Of doctors and computers

26 01 2014

Scottish Wife and I have been in Guayabitos for three weeks now. Rincon, as it’s also known, lies about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta and considerably south of the fog-bound Comox Valley. Please don’t think I’m being smug here: smug is a term more properly applied to our fellow hotel guests who hail from Winnipeg and points east and who have swapped -40 degree wind chill temperatures for +28. Those guys are positively brimming with smugness.

Leaving the balmy weather aside (along with the white sandy beaches, the palm trees swaying in the breeze and the 12 peso beers), I don’t want to give the impression that life is a bed of roses here. There’s always something to complain about. In my case it’s the internet access, or lack of, here at the otherwise impeccable Hotel Loma Linda. I don’t want to say I’m an obsessive, but it’s very hard for me to go through an entire day without an update from the world of sport. Whether it’s the latest news from the hockey pool (encouraging), Southampton FC (mixed) or the England cricket team’s tour of Australia (disappointing verging on humiliating) I need to know how things stand so I can enjoy the rest of my day. To put it kindly, however, our internet access thus far has been somewhat patchy.

And talking of patchy, yesterday I woke up with what seemed like a bunch of mosquito bites on my back. All part of the rich tapestry of life in Mexico, I thought, and headed off to the beach. There we bumped into our friend Kathy, who immediately said ” I don’t think those are mosquito bites, Dave. I think you’ve got shingles.” Like many males I have blind faith that medical ailments will tend to sort themselves out if just left well alone, but as soon as we got back to the hotel Scottish Wife went to look up the symptoms of shingles on the computer. Sure enough, the internet was down again. By now, however, SW was in full Dr Julie mode and sent me off down the street in search of a doctor. I quickly found a shingle (a sign! a sign!) above an alleyway next to a restaurant saying “Dr Vladimir Muñoz Valles, Médico”. I looked high and low, but for the life of me I could not see any sign of a doctor’s office. After a few minutes, a waiter from the restaurant came out to ask if I needed help. He said the doctor was away in Guadalajara but would be back later tonight. I was somewhat surprised that he knew so much about the doctor’s comings and goings, but wrote a note on a piece of paper he gave me, asking the doctor to phone our hotel and, if possible, give me an appointment on Monday.

Back at the Loma Linda, there was still no luck with the internet, but we were assured that it would be sorted out soon and that a technician would come round to each room if necessary to enter the new hotel code. And so, at 8.00 this morning (Sunday) I wasn’t totally surprised when there was a knock at the door and a young man in a green tee shirt presented himself. “Ah, gracias, gracias,” I said, and pointed to the computer on the table. He seemed a little confused, so I said helpfully ” Computadora?” “Ah, no,” came the reply. “Soy doctor”.

Five minutes later the diagnosis was confirmed – shingles (or ‘herpes’, as it is somewhat embarrassingly called in Spanish) – his call out charge (400 pesos, about $35) had been paid and  I had a prescription for the necessary meds. That’s not quite the end of the story, however. An hour later, having picked up the meds from the nearest pharmacy, I found myself walking past the restaurant by the doctor’s sign again. And who should I see behind the restaurant counter? Dr Muñoz himself, still in the same green tee shirt, and smiling at me as if it was the most natural thing in the world for a doctor to be making a home call to a patient one minute and then serving breakfast in the family restaurant the next.

Doble dipping, Mexican style. (Seriously, can you imagine a Canadian doctor making house calls and then heading off to work in the family restaurant?)


When I got back to the hotel the receptionist wanted to know how I was (it’s apparently an unwritten rule at the Loma Linda that everybody who works there knows absolutely everything about your personal life). “Bien, bien”, I said, and told her how impressed I was that a doctor would make a house call to a stranger at 8.00 on a Sunday morning, charge only $35 and then go back to his other job, serving omelettes and huevos rancheros. “I can’t imagine that happening in Canada,” I said. “Ah, señor David,” said Maira with a smile. “En Méjico, todo es posible! In Mexico, everything is possible!”

Que les vaya bien, amigos!

Dave B.


Viva Guayabitos!

1 02 2013
Mis esposas!  SW and BF Mickey on their early morning walk. I love the fact that 'esposas' means 'handcuffs' in Spanish, as well as 'wives'.

‘Esposas’. Scottish Wife and amiga Mickey on their early morning stroll.
I love the fact that esposas means ‘handcuffs’ in Spanish as well as ‘wives’.

Well, it’s our last full day in Guayabitos so it’s not surprising that I’m thinking about the four weeks we’ve spent here – and anticipating with some trepidation the weather that awaits us back in Comox. Tomorrow will be the last morning for quite a while that we”ll be able to roll out of bed at 7.00 or 7.30, pull on shorts and tee shirts and be walking along the beach 10 minutes later with blue skies overhead, white sand beneath our feet and dodging the pelicans that congregate around the fishing boats that have been selling shrimp and dorado (not to mention shark) since they came ashore at 6.00 after a night’s fishing.

But much as I love the gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery here and, if I’m honest, the ridiculously cheap beer (I’ve just got a $6 refund back from the corner store across the street for the empties on a 24 flat of Pacifico that only cost $22 in the first place), I think it’s the people of Guayabitos and La Peñita that really make this place special. I’m thinking of folks like Juan, handyman extraordinaire at the Hotel Loma Linda, who I see every morning at 7.00 when I go down to the lobby to grab a coffee and who’s been on duty all night and will be working again during the day and yet still has a smile on his face and time for a chat. The cleaning ladies (Vero, Rosa, Lola, Carmen et al) are rightly proud of their work and it’s a pleasure to hear them singing as they go about their business. They are very patient with my amateurish attempts at Spanish and put up with me when I lapse into teacher mode and try to get them to master a few phrases in English.  Lulu, on the front desk, collapsed in giggles this morning as Vero tried to repeat “I’m very well, thanks. And you?” and I kept saying “Good, Vero. Now try it again!”

And then there’s all the other folks that I see every day as I walk down the Avenida Sol Nuevo or along the beach. Not once has anyone failed to reply – not once – when I’ve said “Buenos días” as I passed by. These are people who, compared to anyone I know in Canada, lead tough lives. They work long hours for low pay and yet don’t seem to begrudge the gringos who spend their days lying by the pool or on the beach and their evenings in bars and restaurants. Maybe the resentment is there and I’m just not seeing it, but they strike me as good, honest, hard-working, God-fearing folk – just the sort of people that Mexico needs as it takes the difficult step from being a third world country to a first world economy. As the recession bites in the USA and fear of discrimination against ‘illegals’ rises, many well-educated emigrants are returning home and bringing their skills and savings with them. This can surely only lead to the rise of a strong Mexican middle class and a stronger economy with it and less of the historically huge divide between the haves and have nots.

Anyway, here are a few pictures I took on my way to the beach a couple of mornings ago:


This señora looks serious, but when I showed her the picture and told her she would soon be ‘muy famosa en Canada’ she burst out laughing.


8.00 a.m. These guys have a long, hot and dusty day ahead of them…


No point being in a rush when you’re heading down the main drag in Guayabitos…

No point at all...

…no point at all.

So to all the good folks of Guayabitos and especially to Brenda and Jesse and all the staff at Loma Linda, there’s only two things to say:

“Muchas gracias” and “Viva Guayabitos, viva Mexico!”

Woo hoo! Julie celebrates the news that we're booked up again for next year.

Woo hoo! Scottish Wife celebrates the news that we’re booked up again for next year.


Dave B.

Only in Mexico…

22 01 2013

“The past is another country: they do things differently there.” I’ve loved this quote – the opening sentence of L.P. Hartley’s novel ‘The Go Between’ – ever since I first read it. At the risk of being somewhat simplistic, I love Mexico for much the same reason – they do things differently here. Every day we spend in Guayabitos, a small resort town an hour or so north of Puerto Vallarta on the left coast of Mexico, brings a moment when Scottish Wife or I will say: “Did that really just happen?”

Take this morning, for instance. There we are, having breakfast in Abel’s, a palapa just down the street from our hotel, watching the world go by as we wait for our huevos rancheros to arrive. Mum on a bike, one kid sitting on the crossbar and a smaller one perched in a panier on the back. Motorbike behind, two young lads between dad and the handlebars, not a helmet between them. And behind the motorbike is a garbage truck, two guys stood on the rear bumper with a third swinging precariously from the open passenger side door at the front. Anyone watching from Health and Safety Canada would have had an apoplectic fit right then and there!

Then there was our visit to La Peñita a couple of days ago. It’s a good forty minute walk from our hotel along the beach, over the Bridge of Doom and through the back streets until you get to Hinde and Jaime’s restaurant/bar. It’s well worth the trek, however – a massive shrimp omelette for fifty pesos ($4) and beer at 15 pesos a bottle means you need have no concerns over starvation or dehydration. The last ten metres were a bit of a challenge though: guys were digging up the street and your options were to walk right through the hole they were making – timing it just right in order to avoid the backhoe – or tiptoe along a sort of narrow plateau which led to the side door entrance.

Urged on by Hinde, Scottish Wife clambers up the last few metre across the abyss and into the bar

Urged on by Hinde the owner, Scottish Wife clambers up the last few metres across the abyss and into the bar.

The beach in Guayabitos is always a hive of activity. The vendors spend long hours trudging up and down the sand, most of them knowing by now that we’re not going to buy another hammock, or a braided bracelet or an inflatable dinosaur or a rubber chicken even though each item is either guaranteed to be “very cheap, almost free” or, disarmingly, “more junk you don’ really need”. We laugh and say “no, gracias” for the umpteenth time and get on with our game of boules. Some of the vendors join in the game for a few minutes, but our favourite is the old guy selling donuts who shouts “malo, malo” at us every time he sees us playing. We know we’re bad at boules, but it’s still kind of shocking to be scorned by a beach vendor. Some of the Mexican tourists bring all sorts of paraphernalia with them to the beach while others amuse themselves in a more old fashioned style. The parents of the nipper below were perfectly happy for me to take a picture of their son fast asleep on the sand, surrounded by cans of Pacifico, one of the most popular beers in these parts:

Heavy night, amigo?

Heavy night, amigo?

Right next door to our hotel – in fact less than ten metres from our room – is a field in which are kept half a dozen horses used for riding trips for tourists. In the same field are a couple of dogs which will be quiet during the daylight hours and then bark incessantly throughout the night. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it means we can’t hear the rooster which has absolutely no concept of restricting itself to welcoming each new day; it just starts crowing whenever it darn well pleases – usually as I’m getting settled into my afternoon siesta. There are also a couple of large iguanas that sun themselves on the branches just above our balcony. (SW and I have come to like iguanas on the basis that they are some of God’s quieter creatures). Anyway, we were excited last week to see a young foal from the field being taken down to the beach for its first swim in the ocean, along with its mum. It took to it like, well, a duck to water:

A foal gets its first taste of the ocean.

“Piece of cake, eh Mum?” Those are pelicans on the boat in the background, seeing how he gets on with this swimming lark.

Of course, getting to the beach this week is not quite as easy as it was then. Guayabitos had heavy floods back in July, so the town decided to put in a new drainage system from the Avenida Sol Nuevo, the main street, down all the access roads to the beach. And they start work on it now, just as the tourist season is getting into full swing. No problem, though; even though there’s tape everywhere saying ‘prohibido el paso’, the workers just smile and wave you through. Just make sure you time it right, though – that digger’s not waiting for anybody!

No hay problema!

“Pase, señor. No hay problema!”

Not quite how we’re used to roadworks being done back home in B.C. (although, as my buddy Stu pointed out, town planners everywhere clearly have a few things in common, whatever country they’re from). But, as I said at the start, they do things different in Mexico – and that’s part of why we love it here.


Dave B.

P.S. I have to add this bit: Mickey, Stu, Julie and I went out to a taqueria (taco place) this evening. Great food, lively atmosphere, probably 75% Mexican customers, 25% gringos. A busker came in and sang a couple of songs, finishing with the Spanish version of  Sinatra’s classic ‘I did it my way’. We chucked in a couple of bucks for a tip, all in coins, and the table behind us threw in a 20 peso bill. ‘Demasiado’ said the singer (‘Too much’) and gave them 5 pesos change. Only in Mexico…

Field of dreams (Mexican style)

20 01 2012
Iggy, on my bright yellow golf bag. Luckily, no sign of 'el escorpion'...

Iggy, on my bright yellow golf bag. Luckily, no sign of ‘el escorpion’…

Just about every Christmas, for the past dozen years or so, my family and I have spent a fortnight in Barra de Navidad, a small town on the Pacific coast of Mexico, four or five hours south of Puerto Vallarta. Two weeks in the sun when Vancouver Island was getting wind and rain, maybe even snow, was just what the doctor ordered. We’d stay in a small family-run hotel two blocks from the beach, spend most days playing in the waves, go out for supper most nights and partake of potentially lethal margaritas concocted by our good friend Wayne (aka Dr Death). In other words we did what tens of thousands of Canadians do in Mexico every winter: overindulge and have a blast.

I don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a good time, but every year I would leave Mexico with just one tiny regret: I never got to play golf. Just across the bay from Barra was a five star hotel called Grand Bay. It was the sort of place where, if you had to ask how much it cost to stay there, you clearly couldn’t afford it. It had its own five star golf course, Isla de Navidad, that was absolutely gorgeous. It also happened to cost $220 U.S. for eighteen holes. Admittedly this included a cart and a caddie, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fork out that much cash for a single round of golf. Hey, I’ve played St Andrew’s and it cost barely half that! So every year I would pay 10 pesos to take the panga (a little passenger boat) across the lagoon and over to the golf course, where I would have breakfast and then wander around like a lovesick teenager, gazing at the beautful fairways and greens, glaring at the lucky bastards who were playing the course (all six of them – I said it was exclusive), and pick up the odd brand new Titleist Pro V lying in the rough. And every year I would promise myself that next year I would suck it up and pay the King’s ransom. And I never did.

This year Scottish Wife and I are in Mexico again, still on the Pacific coast, but this time in a small town called Guayabitos, an hour or so north of Puerto Vallarta. It’s similar to Barra in many ways, family oriented with a great beach and lots of lovely restaurants. We have a couple of good friends staying with us in the same hotel and two more couples staying in hotels just down the road. Last week, over a mid-morning beer (very important to avoid dehydration in hot climates) one of the guys, Dan, asked if we were interested in playing golf in El Monteon, about a ten minute drive away. I declined, telling them my story of unrequited love at Isla de Navidad, and said I really couldn’t afford it. Then Dan explained that 18 holes of golf there, club rental and pull cart included, would cost less than $30. Throw in my share of the taxi fare and a bit more for lunch and a couple of beers and it would still be less than $40. Now that’s the sort of deal to get a retired teacher really excited! To be fair, Dan did explain that this was not the sort of golf course that they’d be playing the Abierta de Mexico (Mexican Open) on any time soon.

I would have to say that Dan’s assessment was fair. On first glimpsing the course from the highway, the phrases ‘cow pasture’ and ‘donkey paddock’ sprang to mind. The rental clubs were whatever you chose from a long table lined with some of the rustiest putters, 2 irons, 7 woods and left handed drivers that have ever been assembled in one place at the same time, outside of a 1902 garage sale of outmoded golfing paraphernalia. Bags came free with the clubs, but it was a little disconcerting when the rental lady insisted on checking my bright yellow golf bag before I picked it up ‘en caso de escorpiones’ (‘in case of scorpions’!) Not surprisingly, my first tee shot was not my finest… My playing partners were Dan (a semi retired meteorologist whose job clearly hadn’t left him enough time to find the perfect golf swing), Dave S. (who hit the ball Babe Ruthian distances but unfortunately often along the third base line) and Stu (who putted like Tiger Woods for nine holes, but made up for it on the back nine by wielding his other clubs like Elin Woods in a domestic argument). Birdies were made, along with quadruple bogies; six balls were lost on a single hole (the horrendous 325 yard island green 6th hole, which had iguanas sunning themselves on the banks of the pond, fish and turtles splooshing through the murky green water and – I swear it – vultures circling overhead); and a good time was had by all. If I had to enter my score on the computer back home I’d probably be a 24 handicap by now, but the post round cervezas induced the sort of warm glow that renders keeping scorecards unnecessary.

And the name of the course? ‘El campo de ensueños’ – the field of dreams! The story of how our taxi driver took a detour on the way home, including a stop at a village corner store where he bought a flat of two dozen ‘chicas’ (small beers) and said we weren’t going home until they’d all been drunk, and then took us on a tour of an absentee American billionaire’s property right on the cliffs above the Pacific coastline…well, that story will have to wait for another day. For the moment, I’m just happy that I’ve had the chance to enjoy one of my little dreams – experiencing el golf de Mexico!

Dan makes a vital putt…

…and wins the prize!

Que les vaya bien!

Dave B.