Puerto Vallarta: My Healing Place

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May 9th 2011
Published: May 9th 2011
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Vallarta: My Healing Place

Vallarta: My Healing Place
as written by the author for the
PV Mirror
March 12: http://www.wandasthilaire.com/pdf/PV%20Mirror%20-%20Healing%201.pdf
March 19: http://www.wandasthilaire.com/pdf/PV%20Mirror%20-%20Healing%202.pdfth e

Last January, I had recently returned from a one-month Christmas vacation in Vallarta when I began to plan a celebratory trip with my best friend. At the tender age of 29, I’d had breast cancer, and last summer would have marked a 20-year cancer-free triumph. In February, two soul sisters (my friend had been through breast cancer 5 years prior) booked a “celebration of life” trip to Italy for the fall.

Two weeks later, I found a lump in my other breast. I booked an emergency mammogram, after which the doctor advised that the x-ray did not look promising. I left the concrete institute stunned and confused. After all of this time, I was sure I would never need to experience the lesson of cancer again.

On the way to see a client, I passed a beautiful field and for a moment, a calm lucidity fell over my mind in the midst of a sea of panic. I asked myself—my heart, not my head—what I would do if it were cancer. The first “order” came loud and clear: go back to Vallarta for chelation and holistic treatments before any allopathic intervention. I knew my spirit was not prepared for whatever lay ahead if I were diagnosed, and I felt my body needed immune boosting.

Mexico had been my healing zone; upon my divorce in 1993 after a short-lived marriage, I had severe back spasms and grief that threatened to overwhelm me. I booked a flight to Vallarta with two friends and one day while sitting alone on the beach in the early morning, something came over me telling me all would be well. The next morning, the back spasms had vanished and each day, the beauty of the Bay of Banderas helped to dissipate my sorrow.

Three years later, I found myself alone in France after a devastating break-up with a Frenchman. As I wandered the streets of Paris wondering what to do (I was on a six-month leave of absence from my job), I knew I had to return to Vallarta. The cold gray of Europe in November and the anonymity would not suffice. I needed the sun, the sea, and the people of Mexico to mend my wildly out-of-control heartbreak.

I rented an apartment in a small Mexican hotel in 5 de Diciembre. Awash in the bewilderment of a third catastrophe within a five-year span, I walked the hills of Puerto Vallarta each day and the shoreline each sunset. My eyes must have belied my condition; kind and concerned Mexicans would stop me to ask if there was anything I needed, anything they could do to help. Even the unkempt homeless man on my street stopped me one day to offer a chocolate muffin he’d just received. It was a gift I will never forget.

Slowly, the sun and energy of Vallarta erased the dark clouds. I took Spanish lessons from a scholarly Mexican man who was, ironically, married to a French woman. The couple took me under their wing and had me over for lively dinners with exquisite classical music. I painted in Pueblo Reale with a quiet, talented artist. The waiters and owners of the restaurants I frequented accepted me as family and always took the time to chat or play a game of dominoes. They knew I needed TLC and did not shy away from my air of sadness. After five months in Puerto Vallarta, I returned home to my Canadian life, healed and filled with gratitude for the time I was granted here.

Back to last year … in March, I was diagnosed once again with breast cancer. I immediately did my research and booked an emotional voyage to my beloved second home, PV. That was my 27th trip to Mexico and for an entirely different experience.

I came here purposefully alone and had chelation treatments with a firm but compassionate doctor, along with other daily holistic treatments. Placed on a strict cleansing diet, I was easily able to find fresh and delicious food in the mercados and the restaurants. I walked everywhere, journalized, and read seaside each day.

When people discovered the purpose of my trip, the kindness of strangers was unexpected and extraordinary. I bought freshly squeezed juice from a man on my street each morning and, one day, he wrote out a healing recipe for me. When I returned the next day and apologized because I didn’t have the time to find everything with all of my appointments, he smiled and nodded. The next morning, he handed me a bag with all of the ingredients he’d picked up at two mercados for me. No charge.

After one month in PV, I went back to Canada feeling strong, cleansed, and healthy with my spirit fortified for the challenge that lay ahead.

In between surgery and radiation, I spent a month (another heart-directed self-promise) with my sister in the beauty of British Columbia. There, I soul-searched about the path my life was taking. I’d lost my sales contract, without benefits, due to the time off I’d needed for my illness. After considering many options, it was clear what I would do after treatment. For the previous two years, a voice had been nagging at me to quit my sales career, which had become stressful in the midst of the economic downturn, and go to Vallarta to write. I’d made all manner of excuses, all logic-driven. This time my heart lead the way. I decided that life was far too short not to do what I love, where I love. After receiving a clean bill of health from my oncologist, I subleased my apartment in Calgary and moved to Puerto Vallarta on December 1 to write my second travel memoir.

When I landed, I stayed for a month at my usual little hotel and fell into a funk. After being on one mission or another to get well and plan a new life, I was lost without an assignment to immediately attend to.
My arrival was specifically planned to coincide with my favorite Mexican celebration, the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I visited el centro nightly to watch and to nosh at the many stands bearing the best of the local women’s cooking and baking. The spiritual energy of the processions, which build momentum to the finale of the virgin’s birthday on December 12, fed the part of my soul in need of reassurance after a daunting year sometimes darkened with doubt.

My sister and her boys came to celebrate my 50th birthday exactly as I had envisioned: with friends and family on the Bay of Banderas. We chartered a boat with Mike’s and had a marvelous day, complete with dolphins playing, whales breaching, huge manta rays gracefully floating past, and one lazy turtle who popped out to nod an hola. The boat was impeccable and Miguel’s crew was delightful. For a grand ending, we ventured out to Bucerias for dinner at Sandrina’s with Latcho and Andrea to entertain us. I’d had a successful Cuban-style book launch at Sandrina’s last Christmas and hit it off immediately with the vivacious owner. She surprised me with a big gourmand chocolate birthday cake buried in fresh fruit and too many candles. It was a milestone rang in with the pleasure of life at its finest.

Then came New Year’s Day and I moved into my house, a place my sister had convinced me to rent in spite of financial scurvy. I don’t think I really believed I would ever step into my dreams; I thought I’d only be plotting them out in my journal for an eternity. But I have. I am living in a little casita of my dreams with windows everywhere and a view of the entire bay and the city. It has a huge patio with a hammock and came with binoculars so powerful that I can see the craters on the moon. I have to walk up a steep, steep hill but I should have buns of steel by the time I go home for summer.

So many small pleasures are now in my reality that my heart feels flutter-bugged; things that may mean nothing to anyone else, but are just what the doctor ordered.

Who would think that food could make one so happy? The mercado in my neighborhood is filled with stalls of every kind of freshly picked fruit, vegetables and herbs and makes me smile each time I visit. An old couple sell only chicken and bring in their free-range stock daily. I can order a steak molida (ground) from the local butchers and with it, I’ve made the best Bolognese sauce ever. If I’m early enough, I pick up a little bag of farm fresh eggs that taste like little globes of heaven. There is a big, savory breakfast at the loncheria with thick tortillas, a selection of homemade salsas, and rice and beans, all for under $3.00.

I bought a large basil plant, rosemary, and an hierbabuena, that sit on my open windowsill to toss into my meals. I have a “real” kitchen, something I’ve not had for many years and I’ve made two men groan with pleasure in it—but only over food!

An afternoon at the Spanish Experience Center for my first cooking class was not only fun but also deliciosa with Azteca tortilla soup on the menu. Learning something new to add to my repertoire is exhilarating for a foodie.

I am having the time of my life selling books at the farmer’s market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on Sundays and at the Old Town Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. I love the interaction with my readers and interested people; Vallarta is a community that honors and supports creativity and the arts.

I eat my profits with the selection of delectable treats at both farmer’s markets: chocolate tamales, Thai food, savory crepes, home-baked bread of all types, croissants, pies, quiches, freshly ground coconut, salsas, handmade chocolates, dressings, tasty organic produce, fresh cheese, flax tostadas—all types of tasty treasures.

I adore Mexican food, so eat it frequently, but also enjoy the international flavor of Vallarta with its many ethnic restaurants. I am eating better and healthier than I ever have in my life and am blissed out about it.

Tres Hermanos—three brothers, German, Alberto, and Santiago introduced me to the joy of a beach foot massage. As an incentive for a prolific week of writing, a reward of a seaside massage is good for both body and soul.

There is an herbal store near Ley where I pop in to get bizarre blends of teas for any ailment or health boost. I’ve even made my own luxurious lavender sea salt scrub.

I wanted to find a gentle holistic healer to help deal with the after effects and I did, quite by serendipity. She is a calm, nurturing woman who does acupuncture and dispenses other healing remedies and treatments. I am working with a cheery strength trainer twice weekly and go to an energizing zumba class at Shanti Studio to replace my salsa aerobics back home. I am glad to be getting fit after last year’s unwanted reprieve.

To improve my Spanish, poco a poco, I take a weekly private class with Cecilia Paredes. We translate and laugh and conjugate verbs at Roberto’s—no stuffy classroom—only ocean breezes and frothy cappuccinos.

I walk everywhere and pass the ocean daily or sit for a sunset before going home. People smile and wave and stop to chat. Men compliment. I thank God every day for no snow. No snow, no snow, no snow!

The warm and wonderful women who own the coffee/book shops have been accommodating and encouraging by carrying my books and El Sofa hosted a full house reading where I met Amaranta’s loyal and enthusiastic clientèle for a rewarding Friday night.

Nature awes here and I had an amazing whale experience on a morning out with Carlos at Eco Explorer. Aside of the many magnificent whales we watched, at one point while we sat quietly, we had an astounding moment where we heard the unforgettable song of the whales through the hull of the boat, a cure for whatever ails one, in and of itself.

My creativity and inspiration have kicked into high gear. I’m endlessly entertained and never bored. I have trouble making myself go to bed and I wake early with one new idea or another. I feel like my heart is finally opening and filling and I have the miraculous healing zone of Vallarta to thank for it.

Muchisima gracias, Puerto Vallarta. This is my ode to you.

Wanda St.Hilaire is the author of The Cuban Chronicles, the Circle of Life series, and a poetry/journal written in PV called Of Love, Life and Journeys. She is currently writing her next travel memoir about the “French Fiasco” as mentioned above. You can visit her site at www.wandasthilaire.com.


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