Living in Alaska, my partner Bruce and I always looked forward to yearly, extended vacations in Mexico. Each year we selected a new, small section of the coast between Mazatlan and Barra de Navidad for our roaming explorations. We would also spend a month or more setting up housekeeping, staying put in one place in a rented apartment or bungalow, pretending that we were living in Mexico.
One year, exploring in the State of Nayarit, we stumbled upon a charming casita in the town of La Peñita de Jaltemba, in a neighborhood known as Colonia Pescadores. We stayed there for several weeks. We were immersed much further into Mexican life than we had been in previous years and we loved it.
Good things, memorable things, and sometimes almost magical things happened to us almost every day while we stayed at that little house on Calle Mazatlan.
Years later, we learned that several other, present day La Peñita expats, now close friends, had also once stayed in this very same casita. None of us knew each other back then. Other options to rent other casitas were plentiful. The house was not advertised as being for rent, and none of us were steered to the house by the same person. But like us, they were influenced to make important life decisions as a result of their time in that house. There is no logical explanation for this; it goes beyond mere coincidence.
The casita on Calle Mazatlan is just a few steps from the beach at the north end of La Peñita. Just a bit further inland, there is a big, brackish water lagoon. It is so thickly grown with brush that, unless the water level is very high, one would not easily know it is back there. It drains under the small bridge at the south end of Calle Mariposa and continues right by the front of the little house. Back then, there was always enough water in this tiny mouth to float a boat, and at high tides, there was room to bring in and moor a couple of pangas.
When we stayed there, almost every day, we would say hello to Chuy, a young fisherman who kept his boat tied up near the front porch. I got into the habit of asking him to sell us some fish. Our Spanish language skills were extremely limited at that time, and I could never quite understand his reason for not being able to sell us some fish. As it turned out, he was catching only dorado, and he never cut his fish; he sold his fish whole, to a wholesaler.
But one day, in reply to my question, he told me that the next time he caught a small dorado, he would sell it to me, but I would have to buy the whole fish. I agreed, if he would filet it for us.
So the deal went through, but even a small dorado yields an awesome pile of fish. It was soon obvious to us that even if we ate fish every day, we could never eat it all during our vacation.
So every day after that, when we would see Chuy out front, I would ask him if he wanted to buy some fish. For a few days, I think he thought I was serious. But eventually, he came to know that it was going to be my daily joke. Even today, some 20+ years later, if I see Chuy on the beach, I ask him if he wants to buy some fish, and we have a good chuckle.
The little children of Colonia Pescadores were plentiful, curious, and they roamed around in a pack. They never came in our house, but if the door was open, they would crowd around it and watch us from the porch. Lilly was the undisputed child-boss of that little tribe. If we produced a broom, she would instruct the other children on how to properly tidy up the front porch. When they were done, she would shake blossoms out of the bougainvillea, and they would start all over.
Our vacations in Mexico always ended with a certain dread of the return to Alaska winters. This vacation ended with the same, familiar regret, but we had reached an affirmative milestone. We were newly excited and hopeful of a more permanent future in Mexico. We had found our new favorite place.
Today, we are happily living full time in our own house, Casa Libertad, in La Peñita, just a short beach-stroll from the casita on Calle Mazatlan.
A couple of recent years ago and long after the vacation in Colonia Pescadores, Martin, a newer friend of ours, brought his partner to our house to meet us. We were suprised to see that it was Lilly, now an adult! I recognized Lilly immediately from the old days on Calle Mazatlan, but she did not remember us.
So I told her this story from the time we vacationed at the Calle Mazatlan casita, when she was a little girl…
I had found a wonderful seed on the beach. It was a richly beautiful seed, resembling in size and appearance, a deer’s eyeball. I wanted to collect more.
One day, I showed the seed to the front porch children and their boss, Lilly. I asked if they knew what it was. They did, and from them, I learned the name: ojo de venado. I asked if they could find more and they assured me that they could, and off they all scattered.
The next day, when the child gang showed up, I expected them to have lots of the seeds. But Lilly, per usual, at the head of the pack, pulled just one out of her pocket and presented it in the palm of her tiny hand.
I was happy to have it, but I had to ask if they could not have found more. Lilly looked at me with some puzzlement and said quite seriously; “But you only need one.”
Wow. That explanation hit me, almost rocking me back on my heels. It seemed so mystical and cryptic and wise, but I had no idea what she meant.
I pondered that exchange for several days. Later, I came to know that many households keep one of these seeds handy, to ward off or cure problems of the eye. If you ever see an infant with something wrapped in gauze and tied around its wrist, you will find that inside is an ojo de venado, and that the baby probably has, or had pink eye.
Sitting on the front porch of Casa Libertad, as I told Martin and Lilly this story from long ago, Lilly listened intently, and her serious expression gradually changed to a broad grin as she began to remember us; the two Gringos who once stayed at the casita on Calle Mazatlan. The fact that she did come to remember us, is remarkable in itself, given that she was only 7 or 8 years old at the time.
The day after our visit from Martin and our reintroduction to Lilly, there came a knock at the Casa Libertad front gate. It was Lilly, and there she was, just as she was almost 20 years earlier, her still-tiny palm outstretched, presenting me with an ojo de venado. With that gesture, it was her turn to take me back to the fond memories of the little house on Calle Mazatlan.
About the Author: Tom Plattenberger and his partner Bruce are full-time residents of La Peñita. Tom founded Jaltemba Bay Folk in 2000 and retired from that pursuit in 2010. Art, design, photography, biking and writing are the blurry focus of Tom’s life of leisure. He sometimes escapes his cluttered home studio in his Jeep, exploring the backroads inland of Highway 200.
This story is the second in a 6-part series. Click here to read “Enchanting Little House in La Peñita: The Intro” to learn how this story came to fruition, along with other stories in this series.
This story was submitted by one of our readers. If you want to join in the fun and share your stories and photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to Tosia@JaltembaBayLife.com