We are all watching the world go mad and our interaction with it change. It’s mind bending. Just a few short weeks ago things were their own version of normal. It seems like a long time ago already. Let’s go back a little.
We have replaced the roof on the outdoor kitchen that has become a rain drain. When the rains came somehow, we managed to get significantly wetter underneath the roof than in the open!? The process of rebuild involves knitting halved palm leaves together. Simple enough but the make-shift scaffold that was constructed to make this happen was something to behold. One ginger gringo throwing up huge palm leaves to two Mexicans balanced on a couple of ladders, breeze blocks and 4x4s. It was wince inducing even to look at it. Gladly no accidents and no injuries. We have a new roof.
Jayne has been working hard all year and for at least three days a week she is set up in her office bed wrangling folk in Canada from her phone and laptop. I am taking up an avoidance strategy and leave the house early to get stuff done. I return on occasions to throw tea and cake at her but have a good amount of unsupervised time. The result of this and having the boys working full time is proving productive.
The jungle has a new resident. When Pauly departed he renamed the jungle cabin No.22 after his favorite number. No.22 did not stay empty for long. Our dear friend Sasha has taken residence. He is a fine human and we all rub along very nicely so it’s a blessing.
Our yoga deck has been left alone for too long. It gets some serious attention. The front area has now been tiled. The concrete roof supports have had marbles set into fine concrete work and look splendid. The pathway up to the deck is now clear of spikey things and a river rock floor has been laid. Stone walls will now direct water away from where we don’t want it and also form a small deck garden which we have planted.
We are fortunate enough to have a huge vivero (plant shop) not too far away with thousands of strange and wonderful growing things to choose from. It’s crazy cheap to fill up the Sub and fill up our beds. The gardens are looking impressive.
Another otherwise neglected area is coming alive. In front of the Mariposa cabaña is a strip of clay earth where we have failed to grow much. It was held up by the wooden block centers from the palm trees we used to build. Over time these have disintegrated and it started to look pretty ropey. The boys came to the rescue. Using cement and blocks spare from the kitchen build to create a retaining wall. This allowed the space to back fill with good earth from the river to create a fertile spot. We planted with pretty things and added water. In less than a week the pineapples that had stubbornly failed to fruit burst into life. We now have eight of them all competing with each other. Pineapples are certainly in our future.
The people have spoken. We are nagged into arranging another of our jungle dinners. Our French chef agrees and I begin taking stock of the things we need. It has been sometime since we last did this and inevitably we have lost a few things. We need more plates, more glasses, more cutlery. The rains have destroyed some things we unwisely left outside. We need more chairs for sure. I spend my unsupervised days restocking. I buy a load of cheap raw wood and wicker chairs and soak them in diesel to repel the termites before staining and waterproofing them.
We lay the huge tables, set up the chairs. Jayne is arranging fresh flowers when she gets a message that stops her in her tracks. Jayne’s best UK friend Katherine has committed suicide. We have known that Kat has been struggling for some time and have been encouraging her to come and spend time with us here but she didn’t make it. It’s the worse news. She was such a truly lovey person. I met Jayne and Kat together five years ago in the deserts of Aragon in Spain. Jayne is in shock and absolutely distraught.
Despite the news we prepare ourselves as best we can and with a lot of help from fabulous friends the dinner is done and a very good evening it was too. All our usual guests were present. 22 long term residents of San Pancho. Many of these fine folks are older than most. As it turns out this would be their last authorised socializing for a while.
The morning after the dinner Jayne flies to Toronto to wrangle folk face to face for two weeks. She hasn’t slept and is struggling with grief. Jayne, as always, doesn’t want to leave the jungle but on the plus side it does give me a whole two weeks unsupervised. It takes me the entire day to clean up after the dinner. I have never washed and polished so many glasses. Jayne finally arrives in Toronto late and exhausted and kindly sends me a picture from her bath eating takeaway Thai food. She is fully aware that those are two things I miss madly.
Tomatina bar hosts an afternoon of music in Lo De Marcos a short trip up the highway. We are blessed to have a large number of excellent proper talented local musicians. A bunch of them have formed a band. An extraordinary girl with a stunning voice is backed up by sax, guitar, keyboard, drums and trumpet. It’s a very fine afternoon of food , music and margaritas by the beach. The place is packed with a large contingent from San Pancho and retired Canadians from the adjoining trailer park. It ends well and just after sunset I’m given a lift back to the Pemex petrol station in San Pancho where I have left my car. It’s a short drive back to the jungle from there avoiding any real roads.
It may not be a complete surprise to know that I have had some very embarrassing moments in my life. What happens next is up there as one of the most painful. In my defense, the one thing we learned about our beloved Toyota Cruiser Sub is that it is almost impossible to reverse safely. The spare wheel obscures the rear window and the width of the thing make the side mirrors next to useless. Every owner we have spoken to tell us stories of reversing into things regularly. To mitigate this issue, we installed a reverse camera and a screen to help make things less dangerous.
Aware of the difficulties I slowly reverse out of the parking spot. It’s dark and my vision through the camera screen is partially blocked by a tent shade right next to me. There is a sudden jolt and it’s clear that I have hit something. I jump out the sub and am confronted with a terrifying sight. I have somehow managed to smash into the back of a hearse. Around the hearse are a collection of distraught mourners. All of them are glowering at me in horror and wailing that I have hit their dead mother!!! I am in shock. I almost can’t believe it. I start to apologise profusely to everyone, including the corpse, crossing myself and holding my hands together in shameful prayer. One of the sons takes pity on me. Hands me the wheel cover that has fallen off and allows me to remove myself from the scene. I have never been more grateful. I leave as quickly and carefully as I can.
Now this situation may be bad enough but somehow things get worse. I reverse myself around the hearse and at that very moment an invisible milk truck parks behind me and I hit the side of it. I jump out of the Sub again. The milk guys jump out of their cab and we meet up to examine the damage. It’s only a slight dent but I throw 500 pesos at them which they happily accept as recompense. This further deeply awkward nightmare is watched by the mourners who have all gathered to gawk at me. They are deciding amongst themselves if I am drunk or high or just a complete bloody moron. I accept that I am indeed a moron and drive home slightly traumatised and in absolute shame.
The pool party that was cancelled due to rainstorm at the end of January is rescheduled and after some weeks of effort our pool is looking clean and ready for anything. Some credit must be given to our newest investment that we had smuggled into the country. Hagrid is our new pool robot. Sexy looking thing which trawls the pool collecting debris and climbs the walls giving them a scrubbing on the way. The crew from Tomatina beach bar have wanted to come out and see where we live for a long time. Sasha is the bar manager there. They close up and head junglewards. We BBQ and swim in the pool and enjoy the silence. The construction machines have stopped for the public holiday. It’s a welcome break.
And then the world changes. We no longer all meet up for sunset. The pub closes. Tomatina closes. The tourists all leave. Trump finally wakes up a bit. Boris is doing his best Winston Churchill impressions. Italy loses staggering amounts of its people every day. It is now without doubt that Miley Cyrus (coronavirus) is a serious thing. How many ventilators are there in Nayarit? There are a disproportionate number of vulnerable retirees here to add to the large indigenous elderly population.
Jayne’s time in Toronto is not as she expected. She is there to interview dozens of companies at her Toronto office. Within days of arriving all meetings are cancelled; the office is shut down and she is working from her phone and laptop in her hotel room. Her employer’s absolute resolve to discourage her working from home has not worked out well for them. Everyone is now working from home. Except Jayne who is now far from home. She is making the best of it.
We rearrange her flight as soon as we can to get her home. It’s not till midweek. Jayne makes the best of it and meets her very good friend Isabelle who visits her for the weekend from Quebec. In order to make this visit Isabelle has to agree to work from home for two weeks on her return. They have a strange few days being the only ones in many restaurants and wandering the deserted streets of ghost town Toronto. Things are getting very real very quickly.
Jayne arrives at the almost entirely empty airport in Toronto for her flight home. The flight is not cancelled despite it being the first direct flight all week to Mexico having a total of six passengers. The crew tell her that the flight is overbooked on the way back with escaping Canadians so thankfully they have to go. I pick her up at the airport. We are both mightily relieved she got home under the wire as airlines are grounded and borders closed. We head to the posh supermarket on the way home and buy all the things we need for 14 days quarantine in the treehouse. We send pictures of the mountains of pasta, rice and toilet paper we have here to our jealous friends around the world. Mexico is way behind the curve in preparing for the crisis ahead but all shops are fully stocked, there is no panic buying.
We are now in quarantine in our treehouse listening the falling copomo nuts loudly smashing into the roof and balcony. We are together and so far, healthy and wanting for nothing. We are immensely grateful for our good fortune as we watch the world shut down and life as we know it change. We are look forward to sharing again when we all meet up on the other side of this. However that may look.
This is the eulogy that Jayne wrote for our dear friend Katherine.
Last week one of my best friends, Katherine Stewart, died. 💔
It has hit me very hard, and reminds me how important it is to be grateful for every day and to take care of each other.
Kat and I met as two young, single ladies seeking our fortune in the big, lonely metropolis that is London. We soon discovered that we were kindred spirits and became great friends and had many adventures over those years in London.
We travelled… We went to Paris, Berlin, Italy, Thailand, Spain, Turkey and more. Katherine was one of the rare and precious people who I could travel well with for long periods of time.
We played Ultimate Frisbee, we skied, we windsurfed, we camped, we danced, we drank wine, we cooked & baked! We shared a love of food and cake and cheese and often cooked for each other.
She celebrated my 25th birthday with me, and then helped plan the lavish masquerade ball I held for my 30th. She and I loved dressing up, costumes, bright colours, funky shoes…
Kat lived with me for a few months in Greenwich when she was buying her flat, and then decorating it with her incredible unique style.
We witnessed each other’s love lives, acted as wing women, cheerleaders and shoulders to cry on. We were there for each other. We joked that it was a shame we weren’t lesbians because then we could just marry each other and live happily ever after.
I moved away to ride the Americas on my motorbike, but we stayed in touch, and when I came back to visit London I always stayed with Katherine and we always fell right back into our effortless friendship as though we had never been apart.
We went to Spain to Nowhere, the European Burning Man, together. Katherine is my only friend who was there with me when I met Beave.
It wasn’t only me who moved away… Most of our London friends left London, fell in love, had children… And Katherine started, very slowly, to become consumed by darkness – it was just a bit harder to cope with the stresses and get back up when life knocked her down. Mediation helped, as did cake and chatting to friends, but the darkness was there in the background creeping in.
Katherine stayed in London’s gloom, working at unfulfilling, stressful jobs and searching for, and not finding, the right partner to share the highs and lows of life with.
Kat recognised the mental health issues she was facing and she sought help. Counselling, anti-depressants, therapy, CBT and other therapies all were tried. She did everything right. Just like so many other diseases, sometimes the treatment doesn’t cure you.
We saw each other when we could, going to occasional festivals or events together and spending a few days together at my house or her flat – we even went to a cottage in Norfolk for a few days together.
I moved to Mexico and over the past few years Katherine’s mental health gradually declined – the darkness settled in. Kat kept fighting though. Each time I asked Katherine told me that she “wasn’t recovering but she had high hopes for the next few months” or that although she couldn’t see the path to being well again, her therapist could.
I kept trying to convince her to come to the jungle, to get out of the isolation of being alone in a huge city – to spend some time with people who love her, in nature and sunshine. She said over and over that she would come, but couldn’t yet. I offered to buy her plane ticket, to make all the arrangements, but the darkness had taken hold, and she couldn’t even contemplate getting to the airport, never mind all the way to Mexico. But she kept fighting, kept trying new therapists, kept trying to find her lost mojo, to stop feeling so very tired.
Last week Katherine sent me a message out of the blue; “Sending love to sunny Mexico x” I replied but did not get another message in return.
It was the last I ever heard from her, her goodbye message to me. Shortly afterwards that darkness that she had been fighting for so long won and took her from us all.
It is nearly inconceivable that my Katherine, the strong, independent, capable, bright, laughing, dancing whirlwind whom I love so dearly could get to such a low, dark, terrible place where to go on living was no longer an option for her.
I certainly did not think that she was in that place. I naively still believed that she would be well enough to come to Mexico soon. To come to heal, to laugh.
I keep telling myself that she is now at peace, and no longer hurting or fighting the darkness or trying to be strong.
In 2018 Katherine’s school friend Liz committed suicide and Kat sent me this message about it:
“The celebrant at Liz’s funeral said it was just her body that was gone and she would live on in our hearts and minds. We are just all trying to make sense of it happening and inevitably trying to think how we could have prevented it. Pointless of course, it happened and we have to accept it. So very very sad and final.”
I am trying to take some kind of solace in that message, to do as Kat said we must, and not feel that I should have prevented it, to find some way to “accept it”.
Katherine will, of course, always live on in my (broken) heart and my mind as my dear friend, the strong, vibrant, independent, active, clever, funny, loyal, beautiful woman she was. I shall never forget her. In fact, at the moment I don’t know how I will get through the grief and shock of losing her. But get through it I will. The tears will dry, the pain will fade to a dull ache, Katherine will take up residence in my heart, and life will go on.
Mental illness is no joke my friends. Take it seriously and be kind to yourself and others. Visit your friends who are struggling – they may not be capable of coming to you.
I love you and I am here for you. ❤️