Monday, July 14, 2014

Mexico Swimming Hole

The summer heat is here and we've been looking for some ways to get some relief other than just depending on air conditioning or fans.  A couple families we know recently posted some photos of a spot only a short drive from here that looked perfect to find some relief.  So, with some other hot and sticky friends and at least one person pretending to know where the hell we might be going, we set off to find what we hoped would be a cool oasis away from the heat of the coast for an afternoon.

Fortunately, this is a shot from the end of the day.  Storm was coming.
About 30 minutes out of Sayulita we made a turn off the main road, through a wall of lush vegetation, took a right at a fork in the road on a single lane jeep road and out into the fields we went.  No signs, no markers, no indication that what we were looking for was at the foot of these mountains.  A place you had to be told was there and directions on how to get to it since it does not exist on any map or guide.  A local's spot.  We kept driving down the dusty road for a while along side beautiful fields of pineapples and grassy open space.  Eventually, large shade trees started to fill in and we could see that the terrain was about to start up into the foothills and here is where we found our oasis for the day.

Our oasis.

Ashley, Amy and Michele.
After exploring upstream a ways to be sure we were not missing anything higher up, we settled down in an area that had a natural pool.  Lots of rocks to sit on and mostly in the shade.  The stream is fed directly from the mountains so it was cool and refreshing.  The humidity was much less here so it felt much cooler.  Slowly, the locals started to arrive and planted themselves in various parts of the stream to enjoy the day as well.  Everyone happy to be cool and comfortable for a couple hours. Very odd to be wet and not be sandy and salty from the ocean.  The kids brought their boogie boards to float around on and spent a good amount of time piling rocks up to make the natural pools fill just a bit higher.

Trace and Alex floating the stream.
At one point during the day Ashley turned to me and remarked that Dillon would have loved this.  He certainly would have and may have never left.  We miss our "good boy Dillon" and if we had known of this place earlier it would have been a regular place to visit so he could have just sat and enjoyed being cool and be by the water for a few hours.  A storm started to brew late in the afternoon so we called it a day and headed back to Sayulita only 30-40 minutes away.  Such a great spot to beat the heat and not one complaint from the chicos.  We'll be back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Quote From Another Adventure

I think Crystal says it well as I relate her comments to our own Adventure here in Sayulita.  She certainly speaks from experience as she has been on an Adventure of her own with her daughter for the past year and a half in Cozumel, Mexico.  I think we are agreed that this kind of experience ain't NO Corona commercial...but the rewards are incalculable.

"This is an amazing place that has the ability to humble you to the basement and watch how you crawl, all with the mastermind plan that the process will place gratitude and humility into your heart like never before, where it will stay for the rest of your life. The hard is hard, but the lessons and the good is far beyond excellent."

Crystal Blue

Read about her experiences at...

Sayulita Scenes - Nanzal Hill

Sayulita beach and Nanzal Hill...our "hood" in Sayulita.

Photo by Marcelo Moreno

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day 2014

My Father's Day present from our aspiring artist, Alex.  An original!  I love it!  She loves the new paints and canvases that Ashley and Grandmother brought her.  Apparently, if this does in fact show me surfing,  I have either wiped out or have ditched to avoid a "close out" and wasn't wearing a leash.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Immersion For Kids- Does It Work?

I sit here with our kids and a friend of theirs from school who slept over last night.  Their friend, Roberto, is Mexican and only speaks Spanish.  I drink my coffee listening to them have an in depth conversation in Spanish about "who knows what"(probably Mine Craft).  The level of Spanish they are speaking is too fast for me to understand very well so I continue to sip, sit, listen and shake my head in amazement of what our kids have accomplished in the time we have been here as far as their language skills go.

With our blog out there for others to read, I occasionally receive questions from parents who may not speak Spanish, are considering a move like ours and how their kids might fare learning a new language.  I cannot say how well or how fast someone else's kids will learn a new language and adapt to everything along the way but I can at least tell the story about what our kids' experience has been so far during our "Adventure".

First off, Ashley and I are not Spanish speakers.  Ashley took some college courses and I took German for 7 years but never actually used it.  Many expat families we know or have known here have at least one member with strong Spanish language skills.  This is not the case in our family.  In Kindergarten back in Park City, Alex was enrolled in a half hour after school Spanish program twice a week.  There she learned to say "Apple", "Dog", "Blue" and "Hello".  Not really a big head start.  We had a few DVDs at home as well but they really didn't hold the kids' attention very long and didn't cover much more than perhaps what Alex' Kindergarten level class did.

When we arrived in the fall of 2011, Alex was 6 and Trace 4.  We didn't know if we would be here all that long and couldn't justify the cost of tuition at one of the area private schools so the kids were enrolled at one of the local public Kindergarten/pre-schools.  The teachers and students there spoke virtually no English so all lessons they received were in Spanish.  Any early interactions our kids had there had to be done without the benefit of even being able to say "Hello, my name is.....".  Alex and Trace may have been the only north of the border kids to ever go to school there.  When you are new to any school, look different and don't know the language kids tend to be less than welcoming.  They took their "licks" on the playground for sure but to their credit they kept going every day.  Fortunately, after the first semester, the kids really started to be able to understand simple directions and phrases from their teachers and communication from some of the friends they were beginning to make.  I think they also realized that people really do speak in other ways.  At the beginning of the year it wasn't really something they actually believed or understood.  "People speak differently?"  A concept that took our kids some time to digest I think.  Once they understood that and continued to receive their daily lessons and communications in Spanish then things started to progress though slowly.  They began being able to speak in short phrases with their teachers and understand basic instructions.  For a kid, being able to understand the friends they were making on the playground was a big step as well.  Spanish was not some trick but a way that they would learn and make friends.  A beginning.

Alex was the first to catch on by the end of that year and was eager to show off her language skills any chance she got.  In just about any situation where Spanish was involved, she was there to try to translate.  It became a challenge for her and she loved it.  Trace, on the other hand, at only 5 years old at this time, was less than convinced that Spanish was a good thing.  After all, Alex was always there and could help right?

We decided to stay beyond our first year and decided to check out Escuela Del Mundo in San Pancho.  EDM is a Mexican Montessori school where only Spanish is spoken though the administration staff is bilingual.  Spanish for the kids in the classroom and administrators who Ashley and I can communicate with?  Sounds like a "win win" situation to us.  The twist on it was that Trace would be in a separate classroom than his sister for the first time and would have to figure things out for himself.  Alex had some bilingual friends in her classroom and was able to receive some help from them during the first semester but Trace was not so lucky and had to learn all on his own.  The first semester was a tough one for him as we saw some growing pains concerning his new situation start to surface.  The kids wouldn't play with him very much and he spent a lot of time during recess on his own.  From his teacher's point of view he was a still a model student in the classroom and fortunately he went to school each day without hesitation.  All Spanish, all day and it began to make a difference for him.

The second semester is where we really saw a change in Trace and suddenly he became the eager translator as Alex was.  They even squabbled about who was going to help Ashley or myself understand what was being said in the store or by someone speaking to us on the street.  When language started to click for Trace, then the socialization started to pick up as well.  A much happier kid and it showed during the rest of the year.  The kids at EDM are not kids who turn Spanish on during school and go back to English when classroom time is over.  They live, learn and play in Spanish since most of them are native Spanish speakers.  I feel this made such a difference in both our kid's progress in picking up the language.   Alex did great things in the classroom as well and her teacher let us know that she was even giving reports to the class in Spanish   What?  Our Alex?  The year ended strong for both kids, especially Trace, and we were eager to see what language progress the next year would bring.

This year at Escuela Del Mundo saw both kids in the same Montessori classroom and daily Spanish exposure has really ramped up.  They have even helped other kids with developing Spanish skills in class.  Paying it forward.  This has become the time where socialization has become a big part of the kids world not just in school.  It is one thing to go to school and speak a language for all or part of the day but when school is done and the kids have to continue using the language with friends on the outside then things really start to solidify.  After school activities, play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties etc were the norm now.  The kids were getting 6 hours of Spanish in the classroom each day.  At the end of the day they went on to play dates with their school friends who, for the most part, only spoke Spanish or on to after school classes taught only in Spanish.  The kids Spanish exposure would go on for days not just a couple hours in the classroom.  Here is an example.

Thursday School in Spanish:  6 hours
Thursday after school class in Spanish: 1 hour
Friday School in Spanish: 6 hours
Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon sleep over in Spanish:  24 hours
Sunday birthday party in Spanish: 3 hours
Monday School in Spanish: 6 hours

You get the idea with this example but this kind of thing goes on all week.  Not just a few hours in class.  Hours and hours of this degree of exposure among native speakers.  Our kids have had success picking up a new language simply because of the hours spent listening to it and using it.  They have had very little, if any, hand holding along the way.  Their classroom, their friends, most of their socialization is virtually all in Spanish these day.  No one sat them down and taught them "how" to speak the language.  They have been coached a little along the way and we have been told that Alex is somewhat picky about getting things right, but they did not grow up with it or have it at home in any meaningful way.  Could we have predicted that the kids would have survived this "swim or sink" education?  No.  If we had known the route the kids would take to get where they are now, would we have agreed to it?  Probably not.  Like many parents, we would have most likely underestimated our kids ability to adapt and persevere.  They have not only "persevered" but are now thriving in my opinion as I listen to them everyday.  They certainly have my admiration for what they have done and accomplished to this point.

I remember an encounter during our "Month In Sayulita" in March of 2011 before we committed to this "Adventure"  One day we ran into a pack of what looked to be "north of the border" kids at one of the ice cream shops and unexpectedly they all spoke to the woman behind the counter in Spanish.  They received their ice cream and ran off to the Plaza like it was nothing.  It was "nothing" for them to operate this way.   I still remember this as I stood there totally impressed as to how well these kids were communicating and hoped our kids would be able to roll like this someday.  Well, now they do.

Has there been a downside?  I cannot say that these are true "downsides" just yet but we have seen some side effects of our kids "Immersion".  Trace's brain has been processing two languages since he was 4 years old and had very little reading experience before leaving the States.  Though his speaking skills are strong in both languages, his desire to learn to read has not developed in either language.  His teachers have said it is normal so we continue to expose him at home but not with a lot of pressure.  He is catching on but when you see letters in a word that have multiple pronunciations depending on what language is being used I am not surprised he does not enjoy the idea of reading right now.  Alex, on the other hand reads and writes well in both languages and actually speaks better in Spanish.  Her brain processes slower in English but flows better in her new language.  Native speakers have remarked on it.  She even admits that she doesn't know how to say things in English though she could explain to you exactly what she wants to say easily in Spanish.  Interesting, unforeseen side effects for sure but not things that we don't believe won't work themselves out in time.

 Can we honestly say that "Immersion" has worked for our kids?  We believe so.  Can we pat ourselves on the back as far as the route we took to get our kids to this point?  Probably not but it wasn't a planned course to begin with.  We were recently told that a language teacher we knew said that "Immersion doesn't work".  We were surprised by this.  Have you spoken with our kids lately?  Well, it may not work for everyone but for our children it has given them a skill to not only live here more enjoyably and effectively but has exposed them to a whole world here that they would not have had access to had they not learned to speak Spanish.  They interact just as easily with English speaking people as well as native Spanish speakers.  Even locals who have known us since we moved here have positively remarked on the kids' ability to communicate now.   "Are they fluent?" one might ask.   Per the definition, I can say yes, they are "fluent" since they can "capably use Spanish easily and accurately" but are they 100%?  No.  But in another year or two, at this rate, I think they will take with them this skill that will positively effect their lives forever.  What a tool to have at such a young age!

Sayulita At Night - Sayulita Scenes

Photo by Evrim Icoz Photography

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrate The Beat

Celebrate The Beat came to the area again this year and Alex was finally old enough to participate.  What is Celebrate The Beat(CTB)?  You can read all about this great not-for-profit program by clicking the link above.  Briefly, in there own words:

Our Mission is to teach inspirational music and dance classes that help children discover their potential by motivating them to believe in themselves, to value artistic expression, and to develop a personal standard of excellence.

There is a lot more to it than this and you really have to see a performance to understand the results.  We were encouraged to attend one of these performances a couple years ago and immediately became one of our favorite events.  The staff from CTB goes to local schools and gathers kids of a certain age who are interested in participating in the program.  It does not matter if the school is a one room classroom or a larger school in a bigger town.  The kids are assembled and during the course of a few weeks they are taught some basic dance moves, choreography and then they join other kids from other schools for a large performance.  The kids perform identifying their school associating by wearing a colored T-shirt.

This is NOT some polished dance recital.  Some kids can really move and dance, some kids really can't but that's not the point of the program.  These kids are out there giving it all they have with only a T-shirt, a smile on their faces, the skills they have and the coaching they have received in the previous weeks.  The smiles and energy are contagious and the kids walk away from the experience for the better and so do those in attendance.

Alex watched from the sidelines the past two years until she was welcome to attend a dance class last spring given by the fantastic "Maestra de Dance", Colleen and her staff.  When CTB came around again this year, Escuela Del Mundo did not have a group of their own so based on Alex' participation last year in Colleen's class she was welcome to join a group called "Grupo de Excellencia" represented in orange.  She was the youngest participant in her group. This is where Ashley and I play the proud(and amazed parents) since Alex has not really had any dance experience.  She does not even turn on music and dance in front of the mirror or see dance on television.  How she understands movement, beat, rhythm, coordination and stay cool on stage performing is beyond us.  Ashley danced when she was young and I've always been active and fairly athletic.  I guess some of those genes have passed down to our daughter in some way because it has been amazing to watch her just go do it and do it well.  She loves it and that's what matters.  You will see in the video Alex' "wardrobe malfunction" when someone stepped on her shoe and she tries like crazy to keep going and pull her shoe back on.  Got to love live performances.  Can't wait until next year.  

There is more to the performance than this but these videos highlight most of the action that Alex' group was in.  If you are not into the Spanish introductions, you can forward past the first two minutes or so of Part 1.  Perhaps videos only grandparents will love but fun to say the least.

Part 1

...and part 2

...and part 3

...and part 4

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

San Sebastian del Oeste

Last weekend we had yet another five day weekend so I thought it would be fun to get out of town, in Mexico, with my family.  On the pacific side of Mexico the mountains come right to the sea, so even though we live on the beach every time we drive to Puerto Vallarta we see beautiful huge mountains  which always remind me of Utah.  We have been wanting to explore those mountains but we were either lazy, didn't have enough time or we had Dillon to think of.  As much as we miss Dillon and wish he were here we do have a bit more freedom these days.

 I met a Delta pilot in line at customs here in Puerto Vallarta about 2 years ago who owns a casita in San Sebastian that he rents out and after a quick email learned that the casita was available.  Yeah, we are finally going to the mountains!  And it is only a two hour drive from here.

Casita Alicia
San Sebastian used to be a thriving mining town in the 1800's  with a population of 20,000.  Today, there is no more mining and the population is about 600.  The town itself is small, we wondered how 20,000 people actually fit in it.  All of the streets are cobble stone and most are super skinny.  The houses and structures are right on the street.  Very European and actually the town adopted the Spanish style in that its colors are basic white and red with tile roofs.

As in every town, San Sebastian had its plaza and local church.  We picked a great weekend as they were having their annual Racilla and Cafe' celebration in the plaza.  Racilla is tequila's lesser known sibling and is often called "Mexican moonshine".  It is also made from the agave plant as tequila but real "Tequila" has to also be made in the town of Tequilla to take on it's name.  There was also free local food and Mexican entertainment and an orchestra on Saturday night.

The local church
Inside the church.  Alex was a bit frieked out and would only stand at the entrance.
Tourist season had pretty much ended so we found that we were the only Gringos in town.  We also learned the true meaning of "siesta".  Being from the States and Sayulita, both of which do not have time for siestas, we ventured out at around 4:00 to look around and get an early dinner.  HAHA.  It was as if the evacuation horns had gone off but we didn't hear them.   Ah, so this is "siesta".  Virtually all the windows and doors were closed in town so we went home and ventured out later.

 We also learned that theft is a non issue there considering the one key we used to lock our casita.  Unlike Sayulita, almost no homes had bars on the windows.

We figured that if we got mugged we could beat them with our key.
We loved waking up in the morning and sitting on the porch with a beautiful view, crisp air,  listening to the leaves clapp and wearing our fleece.  It was so quiet without the ocean waves in the background.

Our beautiful view
Ozzy enjoying the peace and quiet in the sun with his morning coffee
Everybody's day is better when Trace wakes up on the right side of the bed

We took a couple hours and drove down the road, through and old gate and found Hacienda Jalisco.  The structure was originally built by the Spanish 200+ years ago as a secure place for ore transfers but is now a B&B of sorts.  The remains of the ore smelters, stables and grounds can be toured as well.  We had a private tour with the son of the caretaker who was on a school holiday.  Worth the 40 pesos.

Hacienda Jalisco
On Sunday we drove 40 minutes up to La Bufa, a local mountain peak, and hiked to the summit which sits at about 7000 feet above sea level.  It felt like hiking in our neighborhood in Park City with the coolness, air and smell of evergreens until you came upon a huge agave plant and we were reminded that we were not in Utah anymore.  I couldn't help but think how much Dillon would have loved it up there. 

Giant agave

The view from La Bufa.  San Sebastian is in the lower right corner.

San Sebastian from above

I am so happy to be back in the mountains but I wonder if there are any waves back home.

This trip marks our first real Mexico adventure that was not surf or friends related.  It was close and easy to get to.  For a short weekend it was totally worth the effort to explore a very, very small part of this area of Mexico's history.  Hopefully, this is just the beginning of our trips here in Mexico.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anthony Bourdain says...

A brief article from Anthony Bourdain about Mexico.  For some reason Anthony Bourdain, in some small part, helped light the fire that pushed me towards considering this adventure...and eat of course.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


What is "Capoeira"?  I found a very simple definition describing Capoeira as "a Brazian martial that combines elements of fight, acrobatics, music, dance and ritual".  This is a very generic definition and I mean no disrespect by breaking it down to this simple form.  Alex and Trace have been involved in a local program of Capoeira since last fall.  I honestly couldn't tell you what it REALLY was until this past weekend.  I would usually watch the last 10 minutes or so of their 2x a week class and be very happy they went eagerly to each class, were meeting new kids and were dedicated to the program.  Most importantly for me was that they were getting "coaching".  I was always a coached kid and learned so much about dedication, discipline, respect and hard work from the coaches I had growing up.  I wanted that same type of experience for our children beginning at a young age and I hope this program could provide that.  This past weekend a "Batizado" was held for the kids in the San Pancho program.  A "Batizado", again in a simple definition, is an annual gathering to learn and practice with more experienced students from other schools and to acknowledge the accomplishments of it's local members. This kind of event strengthens the bonds of the larger, overall Capoeira community.  Instructors came from other programs to support the gathering and during the "Troca de Cordas" ceremony each youth was given a new belt and a few moments to showcase their new skills to the community and with more accomplished instructors and members.  You can see Alex and Trace's moment in the YouTube link.  The level of energy that the group brought to the event to support the kids was amazing as the music and voices were bouncing off the walls and ceiling.  It was a very proud moment (watery eyes included) for Dad as the kids were the only ones in their age group moving up from their current level so their portion of the event was together.

It's during this ceremony I saw Capoeira at a very high level as some of the adult members/instructors took the floor.  Unbelievably impressive how fast, powerful, fluid and skilled many of these people were.  I really liked the fact that there were many women involved.  Alex has remarked that she is now the only girl in her class and for her to see older teens and even some of the moms of her friends at school participate was important.  One exceptionally skilled young woman even had a red bow in her hair which I thought was interesting.  Hair in a pretty bow and a bad ass as well.

I had never heard of Capoeira before we came to Mexico.  Other martial arts programs in the States were much more visible.  Now, the kids have entered into an amazing community and have been included in such an amazing experience due to our decision to relocate here.  I really hope they have the desire to continue and pursue higher levels of skill, discipline and grow in such a positive environment.  They really have no idea what they have accomplished in the short 2 1/2 years they have been here and their involvement in this program just adds to what kind of people they are becoming.  If you ever are here and a "Batizado" is being held, please make an effort to attend.