Tag Archives: happiness

Love in the Time of Covid: Remembrance of Times Past

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We have been sheltering in place since March 15, 2020. Just the two of us. Fortunately, fifty-seven years of marriage have allowed us to stockpile decades of memories of times when we sought opportunities to flee our busy lives in the U.S. and find solitary romance – often in Mexico.

Our earliest romantic moments in Mexico took place in the 1970s in archeological sites in eastern Mexico. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque were relatively inaccessible at that time and were visited by very few tourists traveling independently. There were only one or two places to stay in each area, and we tried to choose one adjacent to the ruins, a new or newly renovated hotel that was large, luxurious and, for the most part, empty. We usually breakfasted by ourselves at dining room tables covered with pristine white tablecloths.

We spent the early, coolest part of the day wandering over the ruins of temples, climbing reconstructed pyramids, and reading to each other from papers published by archeologists with detailed descriptions of the digs. We filled in the gaps in knowledge by amusing each other with made-up stories of our interpretations of the glyphs – the ancient Mayan pictographs adorning the buildings and stelae, which at that time were still undeciphered.

When the sun became piercing and the busloads of tourists arrived, we cooled off in the hotel swimming pool or, at Palenque, in a memorable artificial stream that fed the pool. Then we ate lunch and retired to our freshly cleaned room. In the cool of the evening, when the grounds were nearly deserted and moonlit, we wandered hand in hand listening to the unidentifiable sounds in the surrounding jungle and watching the shadows play over the remains of the Mayan civilization, while imagining other couples from that civilization also strolling in the moonlight.

A decade later, in the 1980s, after having exhausted exploring many of the Mayan architectural sites, we romanced in Mexico in mainly uninhabited areas with fish-filled lagoons prime for snorkeling. Isla Mujeres was a memorable boat trip from Cancun; our hotel was noteworthy for a spectacular view, lack of hot water, and proximity to a good place to snorkel, but not much else.

Akumal became our favorite place to stay; all we really needed was a studio apartment with a kitchenette, a view of the water, and the sound of the waves pounding on the beach. After packing a lunch, we spent the days swimming side-by-side in waters that were natural aquariums, pointing out spectacular specimens of fish and other forms of marine life. The Xel Ha lagoon, not yet developed for tourists and accessible only by a narrow path through the jungle, became our private pool.

Xcaret was a bit more luxurious, having a changing room, a bathroom facility and chairs for lounging – but at that time not much more. The area was generally less private, but we could always find a place away from other people where we could commune with the fish, large iguanas, and each other. And the ocean in front of our Akumal digs abounded with interesting aquatic phenomena – sponges building their habitat, octopi lurking under rocks and snatching unsuspecting passing fish, and schools of fish, forming and reforming. Deserted cenotes around the area provided a place where we would float on our backs side-by-side and watch the birds and clouds overhead.

The following decade for the most part had rare times for romance. We were both working over 70 hours a week, flying all over the U.S. and almost never to the same destination. We became notorious for planning our flights so we could spend an hour or two together in an airline club in Chicago or elsewhere. We were fortunate enough to have a month’s vacation every year. Then we travelled as far from the U.S. as possible and chose places where it was really difficult for our employers and employees to reach us – mountains in New Zealand; islands on the Great Barrier Reef; rural villages in Italy, Spain and France; rivers in China; archeological sites in Malaysia. Mexico was too close and too accessible to prevent someone from contacting us about a statistical error or an ungrammatical sentence in a report to be published. So, although our stockpile of romantic times continued to grow, Mexico was not part of the pile.

That changed on Inauguration Day in 2001. Jan, who held a presidential appointment in the Clinton administration, was suddenly freed from his pager, cell phone, and government responsibilities. Marcia had developed internet communication between members of her research teams and could work from anywhere as long as she had her computer.

We immediately packed the computer, clothes and other essential items in our car and headed south and into Mexico. We spent the better part of that year driving around the country, staying in memorably romantic beach casitas or apartments with incredible city vistas. We wandered together through art museums discovering new artists. We enjoyed wonderful concerts. And we had numerous adventures, sometimes totally lost, sometimes totally terrified, but always together. And then we discovered Huatulco!

Although we settled down at the end of 2001 in Ashland, Oregon, one of the best tourist destinations in the U.S., we returned again and again to Huatulco, finally buying a condo and spending about six months a year here. For many years we drove our car, loaded with books and supplies, from Oregon to our condo, over varying routes and stopping to see friends or interesting locations on the way. Romantic times abounded – many over meals in fabulous restaurants in Oaxaca, San Cristóbal, Mexico City, and of course Huatulco. When Cafe Juanita was located in Santa Cruz, we had a standing reservation for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day at our “own” table overlooking the plaza. After the move to the Chahue Marina, Juanita’s continued to be our place for romantic dinners – even planning our 50th wedding celebration there while having a Valentine’s dinner. We also have had a very favorite place in Huatulco for romantic breakfasts – but since we enjoy frequently being the only people there, you’re not going to find out where it is.

Finally, for the past 10 years, we’ve found many romantic moments, exploring together and writing articles for The Eye about our adventures. You can read about many of these in the Eye archives. So, thanks to you, readers, to our fellow Eye writers, and most of all to our Eye editor Jane for the many opportunities you have provided for building memories of romance in times past and hopes for more romance in Mexico, post-pandemic.

Romantic Picnic Options in Huatulco

By Brooke Gazer

Pondering ideas for a romantic Valentine’s Day? This year you might want to consider something safely away from crowded venues. Huatulco offers many possibilities to enjoy the great outdoors, so an intimate picnic for two could be the perfect option. Here are a few suggestions for sparsely populated destinations and some ideas as to what to bring.

Where to Go

Huatulco is blessed with beautiful beaches. If you are up for a bit of a hike, here are four possibilities.

La Bocana – From Los Güeros Restaurant (the one on the left facing the beach), follow the shoreline to the river. The walk on the sand is about fifteen minutes, passing enormous boulders reminiscent of Henry Moore sculptures. This beach can be rough for swimming, but you can refresh yourself along the way by getting your feet wet.

Playa Arena – On the highway heading west (from Santa Cruz towards Secrets Hotel), about 2 km past the hotels and shops in Tangolunda, you will find a footpath leading to this dramatic virgin beach. The entrance is not marked, but look for a cement post on either side of the path. The walk should not take more than 20 minutes and while not completely flat, neither is it overly challenging.

Cacaluta – Following the highway to Maguey, there is a sign for Cacaluta where the road branches off to the right, about 200 meters before Maguey. Do not confuse this with a service road marked “Tanque Cacaluta,” which dead ends and is difficult to turn around on. Your turn is a bit farther ahead. About 2 km past the turnoff is a small parking lot where the paved road ends. You must leave your vehicle here to continue along a dirt road down to the beach. This scenic walk through the jungle might take about forty-five minutes. Foot traffic and bicycles are permitted on the road, but not motorbikes.

El Órgano – On the opposite side of the highway to Maguey, i.e., when you are returning from Maguey to Santa Cruz, there is an opening in the forest with a sign that says “PRIVATE,” located about halfway between the turnoff to Cacaluta and the last glorieta (traffic circle) after Santa Cruz. There is no parking lot, but people do leave their cars parked on this road. The walk is fifteen to twenty minutes down to El Organo beach. Only foot traffic is allowed on this path.

For those who don’t find the prospect of hiking very appealing, you can rent a panga (small motorboats with overhead canopies) at the marina in Santa Cruz. Your hotel or a tourist stand can make the arrangements for you; if your Spanish is good, you can go down to the marina and negotiate for yourself.

The panga can take you to beaches farther out – Playas Chachacual, La India, Riscalillo, or Cacaluta. These are all gorgeous virgin beaches within the Bahías de Huatulco National Park.

For a shorter excursion, a panga will take you to virgin beaches within a half-hour ride, like Violín or Órgano. The captain will leave you and return a few hours later. You pay only for the return trip, so you can rest assured you will not be left stranded.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a non-beach interlude, here are two options.

The Huatulco National Park has an access in Santa Cruz. Follow Boulevard Benito Juarez as it branches off to the right at the Binniguenda Hotel and becomes Avenida Oaxaca. The sign says “Sector E.” At the end of Av. Oaxaca, a dirt road takes you into the park. Bicycles, but not motorbikes, are permitted on this. A short distance into the Park is a rustic open-air church where you can sit down for your picnic – just remember to carry out whatever you brought in! There are paths past the church through the park that will take you all the way to the beaches mentioned above or out to the main highway (Route 200) into Huatulco.

The Parque Ecologico Rufino Tamayo is underused and somewhat neglected, but it has some paved foot paths and concrete stairs. There are a few dilapidated benches and picnic tables (bring a cloth to clean them off!). This forest reserve has three entrances; the one on Calle (not Avenida) Oaxaca has parking. Calle Oaxaca is the street heading away from the main entrance to La Crucecita; the park entrance is located directly across the street from Jessic Toys.

What to pack…
Assuming you do not want to cook, these are a few suggestions should travel easily.

Several vendors throughout Huatulco offer roast chicken with tortillas and salsa.

Either of the big supermarkets has an excellent assortment of cheeses, cold cuts, and condiments like olive, pickles, or artichoke hearts.

Dozens of local restaurants will do take out, but these two do only take out. Nutrición Gourmet Huatulco offers a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, and sushi. Order by phone or WhatsApp, 958 124 2799. Punto y Come – offers vegetarian dishes, and falafel pitas, a 90-peso bargain, packed to assemble upon arrival at your picnic spot. Calle Palo Verde 210 in La Crucecita; order by phone or WhatsApp 958 125 5679.

Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen, and of course something to keep you hydrated.

You are unlikely to encounter any vendors, so leave your wallet at home. However, officially there is a small fee to use the Huatulco National Park. If you see a ranger, you might be asked for 10 pesos to buy a paper bracelet indicating you are authorized to be in the park, so have some change in your pocket.

Wherever you go and whatever you consume, I am sure it will be a memorable day. To ensure that others can enjoy a similar experience, please remember this simple international rule for visiting national parks and reserves: Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view Bed and Breakfast (www.bbaguaazul.com).

Love by Any Definition in the Age of a Pandemic Lockdown

By Susan Birkenshaw

February 2021 is upon us. and while this, traditionally, is a romantic time of year it may take on a new twist of meaning for many of us this year. Valentine’s Day has so many ideas behind its concept. It could mean anything to any of us – from horrific murders, to the loss of a Saint or even love – long-enduring or love at first sight! For me, it is a time to consider and strengthen relationships of any kind – romantic, friend, family or even with your furry four-legged friend!

This has been a long and weird year of lockdowns, health fears, personal loss, and even worldwide turmoil and political unrest, which has brought me to considering how the relationships that are most important to us can survive and thrive. So, I have been on a quest to find out how my pals – close and worldwide – have created success in the relationships they hold most dear. In mid-December 2020, I sent a 5-question survey to 40 of my friends and connections around the world – representing a cross-section of singles and couples, with responses from both men and women aged 45 to 78. Much to my surprise, I received almost 60% back.

My questions were simple to write but when I started to write my own answers, it was much more difficult than I anticipated. The questions I asked all related to the lockdowns in 2020 and included the respondent’s top three critical relationships, what was most important to keep these relationships moving forward, what gets in the way, what is next in keeping relationship success going in the near future and how are we feeling about the coming year 2021 – specifically and in general?

Here are the respondents’ common themes. First, friends old and new are critical – my sense is that by year’s end everyone is craving connections and a wider variety of conversations, especially if they are living alone. I know that my mom who is 94 years old – spry, savvy, and with-it – wants desperately to be able to meet new people in her seniors’ residence, not because she doesn’t like those whom she knows but because a variety of connections give her energy!

Second, the absolutely most important connection was family – the definition here changes often from a single person (spouse, mother, brother, one person from the family at large) to a broader focus, say with a weekly family group ZOOM meeting. I find it fascinating that these definitions were not surprising when I spoke to my respondents – for example, I spoke to one person who has a large and widely spread family and the most important connection he has is his sister. On pondering this, he found this realization curious, but then his comment was “Well, my kids are busy, and I shouldn’t bother them!” I’d say this is something to think about.

Another critical insight that came up regularly was the friends who were long-term pals, the ones people have known for as long as 70 years. These come in the form of college or university friends, friends from first jobs, spouses of 50+ years, siblings who are close and supportive, and of course kids and grandkids.

In reviewing all the answers that I received, I found the most common themes of what worked and keeps the connections ongoing is a shared history, using technology (many learned new tech) – playing bridge online, fitness classes via ZOOM, simple phone calls. People develop new mantras that become important to them, often quotations: “It will be fine in the end and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end.” And my New Year’s Resolution, which I can’t claim to have written myself, but it works for me: “Think with honesty, speak with sincerity and act with integrity!”

Most of my respondents were grateful for two or three common things – laughter was first, honest conversations and a friends’ network that remains optimistic/supportive/challenging. Those who have pets of any kind were grateful for a different type of responsibility and sounding board: “Lucy (my pug-dog) doesn’t talk back but she does listen to my ideas as I talk them through, and she really does hear my sad tones when I need a cuddle!” “No matter what, I have to walk the dog!” “Sure, I can’t travel but it’s not as difficult to have a dog who I love when I have none of that choice.”

What I found deeply saddening was when I asked what gets in the way or makes it difficult to keep these important connections going in the times of lockdowns, there were many responses that were self-critical (“it’s my fault that …”) or less than positive when reviewing personal successes during 2020.

There were detractors or negatives common throughout the responses, such as fear of so many unknowns – COVID, economy, lack of personal value; perceived personal laziness; anxiety was a big issue along with self-doubt; lack of personal purpose; really poor time management with no personal schedule and if there is one, it is often tipped by a well-meaning spouse; no energy and becoming complacent.

The whole impact of COVID fatigue eats away at our personal foundations and the lack of clarity from each other and from any government agency is getting to us. Many of us are suffering My fear is that self-sabotage might become a habit and excuses are easy; since 2021 may continue to be stressful and fear-ridden, we all need to find ways to avoid these horrid habits. They get harder and harder to break!

Now, thinking about this new year we find ourselves in – what will we do better, how do we feel about the short-term future, is there any reason to be optimistic? My survey folks all had a similar responses – their goals and commitments to themselves and to their relationships all had a similar flavour. We all want to use our time better – more personal development that may be on our own or include our close connections, protecting the good health we have so that we could if absolutely necessary ward off any disease or virus. Increasing family connections came up surprisingly often – more regular Skype or ZOOM with siblings and more honest asking for support, simple help, or ideas for problem-solving – either personal or business-related.

My last question was one that I asked to test the waters of where our lives might be going in 2021; of the two dozen or so responses I received back, an overwhelming number of people are quite optimistic about what this year will bring. Without a doubt, there is some pessimism, which seems to stem from the anger so many feel about the things the news media spit out every day (many of us have turned off the news). This pessimism also stems from fear of the disease – especially in those who have vulnerable family members.

Most were looking forward to the vaccine process; most are quite proud of what they have learned in the lockdown months, and many had a clearer plan about how they will handle the isolation of lockdown better. People definitely see things that sit at the end of the vaccine rainbow – hugs without fear, shoe shopping, a meal with nice menus instead of QR codes and certainly live entertainment, including concerts and galleries and sports with a real audience.

Finally, focusing on Valentine’s Day 2021, I believe that it is a perfect time to rekindle the fun in self-care, relationship nurturing and the romance in our one-on-one relationships. So here is a simple list of ideas of things to put energy back into your most critical connections. Of course, all of these ideas can be done purely as self-care, over ZOOM or Skype with your closest folks or in person with your live-in partner.

  1. Find some sunshine, outdoors play or simply sit on the balcony. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is truly a thing – commit to getting enough Vitamin D.
  2. Have breakfast in bed.
  3. Recreate a special event – go on a date, attend a concert (Spotify), take an art class.
  4. Create a scavenger hunt within your lockdown boundaries – around your condo, in your back yard – like an Easter egg hunt for kids or adults!
  5. Take a class on a subject new to you – mixology, wine appreciation, Van Gogh painting night, singing (yes, to yourself works!).
  6. Game night – cards, Monopoly, gin, JENGA – dig out the old cottage board games – checkers, chess, even Chutes and Ladders.
  7. Movie binge night – yes, you can do this on the net! Each one of your “safe” group gets to choose a title.
  8. Write a love letter – romantic, grateful or expressing things others may not know about you or how you feel about them. You don’t need to hit the send button – this is for you and those you choose.
  9. Plan out series walk routes – for yourself alone or with your partner and another series of routes for your connections in their neighbourhoods. Take the time to make it interesting for them – Google Maps is incredible for this. Please stay safe here – walk in the daylight.
  10. Plan an incredibly special meal for yourself, get your group to do the same, choose a common time and then cook and eat with them at a ZOOMed table – there is something about breaking bread with those who mean the most to you.
  11. Stargazing – take a long moment to look up when walking the dog just before bed.

Here’s what I have learned from this exercise. Any relationship or connection will benefit from some simple reminders.

  1. “Pay It Forward” works when you find yourself grateful for some amazing thing in this time of lockdown.
  2. Be strong!
  3. Share a smile!
  4. Be kind – to yourself and others!
  5. Wear a mask – safety for you and others, and purely simple respect for those around you!

Thank you to my “survey pals” – I deeply appreciate your thoughts and time and willingness to share.