The Thunder Rolls

The thunder rolls through Akumal 
And all decisions mull
About what, who next, and where 
Part of me knows I'd rather be here than there 
What will I do with all of the lessons learned 
All of the sacred sage now burned 
I am the artist, the creator, maker 
I'm not a cookie cutter life baker 
The thunder rolls heavy and deep 
Across the jungle and the ocean and I can't sleep 
Akumal is more than just a place 
It has a strong spirit, a pull, and I can almost imagine it has a face 
Of a fierce Mayan warrior 
Warrior one, warrior two, warrior three 
Find your centered space 
Remember your inner grace 
You remembered how to smile here 
How to laugh, let go, hand over fear 
Chakras illuminating all the way to white light 
Don't forget your learnings on this bright night 
Akumal has a message for you, booming so loud and clear.
You should stay, you should stay, you should stay, right here.

Like

 

Welcome Home

“Welcome home!” said the airport customs agent when I arrived in Orlando. Everyone walking around with “Disneyworld 2014” sweatshirts, children shrieking and carrying tons of Disney gear, televisions everywhere, news of gun violence in Canada is the first thing I hear about. The noise level is almost unbearable. Commercials. Ads. Buy this, buy that, be scared. Someone has jumped the fence of the White House.

 

No more silence, or sound of waves, or quiet conversations. No more elegance of Spanish rolling off of the tongue. Certainly no one racing to help me with my bags. Welcome home. Where we all fight for ourselves. Where community so often feels like a word that we don’t really understand.

 

Welcome home, to the room you dreaded imagining yourself in. All of the comforts of warm showers and down comforters, and So. Many. Things. Where everything you need to accomplish, from seeking new relationships to finding a new career, is most efficiently completed from your computer screen.

 

Goodbye morning walk on the beach, and thinking about ways to create as the sun rises over the ocean. Goodbye quiet conversations over oatmeal and yerba mate as we gently welcome the day. Goodbye meeting new people and creating new friendships every day. Goodbye Buenas Dias and Buenas Tardes and Buen Provecho. Como Estas? No one here seems to care.

 

There is a machine at the airport that completely wraps your luggage in plastic. As if it is a piece of food that will spoil before you get to your final destination. I think about how the amount of plastic used to wrap one luggage is probably equal to all of the plastic I collected on the beach over a period of five weeks, and somehow everything seems so futile. I pay $150 baggage fee because I am crying too much to figure out how to redistribute 15 pounds of wet dirty laundry. I pay $65 for a taxi because it is just too hard to make myself leave Akumal at 9:00am. Waste waste waste. I am angry at myself.

 

It doesn’t feel like home. But maybe, in a few days, with a few more commercials, and a few more doors closed in my face, a few more meals passing by without anyone to share them with, it will feel more like home?

 

As I board the flight from Orlando to Boston, I am excited that the middle seat in my row is empty…until a woman my age buckles her life-size Minion doll into the seat. People think it is funny and laugh. I spend the 3 hour flight looking at a gigantic yellow one-eyed monster, thinking about how he didn’t pay the fee to upgrade to “even more space” seating. 

Circle of Life

The circle of life continues here in Akumal, where I picked up a baby turtle that I found on the beach covered with flies, thinking that it was dead. Some birds had attacked him, and his body seemed very limp, but he squirmed went I picked him up. I knew from his wounds that he wouldn't survive. I brought him to the water and sat with him, so he could feel the ocean at least once. He looked at me with those deep, knowing, sea turtle eyes, and I felt so sad that he wouldn't make it. 

The last moments of life for this baby sea turtle in Akumal. 

The last moments of life for this baby sea turtle in Akumal. 

On a happier note, yesterday Michael and I witnessed an amazing school of about 50 large fish, all swimming in formation in a circle around us, during our daily snorkel trip. We also saw about 4 turtles, and I caught a glimpse of a huge Spotted Eagle Ray before he flew off into the depths. We also saw a tiny bright blue and yellow fish that was gorgeous. 

There was significantly less plastic on the beach this morning than usual. Perhaps the currents have changed? Luckily, I brought my camera with me this morning, so I experimented with some photos and self-portraits on the beach. This first photo is of a large piece of driftwood that I have fallen completely in love with. If I could fit it in my luggage, I would take it home. I literally had a dream about this exact piece of wood hanging in a bright, white, new apartment, with cathedral ceilings. Maybe that will be my new home in the future? From different angles, the driftwood looks like a sea turtle, a crab, and a bird. 

Sea turtle drift wood. 

Sea turtle drift wood. 

Self portrait in the morning sun. Loooong legs. 

Self portrait in the morning sun. Loooong legs. 

Sun rising over the ocean of Akumal, October 11, 2014. 

Sun rising over the ocean of Akumal, October 11, 2014. 

Self portrait with dead fan coral. 

Self portrait with dead fan coral. 


Things I have learned so far...

1.) Do not throw toilet paper into the toilet. This may sound simple, but it takes extreme mental capacity to remember not to partake in this ingrained habit. 

2.) If you buy a cat a can of food, it will take about 2.5 hours for the cat to eat that can of food. Very unlike American cats who scarf it down in minutes. 

3.) The more lizards and geckos you have in your bedroom, the better. It means less spiders and other bugs. 

4.) If you walk around town with a hamper full of trash and pieces of coconut trees, it doesn't take long for people to give you crazy looks. All in the name of ART!

5.) Standards of a fully functional kitchen are far below what I imagined. One knife, a few badly stained plastic bowls, a pot with no handle, and an old piece of cloth for a pot holder, are really all it takes to make a full meal. 

6.) Horchata is the BEST. So delicious. 

7.) If you are having trouble in finding a Spotted Eagle Ray, just follow a snorkel group. If you are not in search of anything in particular, keep a wide distance between yourself and any snorkel group. 

8.) If you think five weeks is a long time, it's not. 

9.) The circle of life goes round and round. Snakes, turtles, birds, frogs, and all sorts of insects are being born and dying all the time. 

10.) A quesadilla in Akumal Playa is 120 pesos. A quesadilla in the pueblo is 12 pesos and delicious. 

11.) It is sort of magical to drop off laundry, pay by the kilo, and return to pick up a freshly cleaned package of clothes. 

12.) Everyone here says "Hello" and if you are eating a meal, "Provecho." It is human and dignified, and I love it. I feel SO CONNECTED. 

13.) Don't drink the water. Not for brushing teeth, not for cooking pasta, not by accident in the shower. Just. don't. drink. the. water. 

14.) The Colectivo bus from Akumal to Playa del Carmen should cost 25 pesos. Sometimes they try to charge 35. However, if you are a gringa who just ran across 4 highway lanes in pouring rain, carrying 8 bags of groceries, and you tell the driver that you are not married, it may just be free. 

Ok, that's it for tonight. I would love a foot bath right now. 

Warning: Graphic Nature Content

"Sometimes I feel like this isn't real, you know? Like we are on a movie set or something," he said to me. Laying in a lounge chair in the sand, looking up at the bright moon, listening to the ocean waves crash against the shore, I said, "I know. I feel the same way." Clouds formed shapes around the moon - faces, scorpions, inspirations for illustrations. And in this moment of reconnecting with myself, with nature, and with the supportive and grounding people who have entered into my life here, all of the struggles of the summer were worth it - just to be there looking at the moon. 

Yesterday was a very hot day. Walking along Half Moon Bay at midday (NOT SMART, BUT ALL FOR THE ART) in search of beach trash to use for my project, I became annoyed that some water was dripping into my eye. Where is this water coming from, I thought?! Suddenly, I realized that I was sweating like I had never sweat before. I met some yoga friends on the beach who told me, "You are so red! You should jump into the ocean!" I told them I didn't have a bathing suit, and they suggested just underwear would do. I contemplated this, and just as I was about to take off my clothes, I was approached by Jesus. Jesus was smoking marijuana. He asked me why I was collecting so much trash, and I explained that I was an artist and that my project focused on plastic in the water. Jesus was also concerned about my profuse sweating and red skin tone, and invited me to take a shower at his nearby resort. I declined showering with Jesus, and instead walked a few more minutes to reach Kim's place (the Director of the Residency). Kim graciously hydrated and fed me, and I began my journey back into Akumal Centre. The road was hot, and just as I was about to hitchhike back in with the next tourist car, my yoga friend offered me a ride. Thank you Universe! 

Arriving back at the CEA dorms, Michael and Diana said, "Do you want to see a snake!?" A long, thin green snake had taken up residence on the wall to the right of the garden. We watched her for hours, snaking her way across pipes, and hanging her head down to look into windows. Later in the afternoon, Diana went to her room, Michael went to his, and I was working alone in the studio space next to the garden. I suddenly heard a very strange noise - a screaming of sorts - kind of like a bird, but not a bird I had ever heard here. Looking out into the garden, I saw that our resident cat was spooked. I walked into the garden, and looked over to where the cats gaze had fixed. What I saw next is what you will see in the photos to follow. These images are not for the faint of heart. This frog, one leg eaten, struggled for his life, wrestling with the snake who was attempting to eat him. It was a struggle that was difficult to witness. Someone created a hashtag for this event: #shitjustgotreal

We left before we could see the result of the struggle. Something about the sounds that the frog was making made it unbearable. 

A tree snake in our garden, dining on a frog. 

A tree snake in our garden, dining on a frog. 

The frog wrestles with the snake. He put up such a strong fight! 

The frog wrestles with the snake. He put up such a strong fight! 

After this intense fight between snake and frog, we participated in our Sunday Salon, where Diana Juneck and visiting artist Enrique Alcaraz presented their beautiful work and discussed "mash-ups" or ways of combining different forms of art. Enrique lives near Yal-Ku in Akumal, and in addition to oil painting, he also makes some really cool assemblage boxes! http://www.enriquealcaraz.com/galeria/cajas.html 

We had a good attendance! 

Before we move ahead to what happened next, rewind back all the way to yesterday morning at 8:00am, where I was walking along the beach, collecting plastic again, and ran into Roberta, who is a Turtle Volunteer at CEA. I said hello, and asked her if it would be possible for me to see turtle hatchlings making their way to the ocean. "If you come at night, and if you are VERY VERY lucky, you may be able to see them she told me." Roberta continued walking, and without me knowing, just a few minutes walk down the beach, Roberta encountered TWO nests of turtles, one Loggerhead nest and one Green Turtle nest, making their way to the ocean, in the bright light of the morning. Making the journey from the nest to the ocean in the bright morning light is dangerous for the turtles, because they can be easily spotted by birds and killed. Roberta collected the baby turtles and saved them to be released in the cover of the night. There is also a huge problem with high amounts of the seaweed Sargassum, which normally helps the sea turtles, but in such high quantities, actually makes it very challenging for them to reach the water. 

So, after the Salon, we all walked far down the beach, away from tourists, and were able to help release 200 baby sea turtles into the moonlit Caribbean Sea! It was an amazing experience, to guide these little beauties into the ocean, and to watch them take off to their life journey. It was a longtime dream of mine to witness this, and I feel so blessed that this dream came true! 

Diana, the beautiful Lady in Red, at her Salon last night 

Diana, the beautiful Lady in Red, at her Salon last night 

The beach where we released the tortugitas. 

The beach where we released the tortugitas. 


The sound of coral

In the peaceful meditation of snorkeling with sea turtles, there are often only two sounds that you are aware of: the water, and that of your own breath. However, I recently noticed, that when I am further from shore, and closer to the reefs, I hear a rather loud sound that is similar to what a rain-shower of sand might sound like. A crackling noise that is distinct. When I heard this sound, I thought I might be going crazy. I looked around for what might be making such a noise, but I didn't see anything that I thought could produce it.

A few days later, Michael asked all of us, "When you are snorkeling, do you hear that sound?" "YES!" I said, "like sand crackling?" He heard it too, so I wasn't going crazy. We asked Laura, our resident coral reef specialist and she let us know that this sound is the sound of the coral eating and feeding. It is a living, breathing organism that eats and makes sounds while its eating! Incredible, right?  

I spent a lot of time with breath this morning, during one of the most influential and profound yoga classes of my life, with Dani at Yoga en Akumal. I was the only person to arrive for class today, and so Dani was able to address some sciatica pain I have been having, and we focused on opening the heart and root chakras. What an amazing experience with deep breath work and deep releases! Dani instructed me to release any old pain and struggling from my heart, and to let it go, to realize that I don't need to hold on to it any longer. Usually, this type of instruction allows me to visualize pain and suffering leaving that chakra area, but today, I was so deep into meditation, that I could actually FEEL it. I felt tingling, and release, and felt mentally centered in a way that I have never felt before.

Given some deep pain that had resurfaced from the past in the last couple of days, the class was exactly what I needed. My other yoga teacher, Marti, said to me the other day, "All of the amazing things that are happening to you now, are happening because you are being so present on the mat everyday, and showing up, and working on this stuff." It feels really exciting, and I feel proud of the choices I have made and the path that I am on.  

Today marks the halfway point through the Residency, and I feel as though I have not accomplished close to all of the things that I want to do while I am here. Perhaps I will just have to stay longer? Haha! At this point, it is very hard to imagine myself returning to my life in Boston. We had to say farewell to Sarah Alden this morning, as she was only here for a half-residency. Sarah gave an absolutely amazing final performance last night. She has such a captivating sound on the violin, and a transcending voice. Her laughter and presence here will be deeply missed as we continue our next half of this journey together. 

The beautiful Sarah Alden, who is heading back to New York today. She will be missed!

The beautiful Sarah Alden, who is heading back to New York today. She will be missed!


Swimming beneath the earth

Do you know what it is like to follow a tree root, all the way down, to the root of the root, beneath the earth, to its water source? Or to hear the water in the belly of the earth gurgling, bubbling, moving, dripping? We found out what this was like yesterday, during our trip to the cenote Sac Actun. We snorkeled through caves filled with very cold fresh water, and looking up, saw thousands of stalagmites and stalactites, and bats swooping overhead. We saw tree roots hanging from the ceiling of the cave, dipping into the fresh water. Looking down, into the blue green crystal clear water, we could see pitch black openings that lead to the underground underwater cave system, where divers can traverse over 198 miles of underground caves. Sistema Sac Actun is the second largest underground cave system in the world. Looking into these black openings into an underground world, there is a sense similar to being in the ocean - that we are so small and surrounded by so many unknown wonders. It is magical and wonderful and terrifying all at once. Emerging from the cave, we swam directly on the edge of the jungle, seeing the trees and smelling the fresh scent that can only be described as fresh earth. Small fish swam by, and a few cray fish could be seen. It was absolutely magical. 

 

What a way to begin the month of October! I said "Rabbit Rabbit" as soon as I woke up yesterday, and I am already feeling the good luck! As we left the cenote, we saw two gorgeous gray foxes crossing the road. What an amazing world we live in! If you ever feel that the world is not amazing, save every last penny you have, and go somewhere like this. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share this experience with Sarah, Michael, Diana, and Alejandro. 

 

Back in Akumal, we floated in the ocean and watched the sun set slowly, watched the clouds change and the birds fly overhead with a 360 degree view. We spotted nearby turtles coming up for air every few minutes. Absolute magic. 

Emerging from the caves of Sac Actun! 

Emerging from the caves of Sac Actun! 

Sac Actun Caves from the surface. 

Sac Actun Caves from the surface. 

Emerging from the caves! 

Emerging from the caves! 

A blue butterfly taking off. 

A blue butterfly taking off. 



Trip to Tulum

On Monday, I began painting a canvas based on a beautiful textile I had seen for sale in Akumal. I am diverging from the coral theme, but it was so beautiful that I knew I had to paint it. In the afternoon, I took a wonderful swimming break with Michael, and we just floated and talked for a long time. This experience, in getting to spend so much time with three other artists has been wonderful. It is a bit like Peace Corps in that you are able to get to really begin to know other people on a deeper level than you would in everyday "normal" life. Eating every meal together, being together in the dark during power outages, floating in the ocean and having important discussions without a care about the time - these are special moments of connection that feel lacking back home. Making these personal connections is so important, and it is so nice to be able to feel like a connected part of a community. 

 

Monday evening, Alejandro drove Sarah and I to Playa del Carmen, so that we could get groceries and so that I could go to a special and magical essential oil store to buy more lavender oil, which really helps with the itching from bug bites. I was also able to buy a jar of Mayan clay, and gave myself a nice facial this morning. On the car ride home, we watched lightning light up the sky, windows down, warm air blowing through my hair, reggae remix music playing. And I smiled at how different life is compared to just a few weeks ago. Monday night, we had a black out. The world was so quiet and so dark for a few hours. Sarah said, "Look! Over there is a light!" And we looked between some trees only to realize that the one light that was on in the town was in fact the moon. 

 

Yesterday, Michael, Sarah, Diana and I went with Paula to Tulum, to a beautiful beach at the Uno Hotel. Incense burning, Dalai Lama quotes in gardens, peacocks strutting about, crystals hanging from trees, and a lunch of polenta and salad. It was a bit of a dream world. We all swam together in the ocean, talking, laughing, floating. I love these conversations in the ocean. It was mentioned yesterday that this act of floating and looking out over the ocean is like a meditation, and it is. Sarah talked about how it would be wonderful to have a portal to just come back to this place at any time. To escape from New York or Boston, or wherever, and just end up back at this beach, with these people.

Las artistas being "serious" in Tulum. 

Las artistas being "serious" in Tulum. 


We walked around Tulum Center, shopping and bouncing from café to café, drinking and eating, and dodging the heat with ice cream. At night, we returned to the Uno Hotel to watch a fire show on the beach while listening to Sarah playing the violin beneath a night sky filled with thousands of stars and a moon that lit up the beach. Wow – to be in a place that is so open, where you can see for miles and miles across the ocean and up above to a sky that envelopes you with beauty. What an experience. It makes you feel like anything is possible.


Colors, colors, colors! 

Colors, colors, colors! 


A trip to the pueblo

Yesterday, Laura, Diana and I took a trip to the pueblo to visit Michael and to see the progress he had made on his mural. Many of the people in the pueblo were sitting across the street from the mural, watching Michael at work. It was very hot yesterday, and we all cooled off with popsicles and ice cream at the internet cafe. 

Diana, Laura and I then went on a photography expedition and were greeted by many people who were extremely kind, and eager to have their photos taken. We were invited into homes, and got to see a glimpse inside the pueblo. Wow! It was so beautiful! I am excited to return and create more images. Below are just a few of the photos I took yesterday! 

A self portrait in a very inspiring space in the pueblo - sort of like a life-size assemblage! A dream-space!

A self portrait in a very inspiring space in the pueblo - sort of like a life-size assemblage! A dream-space!

Beauty en la basura. 

Beauty en la basura. 

Colorful laundry. 

Colorful laundry. 

Michael working on his mural in the pueblo. 

Michael working on his mural in the pueblo. 

The assemblage room in the pueblo! Love this place! 

The assemblage room in the pueblo! Love this place! 

Diana photographing some laundry in the wind. 

Diana photographing some laundry in the wind. 

A beautiful family that Diana photographed! 

A beautiful family that Diana photographed! 

I had a dream last night...

I had a dream last night that I swam to a coral reef in the Mexican Caribbean with two mermaids. The water was amazingly warm and welcoming. The sky filled with clouds of infinite varieties. The sort of day so beautiful that you couldn’t have imagined there could ever be a day as wonderful as this one. The positive radiating energy of these mermaids was contagious, and I hopped into the ocean with them. They knew that I was anxious to swim far away and out to the reef, but they swam around me, like dolphins, constantly making sure that I was OK, and doing tricks under the water that made me smile and laugh. Together, making our way out to the reef, we saw sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and many many fish. They took me into their world and showed me different types of fish that I had never seen. A juvenile damsel fish of the most brilliant blue. A parrot fish with a red belly. The mermaids dove deep down to the bottom of the reef, exploring their world, saying hello to the fish that they had befriended. They whispered into my ear and told me that each of  the fish had different personalities, and that the personalities of the fish change with age. The mermaids mimicked the eye movements of different fish, and made me laugh again. They collected trash from the water, trying to protect their world and their ocean friends from the many threats they face. At one point, surrounded by so much beauty, and feeling myself in the infinite, endless depths of the ocean, I began to panic. Calm and steady, calm and steady, calm and steady, I thought to myself. The world is supporting you, the ocean is supporting you, no need to panic. Just float. Just float and breathe. I floated, I breathed, and when I looked down below me again, a giant sea turtle was directly beneath me. Calm, serene, just floating and eating grass. She looked up at me, looked me in the eye, and continued eating. And mimicking her energy, I made my way to the shore, calm and serene.

Later in the dream, I spent an entire night at a long wooden table filled with art supplies and surrounded by wonderful people who made my laugh, and smile, and feel perfectly at ease. Even the mermaids were there! We painted, and listened to wonderful music, and drank chocolate milk, and told stories about our lives. As I was painting in this dream, I thought, “Wow! This is exactly how I would want my life to be. There is no other place I would rather be than right here, with these people (and mermaids), creating art, and feeling this joy and love.” Most of the people at the table were not “painters” and so they were just having fun exploring with how to mix colors, and how to use watercolors, and I was so excited to be able to share my supplies with them, and to watch them discover and enjoy the process of creating.

The mermaids and I! 

The mermaids and I! 

I remember a mermaid at the table hugging me often, and looking at me with sincerity and telling me how much she appreciated a project I had helped her with. I remember a mermaid giving me a nice shoulder massage. I remember so much laughter, and the spirit that filled the room. We created so many things together!

After we completed our paintings, the mermaid said, “Can I take you to the beach?” In the dark night, surrounded by brilliant stars, we made our way along the dark path to the beach. Upon seeing the gorgeous ocean, we witnessed lightning, lighting up the night sky in the distance. The energy of this place we were in is indescribable. It was a place deeply connected with the universe, vibrating with knowing and spirit. We were five in total, and the mermaid asked us all to hold hands in a circle by the water. For a few minutes, we simply held hands, listened to the water lapping the shore, and the wind blowing through the palm trees. The mermaid told us how happy she was that we were all here, and that we had all entered on to her path, to give her strength on her journey. She told us about how important each of our beings were, and how strong our talents. She told us how grateful she was for the ocean, and for the opportunity to be here in this special place, and to spend time with so many wonderful people. She made each of us feel loved, and special, and happy, and grateful.

Then the mermaid gave instructions on what to do next. “Imagine that within you are magic seeds, and you get to choose what is within each of those seeds – what you and others in this circle would like to see grow. Can you imagine them?” She let us think for a few minutes about what type of seeds we would want to plant in the world. Joy. Love. Care for the environment. Each of us finding soul mates. Abundance. The ability to create art every day. The ability to effect positive change in the world. The opportunity to feel happiness like this moment. Gratefulness. These are some of the seeds that I saw within myself.

When we had all created our seeds, the mermaid said, “Now, at the count of three, we will release eachother’s hands, place our palms together at our hearts, and then clap three times in unison, and release our hands to the sky, and blow the seeds away.” Hands at hearts, and then clapping, clapping, clapping, we blew our seeds into the night, up to the stars, out over the ocean. And now, our hundreds of positive intentions are out there, floating around the universe, just waiting to burst open and flower.

And one of my hopes is already a reality. That none of this was actually a dream. That all of these amazing friends I have made, and the experiences I have had, is actually my reality right now, and I am so, SO GRATEFUL to the universe for that, and for all of the humans and mermaids who have entered my life path to help me see more clearly and to find joy in my heart again. That mermaid swam away last night, to the Pacific Ocean, to carry her message to different parts of the world. And I will miss her, but I am so lucky that our paths crossed. We did not say “Adios”, but only, “Hasta Luego.” 

Days are melding together...

Before we move through Thursday, I have to take you back to Monday and Tuesday, and also through yesterday, Wednesday. 

On Monday, Diana, Michael, and I took a walk together in search of an elusive patch of grass that Diana had seen the day before and that had inspired her as a location at which she wanted to photograph me, surrounded by hibiscus and other flowers that we had collected off of the ground during our walk. It took much longer than expected to find this grass, but it was truly remarkable grass – it looked like tiny mountain ranges and had a sort of Icelandic feel to it. The grass was soft on the feet, but like pins and needles when I lay down. During our walk we talked about love, and what does “normal” love even mean? What is normal? 

Diana managed to bring snow to Mexico, and I was also the subject of this photo shoot, which created some very cool images. Michael was our main snow thrower. After snow showers in Akumal, we headed to La Buena Vida, and ate lunch together on the beach. I had an amazing Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup). At lunch we talked of aliens, ghosts, and whether heaven and hell exist. You know, just casual Carribean conversation. 

After lunch, I took a walk on half moon bay, in search of plastic for my project. Not too much to be found, but I picked up a few more pieces of dead coral for painting inspiration. 

I worked on another coral painting, with orange and purple, which I really love. It is so freeing to be able to spend as much time as I want in this creative mode, just exploring and discovering. 

A coral tile I am working on,

A coral tile I am working on,

Coral tile with purple.

Coral tile with purple.


When I arrived to yoga on Tuesday, I found a gorgeous yellow bird who had died on the doormat. We placed this lovely creature in some flowers, and during my practice I thought about how I wanted to photograph this bird. When else could I get so close to a bird? So, after class, I returned with Diana (who I imagined could make some really cool images with this subject), and we photographed the bird, and then gave it a proper burial between to large leaves. 

Our dear bird friend who died before yoga class. 

Our dear bird friend who died before yoga class. 


Michael, Diana, and I also took a walk together to the local library (I think this was on Tuesday, but time is melding together), and met about 30 wonderful kids from the pueblo there, who were eager to speak Spanish with us, and to show us their drawing skills on a dry erase board. We were able to find some interesting books there, and then headed across the bridge together to the pueblo of Akumal. 

In all of my visits to Akumal, I had never been to the pueblo, also known as the “jungle” side of Akumal. We went to the pueblo in search of a paint store called Comex, where I needed to pick up sandpaper, a face mask, primer, and sealant for my tiles. Success! The tiny store sold about 12 things, but 4 of those 12 things were exactly what I needed! 

Our walk through the pueblo offered many interesting sights, and many friendly people. We scoped out some possible mural sites for Michael, and came across many fierce looking guard dogs who were rolling around in the dirt in sheer happiness, and not fulfilling their guard roles at all (luckily for us). I saw lots of potential places to photograph, and made a mental note to return soon with my camera. Michael, Diana and I ended the day sharing two pizzas and blackened brussel sprouts at Turtle Bay Café. 


Yesterday (Wednesday) after the amazing swimming with Marta and the turtles experience, the weather changed dramatically, and resulted in a downpour that lasted for hours. The strong steady sound of the rain was really soothing, and even the sound of thunder is somehow relaxing here. It reminds me of a cassette tape that Trever Felder and I used to play that was just rainforest sounds. We would set up a tent in the living room and pretend it was raining in the jungle. But now I am really here, recording the real sounds of the real rain in the jungle!

I spent Wednesday doing Hatha Flow in the morning, and then editing video of sea turtles, playing with the use of shadows to trace the intricate lines of dead coral, and participating in Kim’s writing workshop in the evening. There are currently 30 kids from Peru sharing our studio and kitchen space, which has made things interesting, but they seem very interested in my work, which is fun. I invented this amazing contraption yesterday, where I placed a dead fan coral overhanging a cup, and then placed an old and much taller PVC pipe next to this cup. I rested my iphone, in flashlight mode, on top of this PVC pipe, and it created the perfect shadow of the  dead fan coral on the tile below, so that I could trace it! 

After a meal of tacos and brussel sprouts with Kim, Michael, and Mary Jo, I returned to the CEA dorms, and hung out in dining room with Alejandro, Michael, Diana, Diana’s friend, Marta, Laura, and Sarah. Marta and I had a really wonderful conversation, over my citronella candle, about love and the importance of dreams, and reiki, and being connected to the universe. I will miss Marta so much when she leaves on Saturday, but I am so happy that I was fortunate enough to meet her during this brief time. We talked about a lot of difficult things that had occurred in our lives, and then Marta said, “But imagine, if all of these things did not occur, we might not be here together, sharing this important conversation, in this moment.” Ah, and again, everything feels like it is falling into place. I feel, finally, like I am on the right path. 

I returned to my room at around 11pm, and opened the door to go to the bathroom. What I saw next, I cannot describe in words. I had been in my bathroom just an hour prior to this, and it was clean, free of bugs. But at 11pm, it was literally INFESTED with ants large and small. I had been told that this may happen – that army ants (the size of spiders), could potentially move through rooms in epic proportions, but just like I didn’t think I would have a tarantula, I didn’t think this would happen in my room. But it did. Thousands of ants, congregating in my shower, working hard at something? Eating something on the wall? Creating large pockets of black nests? I took a shower in Diana’s room, returned to my room and sealed the bathroom door shut, and finally succumbed to sleep at 1:00am. 

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

I know that I am a few days behind, and I hope I can catch up on all that has happened over the past couple of days. But first things first. This morning - wow! I have had an absolutely magical morning! Although everyone agreed last night to meet at 6am and to go to the beach to see the sunrise, there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain when I woke up at 6:00. I closed my eyes again, and the next thing I knew, it was 7am. I threw on my suit and hurried to the beach with Trevor Felder's underwater camera. There were still a few rain drops in the air. Arriving at the beach, I captured some video of the sun rising over the water, the soothing sound of the waves. There was only one person snorkeling - it was Marta!

A gorgeous sea turtle that I had the fortune of swimming with this morning in Akumal!

A gorgeous sea turtle that I had the fortune of swimming with this morning in Akumal!


Marta Fabregas is a diving and ocean expert, and I requested that she come with me while I video-tapped some underwater shots of sea turtles in order to make a video for her organization, Nature Oceans of the Americas (http://www.noaoceans.org). I have only been in Akumal for one week, and I am already doing communications work! Haha! Except, this is EXACTLY the type of communications work that I dream of doing. I feel like I was destined to meet Marta. There is a calmness and a positivity in her way of being in the world that makes me so calm and happy. She is a woman who is really pursuing her dream to protect and conserve the ocean, and it is so inspiring to see her in her element.


Having been so inspired by the documentary Mission Blue, with Sylvia Earle, I told my mom before I came to Akumal, “I think I want to be a marine scientist!” She was like, “Isn’t it a little late?” But now, to meet a marine biologist and to be able to use my talents to communicate her message, which is also the message that I want to spread about conservation and environmental protection – BOOM – match made in heaven! My level of excitement about creating a video for Marta is so high. It makes me remember, “Oh, this is what it feels like to be excited to do work! It doesn’t feel like work!”


I have a fear of snorkeling, but as soon as I see a turtle, I become calm, centered, at peace. Om shanti, shanti, shanti, as we repeat at the end of yoga practice every day. Peace, peace, peace. I generally have a fear of being too far from shore, but when I follow a sea turtle, I can go out far without even realizing it, mesmerized by the beauty. It is funny how I can feel so calm around such a large animal, and so terrified of cockroaches!


Last night, after a delicious pizza with Diana and Michael at Turtle Bay Café, Sarah, Marta, Laura, Alejandro, Michael, Diana and I all sat around sharing wonderful stories, while Sarah did some palm readings, and we talked about how many of us felt destined to come here – felt such a strong connection to this place.


At yoga this morning, Marti reminded me of the deep feminine aspect of Akumal, and how so many collaborations and creativity are born here. I feel so many wonderful things developing, and I am so excited to see what the next four weeks will bring! So grateful to be here!


 

Day 5 - Green Tārā and sea coral patterns


Day 5, September 21, 2014

Sunday began with Bhakti Yoga with Marti. A wonderful class during which we chanted often, and I learned how to use mala beads, while repeating the mantra, “Om tare tuttare ture svaha,” 108 times. We learned about Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity. As per Wikipedia: “Tārā also embodies many of the qualities of feminine principle. She is known as the Mother of Mercy and Compassion. She is the source, the female aspect of the universe, which gives birth to warmth, compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence. She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation, and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children. As Green Tārā she offers succor and protection from all the unfortunate circumstances one can encounter within the samsaric world.”


After yoga, I walked to the beach to collect dead sea coral to inspire my designs. Then I washed about 30 white tiles that I scavenged from the junk pile, and began painting some coral patterns. It feels good to be painting and creating! I really love all of the different patterns of the coral, and I am excited to explore this! I also love my art desk here, overlooking the garden. The desk is high and wide, and I feel like I can spread out, and have things in front of me for inspiration. I had a teeny tiny resident lizard on my desk today – probably half an inch long, with beautiful stripes. He was an inspiration.

Coral patterns painting #1 in progress...

Coral patterns painting #1 in progress...


My other big project of the day was that I bought Pinol, sort of like Pine Sol, found a mop, and cleaned all of the floors, walls, and the ceiling in my room. This elusive Pinol bottle claimed that it would deter cockroaches, and sure enough, I didn’t see one stirring last night.


I don’t feel like I accomplished too much on Sunday, but I am learning that simple tasks, like finding a mop and cleaning my room, can take up the better part of a day. But it is so worth it if it means less bugs sleeping with me!


After my room cleaning, I got dressed up and took myself out to Lol-ha on the beach for a Jamaica water and a chicken quesadilla. It was quite lovely. I did think about how it would be nice to share that moment with someone, but I am learning to appreciate that it is also beautiful to learn more about how to be alone successfully, and how we are never really alone. I am proud of myself that I know enough Spanish to convey to locals that I need help with spider removal. I can ask for certain books at the library, I can get from one place to the next, and I can order food – all in Spanish. I can be here, creating things, exploring the world, making my own meals, doing yoga, and being happy. As we are dealing with in yoga – finding a balance between light and dark, day and night. I am surrounded here by so many strong, independent women who are making such an impact on the world, and it inspires me.


At the supermarket the other day in Playa del Carmen, a salesperson there was telling me about a promotion that they were having where I would get a free sand shovel with the purchase of sunscreen. She said to me in Spanish, “It would be perfect for your kids!” I said to her, “I don’t have any kids.” She was surprised. And at first, I thought she was horrified by this fact. She said, “No hijos?! You must have so much free time – to actually enjoy the beach!” I do! I thought to myself. I have so much time to enjoy anything I want right now. But one day, I want that shovel.



Day 4 - Root Chakra Red

Day 4, September 20, 2014

Saturday morning kicked off with a carrot and orange juice from Turtle Bay Café, followed by a 2 hour Hatha Flow yoga class with Dani from 9:00 to 11:00am. The class was wonderful. We worked to cleanse every chakra, visualizing each color, working from the root, all the way to the top of the head. I wish I could write down all of the wisdom that Dani gives during class, or even just remember a certain quote. We had to do one pose where we stacked our knees on top of one another to release the hip joints and hamstrings and the root chakra. Dani said that if this pose was particularly hard for us, it meant that we were carrying too much past baggage. So, it was another class dedicated to letting go of what no longer serves me.

Carrot and orange juice at Turtle Bay Cafe.

Carrot and orange juice at Turtle Bay Cafe.


After yoga, all of the artists and I headed to Playa del Carmen with Paul to pick up groceries and necessities and to exchange money. Having done a lot of research about natural scorpion, spider, and cockroach deterrents, I picked up a huge citronella candle (for the mosquitoes), bay leaves (which cockroaches hate), citrus cleaner (spiders do not like citrus), and a new bottle of all natural bug spray. When we returned from the grocery store, I cooked up some red quinoa, chickpeas, and garlic (yum!).


After my late lunch, I had a moment of overzealous excitement about a potential art project, which turned out to be too much. A group of people had participated in an International Beach Cleanup, and had collected about 15 bags full of trash – mostly plastic bottles. I had the idea of taking all of these bottles, washing them, and then hanging them in our studio space somehow, to demonstrate to people HOW MUCH waste we put into the ocean (from just a one hour collection on one day). After Michael and Diana helped me drag like 6 bags of bottles to our dorms, I began washing the bottles. The stench of the garbage combined with the incessant mosquitoes and flies quickly caused me to lose my vision, and it has been abandoned. Instead, I have chosen to work with a pile of white tiles that I found in the trash. The tiles were not exactly white when I found them, buried beneath leaves and dirt behind our dorms. But, after a good scrubbing, they are good to go. Now the plan is to use the patterns found on dead coral that I have collected to make a series of coral pattern paintings. I began painting one today, and it feels good, relaxing, and like the proper medium. Paper feels like it just curls up in this climate.

We ended the day with a presentation by Marta Fabrigis, an amazing marine biologist who is studying coral reefs with Nature Oceans of the Americas (https://www.facebook.com/NOAoceans)! I hope that I can help Marta get out the message about the importance of saving coral reefs! Especially after having seen Mission Blue on Netflix, and learning about the important work of Sylvia Earle. The most amazing fact that I learned is that leatherback turtles can dive to a depth of 3,280 feet! Incredible! Also, did you know that the number of male and female turtle hatchlings depends on the warmth of the turtle nest? The warmer the nest, the more female turtles there will be. 


Day 2 - Opening to the divine destructive power of the universe

It is Day 3, but I am just now getting around to writing about Day 2, since it ended with a tarantula in my bedroom, which left me incapacitated to do anything but look around my room in fear that there may be another lurking about. Though I did not see another spider, I did, at different waking intervals of the night, observe two large cockroaches and two very tiny lizards engaging in a dance. Who will catch whom first? At some point, I had to make myself simply turn off the flashlight and just let what happened in the darkness stay in the darkness, and hope that nothing landed on my bed. I will be in search of a bed net today. 

Moses is a chef at the wonderful Turtle Bay Café, and his kitchen is about 20 feet from my room. After returning home from a beachfront dinner at Lol-Ha with my fellow artists, I opened the door and saw this tarantula, right next to my sandals. He did not look friendly. I could not muster the courage to treat him as just another sentient being whom I should tolerate in my room (I am working on it Faina). I ran to the Turtle Bay Café kitchen and in my imperfect Spanish, I alerted the kitchen staff that I needed help – that there was a huge spider in my room. After a short conversation among three staff members, it was decided that Moses, who had been behind the grill, would be the best expert to handle this situation. Grabbing a broom stick, Moses took off his apron and followed me to my room. As Moses tried to catch the spider, it jumped, and it jumped far. From shelf to shelf of my bookcase, scurrying in between all of my art supplies. With patience and calmness, Moses followed the spider, sorting through watercolors, papers, paintbrushes, and never showing fear. I had to leave the room because it was so terrifying just to see the spider jumping. Moses successfully killed the spider, and I asked him, in Spanish, “Is it dangerous?” “This spider is very dangerous,” he said calmly, holding up the dead spider in a piece of toilet paper for me to see. Oy vey. 

The entire rest of the day was absolutely wonderful. It began with a breakfast of fresh apples and fresh yogurt with fellow artist Sarah at Turtle Bay Café. I then went to my first yoga class at Yoga en Akumal, a Hatha class with Marti, and one other classmate, Martha. We enjoyed a challenging and fulfilling class, and I bought a 5 week pass, which is discounted for the artist’s! Yay! One goal is to go every daily yoga class during my time here. During class, we engaged in a chant: “Om Hrim Namah Shivia, Tas Mai Sri, Guruvey Namaha.” 

The front of the Yoga en Akumal studio


Om hrim namah Shivaia (I open up to the divine destructive power of the universe)
Tas mai sri guruvey namah (I honor the lessons of this holy teacher)

Opening up to the divine destructive power of the Universe – a really interesting concept if you think about it. And totally connected to what I learned today in yoga – which will come with the next post. Marti, my yoga teacher, encouraged me to view my yoga practice as an art form, and to allow it to really influence my experience and my work here. 

You know how sometimes you know that things are meant to be – that you are meant to be here, in this place, in this moment? I had a lot of that yesterday. After yoga class, I walked to the Luna Azul, which is the hotel that my grandparents stay at when they visit Akumal. I chose to go there because I know how to access the beach from there. I was able to collect many wonderful materials, dead corals, plastics, driftwoods, and to see many turtle nests. The sun was extremely hot, and after I was done at the beach, I knew that I needed to drink water and eat a snack before walking back into town. I sat down the stoop of one of the rooms of Luna Azul, and began eating. I hoped that no one was staying in that room, and I doubted that there was, since it is low season. However, the door began to open as I was sitting there, and I thought, “Oh no! This person is going to be angry and kick me out!” As soon as the door opened, I recognized Kim, the Director of the Artist Residency, and she said, “Alexis!? Is everything alright!? How long have you been here? Wait, how did you know I live here?

“I didn’t know you lived here! I was just on the beach and needed to take a snack break in the shade – it is totally random that I ended up on your stoop – out of all of the places in Akumal!”

Kim is staying in the apartment of the woman who owns the tiny room that my grandparents and I stay in when we are in Akumal. Goosebumps. 

Then, on the walk home, my camera ran out of space. “CARD FULL” it told me. Literally, seconds later, while scanning the road for any art materials, I looked down, and what do I see? A 16GB camera card. Goosebumps. 

After a quick lunch of leftover pizza, a woman who was in yoga class with me, who is an artist and yoga teacher as well, offered to help me comb the beach for trash and plastic to use in my work. We had a really nice time talking and walking and searching, and found an abundance of materials. We talked about many things, and she told me that she is so inspired by young people like me, who are using their creativity in the world. She told me that she felt my time here was very blessed. I feel that too. I told her about the man whom I had seen die a few years ago on the beach we were on, and she said, “You know, when you get to my age, you hear something like that, and you think, ‘not a bad way to go.’ I have also learned that witnessing death is just as sacred as witnessing birth – and really – not too different.”

So much has happened on this beach during my brief trips to Akumal. I fell in love on this beach. I witnessed death on this beach. I have been captivated by the commanding beauty and presence of the sea turtles on this beach. 

Akumal is a sacred place, and I am so lucky to be here. 

Mexico Journey - Day 1, September 17

Wow. What a day! It all began at 5:00am this morning, when I met my Uber driver in Cambridge – an absolutely wonderful man from Somalia. We talked about love, and heartache, and how you can never give up hope.  I literally wish that I had recorded this conversation, because it was so deep and so thoughtful that as he was speaking I thought, “this guy should be on NPR.”

Sunset in Akumal on September 17, 2014. Day one of my journey! 

Sunset in Akumal on September 17, 2014. Day one of my journey! 

I can’t even remember how we started on the topic, but somehow we did. I didn’t  ever say, “I am heartbroken” – he just knew. And he told me about his worst heartbreak. A woman he had been madly in love with, together for 3 years, and she left him because he would not marry her quickly enough. He said that after that happened, he didn’t talk to anyone for 4 years. He couldn’t remember what day or hour it was, and it didn’t matter to him. And then one day, as a cab driver in Cairo, he picked up a female professor from the US, working at a University there, and he mentioned to her that he wanted to go to America someday. She managed to get him a visa, and granted his wish of visiting the US. They remained friends for years, and they are now happily married. “She is the BEST, the BEST. She is the most amazing person,” he said of her. This is what he told me: “She is my best friend. I can tell her any secret. Even after the worst day. No matter what, I can come home to her and tell her anything and she will comfort me. That is what you need. A true friend. Someone you can tell anything. Someone who you can tell your secrets - not someone who keeps secrets. Friendship is the key. Sex complicates things. Don’t have sex with men too quickly. Make them wait. If they get what they want right away, they just move on to the next thing. You need a true friend.”

 

“Don’t give up hope,” he said, “The next one will be the one, you know? I feel that way about you. The next one will be the right one for you. But don’t go looking for him, OK? You don’t have to look for him. He will come. Don’t give up hope. I know it is hard. I have been there. Oh, it is so painful. But, I am telling you, I am so happy now. My wife is the BEST.”

 

$28.00 for a ride to the airport and thousands of dollars worth of therapy crammed into one Uber ride conversation. I am telling you, Uber is magic.

 

Then, arriving at Logan, with 3 large luggages, I struggled to the check-in (with no offer of assistance from anyone). Each bag weighed 52 pounds. The Jetblue agent told me that both bags were overweight, and the fee was heavy. I took out one sneaker, some pastels, and a sketchbook and crammed those into my purse. 50.5 on each bag. I gave him a look like, don’t even mess with me on the last half pound buddy.

 

Flash forward to finding my window seat, settling in, and taking a deep exhale. “Ah, I am finally on my way,” I thought calmly. Then, I looked out the window, and on the luggage belt going into the plane was a large gray luggage, wide open, unzipped, with a bra hanging out. “How unfortunate,” I thought to myself. But WAIT. That’s my bra! Hold on! That’s my suitcase!

 

Cue the only time I have ever asked a flight attendant for anything – “could someone please zip my bag, so that I actually have clothes and art supplies when I arrive?”

 

The flight attendant returned, minutes later, and said, “The captain has entered the underbelly of the plane to zip the luggage.” “The Pilot!?,” I thought. To have the Pilot take care of that task seemed a bit drastic to me, but hey, it arrived in Cancun zipped, all undergarments in tack. Thank you JetBlue. Thank you.

 

A couple weird things happened in Orlando, where I was making my connection. The only thing worth mentioning is that I ate a Burger King cheeseburger and a container full of grapes to try to counteract that. It was gross.

 

When I landed in Cancun, every person there offered to help me with my bags – just a tad different than Boston. I told one man who I was looking for, and literally, magically, he found the person I was supposed to get a ride from for me. Thank god I know Spanish, and thank God I had an attitude with him. I thought he was just hitting on me, but he actually really helped me. OK, that is another point for humanity. Before this magic helping man appeared, I was standing next to a mean looking Doberman, and I thought, “ I hope he doesn’t bite.” Literally a few seconds later he furiously bit a cab driver, but he escaped with only bruises and a lot of dog saliva on his shirt and arm.

 

And now, I have arrived safely in Akumal, to my rustically beautiful room. Despite the heat and the mosquitoes, it is amazingly beautiful, as always. My room is literally on the edge of the jungle. Lots of jungle noises right now as I head to sleep. I have been warned of snakes and tarantulas, but have also been told that the bird watching is amazing here. I saw many tejonas this afternoon, which are sort of like jungle raccoons. I hung the tibetan prayer flags that I found in a free box at Harvard, and ate a happy hour pizza and a Jamaica water with another Artist. I was able to watch the sunset and take deep breaths and capture of photo of the beach as the sun was going down (above). I took a cold shower and have a fan blowing in my face, and life feels good. Like my UberGuru said, I can’t give up hope! Look at all of the beauty in the world! If you just head out into it, and just show up, it can really amaze and surprise you. It feels so amazingly freeing to not be at a desk. I know that this time is precious – this 5 weeks of time to do as I please, and I really want to fully be present for it. Not worrying about what is next, what is past. Namaste!