Summer in the tropics. The colours are vivid, the sun is hot, the sea is warm and the beers are cold. Fruit is falling from the trees attracting clouds of butterflies that surround us as we walk. The fast-growing jungle is alive with fast-moving lizards and slow-moving snakes. The birds are loud, the bugs are louder and the frogs are loudest. The cats sleep 23 hours a day. Living with this amount of nature is extraordinary but ultimately humbling. It’s been a mad month.
Again, the rains come and kick our arse. With absolutely no notice, we are treated to a solid 12 hours of hard rain. There was little wind to interfere with the falling water so we got the full benefit. We are stuck for a number of good reasons. The river that has settled in front of our gate meanders towards where the road to our treehouse begins. The strength of the water carves the place where the road and river meet into a small impassable cliff.
By wading through the water, we discover that a new flood path has temporarily formed overnight. The river to our North overflowed and re-purposed our roads as temporary water ways in order to entirely destroy the road heading to the jungle above us and remove all the earth from the road that we use to get to town. It’s a mass of deep holes and large rocks positioned in such a way as to take the undercarriage off anything that attempts to traverse it. We hear the town is flooded so we stay put,
We manage to get a large machine in to help rescue us. Within 24 hours we have invested seven hours of machine time and repaired our roads and moved many tones of earth and rock to divert the river so it can’t bugger up our access. We are impressed by our efforts and look forward to many easier days gliding down our new roads beside our much better behaved river. We are idiots.
Jake makes it back to the UK and is immediately tested positive for Covid. It is very likely he caught it here and it didn’t have time to show up on his pre-flight test. He is symptom free which is good news but entirely frustrating. He quarantines in a small room at his mate’s place In Darlington. He is very lucky in many ways. If he had tested positive before he left here and had to stay for a further few weeks he would have been stuck here. Mexico for the first time has been declared a red zone country by the UK. If we want to visit family we will now have to pay £2250 quid each for the joy of staying in a government prison/hotel for 11 days. This has effectively ended all travel to Mexico from UK. It also meant that with just a few days’ notice many thousands of panicked visitors from the UK have to get back before the deadline. Our friend spent many stressful hours trying to re-book flights or be stuck here indefinitely. It was chaos.
Again, the rains come and kick our arse. With absolutely no notice we listen to the downfall noisily try and pierce our roof. It’s impossible to listen to music or podcasts or movies because the rain is so loud. Lightening hits within feet of the treehouse and the subsequent thunder shakes our bones. We appear from a long sleepless night to find everything we did undone. Not only is the river back to where it likes to be but its toying with us. The massive rocks we moved to protect our road are gone. A new steeper and wider cliff has replaced them. As suspected all our lovely roads have vanished, replaced with larger rocks and deeper holes. We are very stuck.
There are rumors that we will be hit by a hurricane in the next week or so but it’s really hard to tell if this will actually happen. Hurricanes are forever coming up our coast but mostly make landfall in Baja or much further South. The cool air coming off our jungle discourages them getting too close and tends to protect us. This area hasn’t been smashed by a hurricane since 2012. We make the decision to repair our way to freedom one more time. We are idiots.
For the first time this year the town and beach are getting noticeably quieter. Finally.
In previous years the volumes of bodies on our beloved pristine sands reflected clear seasons. After Thanksgiving in Canada and USA there was an exodus of RVs and snow birds packing our shores to “winter” in Mexico. This marked the beginning of our traditional high season. Most of these folks are retirees avoiding the cold weather and needy grown up kids. This had the effect of raising the average age considerably. They stay warm and well fed for the length of their 6-month visa and head back North at Semana Santa to be replaced by hordes of low budget Mexican tourists making camp on the beach for two weeks. After Easter, there was notably less folk and everything slowed down. Shops and restaurants closed. We had a full 6 months before it got nuts again.
But, as we know, the world as we know it has changed. Last year the Canadian-USA border closed holding back the swell of RVs trying to escape the winter. A mass of well-aged Covid vulnerable travelers decide to stay put and spend time with grandchildren rather than bake on a beach getting fatter. RV parks that have had full occupancy for years with long waiting lists for spots are now completely empty. Bars and restaurants which had evolved to service Canadians and Americans of a certain age are empty. Semana Santa was effectively cancelled so all our season markers vanished.
The most surprising and unforeseen result of our new world order is that huge amounts of middle class Mexican tourists have descended on us throughout the year. Guadalajara and Mexico City have a large population of fairly well-off families that have been hard hit by Covid and restrictions have been brutal. Lockdown means lockdown. Soldiers on the streets. Life stopped. The traditional holiday around Semana Santa may have been shut down again this year but it just spread things out. Towns such as Sayulita that are used to mass tourism have been packed out into August. Our beaches have been filled with large loud Mexican families camped under umbrellas surrounded by coolers of Corona light. They have been joined by a fleet of shiny new cars carrying new luggage and well-dressed families that are filling all the rentals and hotel rooms. They eat at restaurants and buy stuff from shops. Like proper tourists. It does mean that we have a lot more imported Covid cases but it has helped the local economy survive and in many cases, thrive.
September is somehow here already, the schools are back up and running and the rains, heat and humidity is getting challenging so, thankfully, our little town is pretty much ours again. There is a solid group of lunatics who stay here all year around. We spend time together dealing with all the stuff that nature and life throws at us. A group of hardy souls agree to take a hike across swollen rivers to find deep swimming holes surrounded by high rocks to dive from. It’s good to get away, even locally.
We have been here for four years now. It’s hard to get into our heads that it was four years ago we naïvely turned up at Manchester airport with eleven bags and a surf board. We remember very clearly the hours and days of torment we have suffered getting our immigration stuff sorted. We have been official temporary residents here for a full four years which is the most we are allowed. It’s time to revisit the immigration office again and see what fresh hell they can inflict upon us before granting us permanent residency.
We make the journey over our re-repaired roads to the big city to see what awaits us. It’s a Friday and the office is open until 3 pm so we confidently arrive at 10.45 prepared to sit in silence for many hours while being stared at by security guards that shout at you if you get your phone out or look anything other than bored and miserable. Nothing so predictable. We are told that the office is too busy to see us and we are to return the following week. Ideally arriving at 7 am (two hours before they open) so we can secure a spot sometime later that day. Unless they get too busy again. We leave with the familiar feeling of being stunned by incompetence. We find a good lunch and leave for home. With luck, we may be able to get out of our jungle on Monday and see what happens then. We have no choice but to deal with these very special people as our deadline to get our residency is running out. If we miss it then years of torturous buggering about will be for naught!
Our friend is having a birthday in town. There is a plan to celebrate by having a “lady’s night” at the Cerveceria which is a flimsy excuse for boys to dress as girls. There is a worrying amount of enthusiasm for this plan. There is also a number of worrying radar images being circulated that suggest that Tropical Storm Nora is heading straight for us and gaining strength. It is forecast to hit us Saturday night as a fully formed hurricane. The thought of getting stuck in the jungle again is not something we look forward to. There is also the issue that we will likely have to get to the immigration office and potentially live there for days. We make a call to lock down the treehouse, pack a few bags, head to town and see what happens.
We meet up at the beach for a few early drinks. The hurricane is coming. It’s already raining and remarkably the waves are huge, the swell massive and moving almost horizontal to the beach North to South. We haven’t seen the sea like this. Neither has anyone else. A couple of clearly insane surfers take their boards to the beach and study the water. They soon re-gather sanity, think better of it and retreat to town without drowning. The rain gets heavier and all the bars shutdown and so we also wade through the already flooded streets and retreat to town. It’s highly unlikely we will be able to get home tonight.
There was a good amount of distraction at what turns out to be essentially a birthday drag party as the rains come in and the winds start taking down trees. There are at least three cars and two houses under branches by midnight. The streets are under water and gusts of 120 km/h whip rain at all angles into everything. We camp out at a friend’s house and awake to more rain. News from Puerto Vallarta is that it’s been hit hard. Main highway bridges are destroyed and houses have partially collapsed. We walk through the river/streets in the rain to the beach. The waves are again heading straight towards the beach which is how it should be but the lagoon has breached into the ocean. There are unspeakable human waste type things in that lagoon so we won’t be going in the sea for some time. We have a slow breakfast and decide to try and get home. We are not confident.
It’s soon clear we are in for some fun. We are unable to reach our first river. The road has concrete lumps sticking up from a deep crack filled with water. It’s not possible to drive over or past it. We park up and grab our bags and start the hike in. The water is fast and strong and it takes all our attention not to get tipped over. There are branches all over the roads.
We reach the second river and again struggle across. We meet a local lady who we help to cross back the other way. She tells us the next river ahead is way too dangerous to cross. We believe her and follow across her land to where there is access to our road through a hedge that bypasses this crossing.
The next thing we find is that the organic farm close to us has been badly hit again. Palm trees have blocked the road up to the highway and trees are leaning again their gate. One of the new massive concrete electric poles has come down and is leaning on their house fence dramatically. It is blocking any access by any vehicle. We avoid the downed power lines that sit in large puddles of water.
The next river is the one we respect the most. We know that people have drowned trying to cross. Thankfully one of the big machines that had been moving earth did some work in this spot and moved a island of rocks which divided the water and caused deep channels. The water is strong but not higher than our knees so we both make it. We meet our neighbor who comes out to greet us. He was at our place the previous night checking in on us. The winds were unprecedented and exposed any weakness in any tree. There are lots of branches and vines on the floor but also a huge tree that has entirely blocked the road 100 meters from our gate. Its impressively huge and not quite fully on the ground so full of tension. It will dangerous to use a chainsaw so we need to get a gigantic machine in to move it. We just manage to climb over it and cross the last river. We are home. It starts to rain again. We can see no obvious bad damage. The 150-foot-high Capomo trees are still upright. The treehouse still standing. We are thankful.
Morning arrives and it’s finally stopped raining. The sun is just coming up as we pack up every document we have and wade out to find our car. We arrive at the immigration office sometime before 10am. It is empty. No one there except staff. We learn that Puerto Vallarta has been effectively closed down as they recover from Nora. It appears the perfect time to arrive at immigration is the Monday morning after a devastating hurricane. Who knew?! We sign in and are immediately directed to a window where an inscrutable young lady who we recognise from previous visits takes our thoroughly prepared stack of documents and endless copies of everything. She sends us off to the bank next door and requests we return with further receipts and copies. Our mission is to keep her happy. Maybe even get her to smile a bit, so we comply.
Half an hour later we are again in front of our window. Happy-pants seems pleased enough with our progress but still no smile. We sit for an hour in front of the grumpy guards that are obviously even more bored than we are. They force me to wear my soaked shoes. Bare feet are unacceptable. We are then asked back to the window to sign a document. We then sit for another hour. We are the only people there. They have nothing else to do. It’s remarkable how they are dragging all this out.
And then it happens. A flood of activity. We are fingerprinted with their new electronic scanner machine. Our digital signatures are taken. A white board is rolled up behind us as our tired faces and wild hair filled with bits of tree are photographed from all angles. A further hour of sitting and we are presented with two plastic cards. Happy-pants gives us a small, tiny, slightly sarcastic smile. Each card has a photograph that looks nothing like us but have the words Residente Permanente written in bold type above. Our way home is strewn with power lines, power poles, downed trees and crazy rivers. We won’t have internet for a week and we are exhausted…. but… we never, never, never have to come to this immigration office ever ever ever again! It’s a great day.