-working we've ever seen—and often for the least reward.

     Most of us seasonal visitors wouldn't trade 
     places with these folks if it were the last thing 
     we did, yet, still, we envy them.

In the tourist industry, the inequities seem all the more poignant. Given the vicissitudes of seasonal demand and misconceptions about the omnipresence of narco violence, flu outbreaks and other perceived threats, the waiters and taxi drivers and maids and fishing boat captains and tour guides—I could go on—have, somehow, to fund a constant cost of living with a widely variable income.

We feel like we should somehow compensate them for this, while at the same time understanding that too much generosity can reinforce the rich-gringo stereotype and financially impact others who also have to live her year-round. This is just one of many examples of how, despite our growing sense of ownership of this place, we have to remember that we will never understand how things—the economy, politics, machismo and many others—really work around here.

I often find myself unable to decide which is the problem: that things are way more complex than I'll ever know…or way more simple.

I sometimes wonder how these hard-working citizens can seem so complacent in the face of inequities, poor infrastructure and widespread governmental corruption. Still, there's a profound strength about this community. We see it in big brothers and little brothers, daughters and grandmothers walking hand in hand; the colorful waste baskets and "Save Our Bay" signs along the beachside promenade, made by school children; in the large turnout every Sunday night for cultural events at La Cancha, Zihuatanejo's version of the ubiquitous zocalo; in what seems a universal pride in being Zihuatanejenses.

Most of us seasonal visitors wouldn't trade places with these folks if it were the last thing we did, yet, still, we envy them. If only we could have both our privilege and freedoms, and their unshakable values.

I guess this is why I so treasure my connections with Mexico and Mexicans. I can pretend to be that close to the real demands of a life totally committed to family, friendship and faith, without really having to pay the price.

The only thing I have to pay is money…and, I'd like to think, attention.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

BOUNDLESS WONDER – Extending Our Grasp of Beauty

The universe is immense beyond our comprehension. Yet this vastness is reflected literally at our fingertips. For there, in a single skin cell, exists another  “universe”—one of ever-smaller and smaller particles.

Human skin cells - PHOTO: CK-12 Foundation -

Even an atom, which itself is a ten millionth the size of the period at the end of this sentence, is made up of components that are proving every bit as hard to count as the number of bodies in the celestial universe.

Here, at Nature’s extremes, is where perspective begins to get a little weird. It’s fascinating to ponder how the infinitely big and the infinitesimally small are equally incomprehensible. The same goes for relative time, value and other less obvious qualities.

And, as physicists venture into the realms of quarks and quasars, we’re learning that the rules governing those concepts are going to have to change.

PHOTO: Sish Advexon -

Two things you might think would fall at opposite ends of a scale of time, size or space might, according to these new realities, actually lie right next to each other or even coincide. In these latitudes, large encompasses small; bad includes good; beauty has its ugly side. In everything lie the seeds of its opposite. And the astounding Intelligence that designed it all, at once everywhere and nowhere, looks on kindly as we endeavor to understand. 

       Wherever you may be in body or in 
       spirit, I hope you’ll choose to see beauty.

So the worlds I continue to explore around, within and beyond me are ultimately the same world. It’s all one, and it’s all good—the beginnings, the endings and everything in between.

What this means is that the extent of life’s wonders and mysteries is bounded neither by our skin-and-bones frailties nor even by time. No, the miracles we experience are limited only by our curiosity, our imagination and our faith. I hope you’ll choose to explore those boundaries. And, wherever you may be in body or in spirit, I hope you’ll choose to see beauty.

I’d consider it a great honor to join you for a leg of whatever boundary breaking you've undertaken, be it a walk in the woods, a quest for ideas or a journey of faith. Let me know the limits and barriers you've overcome. I have so much to learn.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Explore the place where sense & emotion overlap.

There’s a place where all the sense impressions that come into you churn and stew with stuff that’s looking for a way out.

Here is where true meaning and much of memory forms, and the essence, the aroma of it, exudes through your skin.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

THE DOG LISTENER – Getting Through to a Scared Pup

Sally called upstairs to me with an unusual note of urgency in her voice. Something about a dog. By the time I got downstairs, she’d already gone out the back door of our townhouse and into the central commons area we share with others in our complex.

A couple of our neighbors were out there too, and a dog. He was a spirited, young, mid-size golden-and-something mix. I could see at a glance that the animal was agitated—like he desperately wanted to find something or someone.

Sally quickly filled me in: the dog had been seen wandering around our complex for the past few days. He was obviously a stray. Everyone had been trying to get him to come to them so they could see if he had a name tag. But the poor thing was really spooked. Every time someone got close to him, he’d run away.

They’d called him; they’d offered him food; they’d even tried cornering him. Nothing worked. The day before, Sally said, someone had called Minneapolis Animal Control, but by the time the guy arrived, the wary pooch was nowhere to
be found.

   He lay down three feet behind me, let out a 
   big sigh and laid his head down on the grass.

Sally racked her brain for some way we could help the little guy. Eventually everyone else gave up and went back into their homes while she and I thought about what we could do.

As we watched the dog, now on the other side of the commons, I had a hunch. I asked Sally to stay where she was and to keep as still as possible. I walked very slowly about halfway to where the dog was pacing, eyeing us nervously. I didn’t know if I believed all I’d heard from PBS nature programs about avoiding eye contact with wild animals, but I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I kept my eyes on the ground, sat down on the curb, and just waited.

It didn’t take long. The dog started walking toward me, tentatively at first, but then more purposefully. He still slunk low, but his tail no longer tucked as tightly between his legs. He just kept coming all the way to where I sat, lay down three feet behind me, let out a big sigh and laid his head down on the grass.

Over the next few minutes, I was able to turn gradually and face the relieved animal, extend my hand and pet him. Eventually he let me attach a leash to his collar. 
       We are here not to dominate or exploit 
       Nature, but at her pleasure.

I was amazed by what had happened, but not surprised. The thing was, I knew it was going to happen. It was almost as if I’d been able to will it. And, though it’s surely presumptuous to think so, I believe there’s something to this. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I know it has something to do with faith.

This experience reinforced my conviction—despite our culture of self-reliance and control—that we are not always masters of our environment. Indeed, we are here not to dominate or exploit Nature, but at her pleasure. And part of what faith does for us is to reassure us that that’s okay.

This faith has no label; it’s not Christian, nor Buddhist, nor Muslim. In this case, it’s just knowing that if we approach the natural world around us on its own terms, with eyes, heart and spirit open, nature never fails to reward us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BLUE-SKY BLIZZARD – Awash in Wintery Wonder

This morning in the forest every branch and twig seems more slender for the epaulet of fresh snow atop its shoulders. The fine lines of dark taupe and raw umber branch and spread, etched in a Maya blue sky. Crisp post-Alberta-clipper
air hovers, breathless, at around zero.


I swear I can hear tiny creaks and clanks, whispers of those the hot water pipes in old buildings make, as still-rising sun heats the branches. Though nothing will course through them for another month and a half, there is movement. Imperceptibly, the rough, warm bark swells. Dampened by the first drops of snow melt, it exhales tiny wisps of steam.

Those slight, rising air currents merge and grow, and soon stir the branches. To my right, a few falling flakes catch glints of sun; then more to my left.

      The five-year-old in me opens his mouth and 
      catches as much as he can on his tongue.

PHOTO: Lee Rentz

I stand among trunks in a pool of sunlight. An inkling lifts my gaze, and suddenly I’m awash in a fine, dazzling-diamond mist. The five-year-old in me opens his mouth and catches as much as he can on his tongue. Though too little to even wet it, the snowy spritz quenches my grateful soul. And then, but for a few straggling flakes, it is gone.

I look to position myself under another snow shower, but the game of wonder whac-a-mole frustrates me. I guess the one prize will have to do…for now.

Friday, January 30, 2015


 Once in a while, look up.

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, wouldn't you? But, if you're at all like me, it's like breathing. You take it for granted; you forget that, occasionally, it needs your attention. Haven't you ever concentrated so much on something—you know, that body-and-soul concentration where you shut out everything around you?—that you realized you'd been forgetting to breathe?

Well, it's the same thing with looking up. We get so focused on what's right in front of our noses, or what's going on inside our heads, we forget that, of the 360-degree reach of our vision, about half of it—with all its wonders of wisp and wing, billow and beam—lies above eye level.

"A find is a terrible thing to waste."