Flats, Anty Pants & Mud
Our short break in Puerto Vallarta was well deserved but was perhaps not the healthiest of evenings. Sasha and I are both somehow feeling a touch grotty the morning after. Our mood does not improve when we are reminded that we at some point the previous evening “enthusiastically” agreed to find our friend’s car and mend her punctured tire. She had left it in a car park that we are tasked to find.
It’s 10 am and we are abandoned by the girls who have booked various highly important procedures involving coffee, nail polish and hair removal. We are to mend the car and then deliver it to their newly polished selves at the spa. We agree never to drink again.
It’s a hot old morning so we are thankful it’s a short walk to find the car in the almost empty multi-story concrete oven of a carpark. We are both sweaty messes so set ourselves the challenge of changing the wheel in record time. It does not start well. The car is a tiny toy version of a real car. How both of us will fit in this thing is a mystery? The miniature spare wheel is the size of a Frisbee. We find the wheel nut spanner, jack up the sill and prepare to remove the flat. After much confusion and more sweating, we discover that the provided spanner is designed for nuts a few sizes smaller so is effectively useless. We are buggered.
Thankfully a car arrives with a large family inside. We wait for them to park then approach slowly to practice our Spanish by requesting a loan of a more useful spanner. The family take a few steps backwards as we approach them. We catch our reflection in their window and completely understand why. We both look like entirely dodgy sweat soaked crack head tramps. The father of the family takes control and very quickly passes us his spanner in a clear attempt to get us away from his beloved family as quickly as possible. He watches us nervously as we swear and fumble with a now considerably oversized tool and give up. We return the spanner with as much gratitude as we can muster. The family leaves as promptly as they can after making sure their car is locked and they haven’t left anything we might steal.
Our solution to our predicament is not making us any more approachable. We take the undersized spanner and position it over the nuts. We have found a threaded metal eye bolt that was securing the spare Frisbee to the boot of the toy car. We take aim and smash the bolt into the spanner and force it onto the nut. It’s not subtle and for some time not effective either but we have decided that this is our only option so we get it done. After 20 minutes of loud echoey bashing the wheel is off and the Frisbee is on.
We somehow slide our damp smelly sorry selves into the tiny car and head off into town to meet up with the newly painted, buffed and fragrant girls. Surprisingly they are not as sympathetic to our plight as we might have expected. How very rude.
The heat scale is now officially ridiculous and still rising. Even our Mexican friends have been seen to sweat and that’s unheard of. Some days it’s like being wrapped in warm soggy bread but less comforting. Pretty much the only greeting I get these days is when I’m spotted dragging myself around like a full welly boot. Some smart bugger will shout: Mucha Calor (very hot) Beave !! They are not remarking on my sexiness. I reply with a weak wet smile from a pink soggy face. Good to communicate.
This time last year I was in the jungle solo, dealing with no water and seriously worried by the lack of rain. The roads were good and the rivers dry. This year there has been rain most days since July, the rivers are raging and we have practically no roads passable without a good 4×4. Some of the recent rains have been impressive by any standards. A few are blamed on tropical storms or hurricanes passing by. Others are just extraordinary downpours for many hours sent to remind us not to relax too much. Nature is an effective social isolator.
Despite the fun of it all the boys have been plodding away at our new road. We now have three sections completed. We don’t make life easy for ourselves sometimes. It has been decided upon that only the biggest, heaviest and most improbable to move rocks are suitable for the construction. The process of traversing the swollen rivers to dig out the remarkably heavy lumps of mountain and transport them up our hill is torturous. It’s a hard labor punishment from an unlikely prison movie. But we plod on. When I say we… I have a fairly constant low-level guilt that I’m not shifting rocks every moment of the day but quite frankly it would kill me.
There is the need to breathe. We agree that it’s important to take a break from the soupy air for the sake of our minds and bodies. San Sebastien de Oeste is an old mountain town founded in 1605 and a delicious 5000 feet above sea level. It’s only a few hours away from us. We recruit a small band of escapees and book a large house just out of the center. It’s delightful. I get to wear a shirt for more than an hour… no sweating. Our lungs are filled with fresh clean mountain air. We are surrounded by rolling hills and valleys. Grass. Butterflies. Long trousers. Sleeves. Socks. Shoes. Babbling brooks. Good food. Porcelain toilets. Blissful.
Specialty of the town is Raicilla. We hike by the river amongst a variety of giant agave plants which are the source of this unique liquor. Tequila is popular worldwide and Mezcal is becoming better known but Raicilla is the secret cousin of the agave family. We take full advantage to support the local economy.
Waking up in the mountains was healing and relaxing and exactly the change we needed. I am, however, once again reminded that my life and the natural world co-exist these days. A pre-hike breakfast is being created in the kitchen below our room so I eagerly grab my cargo shorts and attempt to jump into them. Bad idea. My legs are covered in thousands of what look like bloated rice grains. I quickly deduce that a fair-sized colony of ants has chosen my shorts to create a nest and lay eggs. Each of these little white lumps are protected by a grumpy warrior ant that is conflicted by its desire to protect its egg or bite me. Many of them commit to making a run for it but at least as many drop their load and attack me. It’s not a lot of fun. I make my own escape and return armed with a broom. I spend the next hour avoiding bites from highly dedicated ants carrying their precious eggs to safer places. These places include our bed, the curtains, our clothes and shoes. Eventually they are all forcefully and uncooperatively swept down the stairs to the outside courtyard. I have earned my breakfast in my pants.
We return to San Pancho refreshed with a restored love for our jungle home. A love that is forever tested but remains strong.
Burning Man is cancelled like everything else this year. Jayne is very much missing the whole process that we know so well. That month every year has been part of our lives for so long. It’s certainly strange to not have to give it any thought or energy this year and have no feelings of missing out. We decide to mark the day of “the burn” with our own mini-jungle event. We invite people to join us for a pool day and an early evening of shared nonsense. I found a few broken chairs in an overgrown wood pile and constructed a simple wooden fella and set him on a few larger logs. It’s been raining constantly for days and everything is soaked. We apply wax from candles to give it half a chance of burning.
As the sun went down and the fire flies started their dance in the trees we soaked the base in petrol and attempted to burn our damp man. It was perhaps less spectacular than it might have been but eventually, after a heap more petrol encouragement, the soggy bloke fell just before the rains came again.
Not for the first time, nor the last, our roads become rivers. Most folk manage to get out before the rivers rose too much. Everyone, except one, who parked his Toyota Hilux pick-up truck outside our gate. Despite the size and power of the truck it turned out to be not the best move. When morning came and the rivers relaxed to normal pace his wheels were deep in what had become the river bed. The rains appear to be bringing mud down from the highway construction up in the hills. It took a good amount of time and three snapped tow ropes before the sub pulled him out. That river mud is sticky!
With all the varying restrictions worldwide we are often asked if we consider ourselves irresponsible that we don’t take social isolating more seriously. We absolutely understand the seriousness of Covid 19 and the threat to our vulnerable. We respect everyone’s ability to stay sane amongst all the sensible and some more stupid restrictions. Our circumstances here are unusual. We meet our friends in our social bubble outside. It is true that we have a rather large bubble but it is very rare that we congregate indoors. In fact, it almost never happens. Restaurants and bars here are usually outside but we still have to have our temperature taken before we can cross the threshold. Masks are compulsory inside all shops. We do make a point of keeping an eye on each other and respecting everyone’s differing boundaries. We don’t hug each other like we used to which is a real shame. Human contact is essential to a healthy life.
This week we tested our luck without even knowing it. We had a late afternoon run down to Puerto Vallarta in the State of Jalisco which is about an hour South. We found oysters on the beach and picked up some non-essentials that we can’t buy this week because of an unexplained surprise ban on alcohol sales in the state of Nayarit. Independence Day & Jayne’s Birthday are both on the 16th September and we suspect the government wants to take the fun out of it.
We leave for home just after 10 pm. Flashes of lightening are becoming more frequent out to sea and in the mountains. We are halfway home when the sky opens. It’s almost impossible to see out of the windscreen even with all three of the Sub’s wipers going at full welly. We are pretty sure if this keeps up we will be trapped in town for the night and start making contingency plans. We keep going and manage to leave the rain behind us but suspect it is following close by. We are highly relieved to find the rivers passable and arrive home safely just as the storm catches us up. I open the back of the Sub to collect a few things and make it to the treehouse in record time. Dispute my impressively athletic speed I’m absolutely soaked to the bone.
It rains. It really rains. Hard, strong and long. We hunker down and accept our fate. The rivers will be full and impassable for some time. It could be worse. And for our neighbours that proves to be true.
The morning brings news of landslides and mud slides on the road we passed last night. San Ignacio was inundated within half an hour of us passing it. Large trucks were completely blocked in by mud. The road behind it closed due to landslides.
By mid-morning it’s still drizzling but the worst has past. The boys haven’t shown up for work which is unusual so we call them. They are confused that we don’t understand they can’t get to us. I put on my boots and jump in the Razor to explore. The road to the first small shallow river is fairly intact but the water trenches we dug are now a few feet deep and best avoided. Our small river is no longer a small or shallow river and the Razor falls into it with a surprising splash before the wheels find traction. I make my way to our gate. The rivers that have replaced the roads for the night have dragged down a bed of massive rocks as far as I can see up into the jungle. The road is gone.
I take the Razor and head to town to find out why the boys can’t make it out. A few hundred yards later I see clear why. The road-rivers have removed all the earth leaving nothing but piles of huge rocks and deep ravines. In low 4×4 I can just pass by in the Razor slowly rock hopping . It’s a superb machine but it’s on its limits and there are some bum twitching moments. I make it to the “big” river. I am stuck. Not a chance I can drive through it. It’s fast and very wide. The banks on both sides have vanished. There is nowhere to go.
On our side of the big river is Rogelio’s house that he built when he constructed our cabanas. I can’t reach him as there is a smaller but equally fast-moving feeder river between us. He and his wife and his teenage son live in the three-room structure. They are out front with a bunch of guys with shovels and things do not look normal. We shout at each other above the noise of the water in Spanish. He has had some problems I don’t fully understand so I carefully drive home, collect a shovel and walk back to see if I can help.
I manage to jump a few deep holes and wade across the feeder river leaning on my shovel for stability. I get to his house and see piles of furniture and clothes soaked and covered in thick glue-like mud. The banks of the feeder river above the organic farm opposite broke in the early hours and a wall of mud and water poured down the hill. It took out all the tobacco crop, fences and chicken houses before colliding with the river and pouring into Rogelio’s place. Every room in his house is under a few inches of wet mud and the area around it has up to a few feet of mud. He has lost pretty much everything he has. It’s a disaster.
Everyone is out to help. The organic farm is storing everything that can be saved and a large tractor and trailer is brought in to cross the big river. A large earth moving machines starts shifting the worst of the outside mud and we take it in shifts to dig out the rooms inside. It’s hard, hot work. It’s amazing how relaxed Rogelio and his family are. There is just a fatalistic acceptance that shit happens. No one was hurt. All will be better tomorrow, maybe.
Our issues with the road are certainly put into perspective. Some days later we manage to get a machine out to help us and we now have a very impressive flat wide, rock free road. We have never had one of those before. We don’t exactly want to encourage people to come up and bother us but it’s sort of bad form to have half a mile of rocks discouraging them.
Jayne’s birthday went rather well with a great feed on the beach in Sayulita followed by tres leches cake from the famous cake lady in the square. Mexican Independence Day was duly celebrated with the alcohol ban partially lifted at the last minute for no apparent reason so we were legally able to drink tequila with dinner and have a beer or two afterward. All rather civilised for a change.
The community is getting together to donate furniture and better stuff for Rogelio and his family. The roads work well and the rivers are passable. Only potentially a month or so of dampness left to cope with and eventually we get to dry out and smell a lot better. Can’t wait.