Chasing the Wave: Mario’s Guide to Surfing the Cape

Mario’s guide to surfing the cape is part of our article, Surfing Santeños, published in the Summer 2012 issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

Las Palmas (San Pedrito)
Drive 5 km south from Todos Santos on Highway 19. Look for the Campo Experimental building on your left, and turn off the highway onto one of the dirt roads that winds toward the beach. Las Palmas is a beautiful beach with a lot of palm trees, and has a fast, heavy beach break.
Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

San Pedrito
South of Las Palmas you will find San Pedrito. Also known as Pescadero Beach, it’s about 8 km south of Todos Santos. It’s a point break with a rocky bottom and breaks best with a north swell.                                                                                                        • Best for: Advanced surfers

Los Cerritos
This is one of the best beaches in Mexico for learning to surf. Los Cerritos is a beach break with a sandy bottom and has one of the most consistent waves in Baja. It is also one of the few swimmable beaches in the area. From Todos Santos, look for the Cerritos signs at km 66. Lodging and restaurants are located nearby.
• Best for: Beginner to advanced surfers

La Curva
La Curva, also known as KM 93, has a long, right point break that only breaks with north swells and mostly in the winter. Watch for three large rocks you can only see at low tide.
Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

Monuments
Five minutes from Cabo San Lucas on the way to San Jose del Cabo, this is a left point break that is best with a south swell, although it also breaks with north swells. Take the road to Misiones Hotel and park on the road. Be aware of sea urchins at low tides.
• Best for: Advanced surfers

Old Man’s
Also known as Acapulquito, this is one of three close breaks on the Costa Azul Beach. It is east of the Palmilla sign, on the right below the view point off the highway to San Jose del Cabo. It breaks with a south swell and there is a long, right point break, especially good for long boards. The waves are mushy and easy to read. Watch for rocks at low tide. Surf lessons and rentals are available here, and many restaurants are located nearby.
• Best for: Beginner to intermediate surfers

The Rock
Another break that needs a south swell, The Rock is located on the Costa Azul Beach, east of Old Man’s. It is named for the rocks that are visible from the viewpoint. It is a long, right point break, a little faster than Old Man’s.
• Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

Zippers
Last of the three Costa Azul breaks, Zippers is a shorter, faster, right point break. This break is popular with the locals who may seem a little territorial. Only breaks with a south swell.
Best for: Advanced surfers

Shipwrecks
Shipwrecks offers a fast, right point break. Be aware of rocks. It is located on the East Cape. To get there travel past downtown San Jose del Cabo on the bridge over the estuary then drive approximately 20 minutes east.
• Best for: Advanced surfers

Nine Palms
Drive another 20 minutes east of Shipwrecks, and look for the palms at the little rancho, where you may find donkeys and cows resting in the shade. This is a mushy, long point break, good for long boards.
Best for: Beginner surfers

Surfing Santeños

This article by Bryan Jáuregui  of Todos Santos Eco Adventures and Mario Becerril of Mario Surf School was published in the Summer 2012 issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

In the age of jet-setting surfers pursuing monster waves across the globe for fame and money; of California surf breaks so crowded it is not uncommon to see 100 boards or more in the water; of jet skis towing surfers to catch waves that the human body could never conquer on its own, it is wonderful to hear Todos Santos resident Steve Merrill recall the age in which he first saw a surfer. “It was 1956 and I was six years old. My parents were driving the car along Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California, and I saw a guy standing on a giant wooden board gliding across the waves, completely alone on the water. It is impossible to describe the impact that vision had on me.  I knew then and there that surfing was what I had to do.” Steve’s immediate enthrallment with surfing is echoed in the voice of the young narrator in Australian writer Tim Winton’s surfer-coming-of-age novel Breath, “How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared…as if dancing on water was the best and bravest thing a man could do.” Back in the day, Winton tells us, surfing was the closest a man could get to poetry.

If surfing is akin to poetry then Todos Santos today is the City Lights Bookstore and the Beatniks are having a poetry slam. “We’re living the bonus years here in Todos Santos” says surfing resident Billy Girvan. Like many expats in the Todos Santos surfing community, Billy grew up in California just as surfing culture was taking root. “In 1959 I was 12 years old and saw these guys surfing in Santa Barbara.  All I wanted was to be like them. It wasn’t just the surfing, it was the life style that was so appealing, the beach life, the freedom. They were so different from everyone else. I traded my go-cart for a surfboard and never looked back.” Todos Santos surfer Jim McRoberts knows just how he feels. “In 1962 I was 15 and living in Sierra Madre, California. My uncle was a founding member of the San Onofre Surf Club and took me with him to the beach one day. That first time riding a wave, the sensation was simply amazing. It took hold of me immediately and I couldn’t think of doing anything else. My passion has never lessened from that day to this.” Like Billy, Jim was just as in love with the surfing culture as with the surfing itself. “Everything important was happening at the beach.”

Billy, Jim, Steve and countless other expat surfers living in Todos Santos went from being “grommets”, or “gremmies” – slang for young surfers – to embracing the full surfing life as older teens and adults. A lot of school was missed, a lot of pretty girls chased, a lot non-food items ingested and a whole lot of waves caught.  Poetry? Absolutely.  “Poetry is not only dream and vision” says poet Audre Lorde, “It is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It [is] a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” For these boys surfing was the bridge to embracing nature in a most intimate, thrilling and terrifying way. Surfing was the bridge out of an ordinary life into something sublime. Surfing was the bridge to salvation.  “Going to the ocean is like going to church for me.” says Jim who went on to get a Masters in English and is currently writing a novel about surfing. “If it wasn’t for surfing I would have been a drug addict or alcoholic like a lot of my friends. You have to stay physically fit to surf. It saved me.” Billy, who went on to become a founding member and bass player for the hard rock band NoXit, agrees. “I was in the midst of living this rock star’s life and surfing is definitely what kept me healthy, what kept me alive.”

Steve Meisinger and Friends in Baja in 1975

As countless movies and songs throughout the 1960’s and ‘70s glamorized surfing culture, the surf breaks in California inevitably became more crowded and surfers became more territorial and protective of their breaks, often resulting in a tense and aggressive atmosphere. Some surfers, like Steve Meisenger, or “Meisy”, started looking elsewhere and in 1973 at the age of 18 the Morro Bay, California board shaper started coming to Baja to enjoy the peninsula’s stark beauty and uncrowded breaks. “I was getting a degree in Ornamental Horticulture at Cal Poly and would save all the money I made shaping boards during the year to come to Baja in the summer. We would live in the van and camp on the beach. We never went out to eat, we never stayed in a hotel. All of our money went to surfing and survival.” Meisy started a successful, 30-year career as a housing contractor but continued to come to Baja at least once a year.  He stumbled upon Todos Santos in 1981 while looking for a mechanic. He was captivated. He found himself returning to surf the breaks here every year, and by 1990 had bought property and started building his house. “The environment in most of Baja is so harsh, but in Todos Santos we get the great waves as well as this lush environment, great weather and wonderful creature comforts.”

 

Steve Merrill Surfing in Todos Santos. Photo by Sam Belling.

The magic of Todos Santos surfing has a powerful pull.  By the time Billy first visited Todos Santos in 1994 it had been 14 years since he’d last been on a surf board. But much to his joy he found that he could still ride the waves. Much to the consternation of his wife he also found that he really wanted to surf all the time, once again. “But luckily that beautiful woman really loves me so when I said I wanted to move to Todos Santos to surf she backed me 100%. We sold all of our property and here we are.” Jim knows just what he means.  When he and his wife married in 1989 they moved to the mountains of Oregon so they could pursue her love of horses. “But I thought about surfing every single day, and even carved a sculpture of a wave to put over the mantel.” A 3-year road trip throughout the North American continent brought them to Todos Santos in 2009. It had been 20 years since Jim was last on a surf board, but the magic returned immediately. “Every good wave that you ride is like a gift. It is this energy that is there for you personally, energy that has come 2,000 miles for you to merge with and take to the Todos Santos shore.”  Jim and his wife sold their Oregon property and have been in Todos Santos ever since.

No matter whether they surfed every day for the past 5 decades or abandoned the waves for years, surfing still provides the “skeleton architecture” of these men’s lives as they move through their 60s. And one of the key reasons they love surfing Todos Santos is, as Steve says, “This is as nice a surfing community as anyone could ever hope to find. There is hardly any localism and everyone on the waves is respectful and supportive of each other in the water.”  While they may not have the stamina and moves of youth, the men don’t seem to mind (much). “Let’s face it” says Billy, “the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun. And that’s usually me!” Coming from a guy with 2 titanium bars, 4 screws and 3 vertical spacers holding his back together, that’s no mean feat. Billy already has days on the water when his back prevents him from getting up on the board, and he can see a time coming when he won’t be physically able to surf any more. “But I’m just not that worried” says Billy. “There is always mind surfing!” Poetry? Oh yes indeed.

The Saints of Todos Santos: Massage Therapist Hesed

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

In the 1980s the Dalai Lama identified a Spanish kid as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama who had died a few years before in California. The boy was placed in a monastery in India with other children believed to be reincarnations and trained to the spiritual life. He thought it sucked. Once he turned 18 he hit the road, lived next door to Richard Gere for a while, then became a film student in Madrid. He made it very clear in press conferences that he’d rather be slathered in honey and tied to an ant pile than assume the spiritual leader mantle.

So the next time the Dalai Lama thought he found a reincarnation of a spiritual leader in a Spanish-speaking country like, say, Mexico, it’s not difficult to conjecture that he took pity on the kid – compassion being pretty much rule number one in the Dalai Lama handbook – and just let him grow up with his family and make his own way to his destiny. What would that life look like? What would that destiny look like? Well, to start, it is said that lamas do have some say in who they will be reincarnated as so it’s likely that that the Mexican kid would have been born to vegetarians, the type who practice yoga and meditation, the kind of people who would have helped him understand the strong connection between mind and body by giving him a massage every Sunday night before the start of the school week.

So of course he would be very strong in mind and body, probably winning Athlete of the Year during all four years of high school and being captain of the Mexican team in the 13th annual International Young Physicists Tournament in Budapest. For example.

In college, given the volatile state of the environment, the resulting stress on our oceans and the implications for all the life that depends on it, he naturally would be drawn to marine biology. And, having decided on marine biology, he would of course go to the best school in the land for such studies, UABCS in La Paz. Likely a proponent of Think Globally, Act Locally, his BS thesis would be something like Environmental Diagnoses for the East Cape Coastal Zone, Los Cabos, Mexico.

Now that family he chose to reincarnate into would of course be helping with his spiritual education, but in the subtle, roundabout way that some effective families have. For example, a beloved uncle might give him a book about someone he found inspiring, someone who dedicated his life to helping mankind. Someone like Sri Aurobindo, the founder of Auroville, India, a place recognized by UNESCO since 1968 as a project for the good of mankind, where people from all over the world go to engage in an ongoing “experiment in human unity, transformation of consciousness, focus on sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.” This book would really speak to him and he would finally (and the Dalai Lama might say inevitably) go to India. Unlike the Spanish kid who was forced to go, the Mexican kid would think India was da bomb.

The Mexican kid would probably go on that first trip to India just as a tourist, but it would confirm and further define his path in life. Upon returning home he might try a Vipassana, or Insight Meditation retreat, and learn the power of meditation to bring together mind, body and spirit. This might then prompt him to organize a series of conferences entitled something like “Que es la Vida” or “What is Life?”, using science to explore new ways of defining life. Always questing for knowledge, he’d likely continue his studies by pursuing a Masters of Science in Marine and Coastal Sciences, with a thesis on something like Management Program of the Corridor Los Frailes-La Ribera, Municipio de Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, México; Using a Model of Environmental Indicators. And when he got his Masters he’d continue to Think Globally, Act Locally, working with organizations like the World Wildlife Federation to organize and implement a series of local workshops around a worldwide event like “Earth Hour”, in which populations across 135 countries switch off essential lights for one hour in celebration of the world’s largest voluntary environmental action, while also developing a management plan for the fishing community in Magdalena Bay.

And, without a doubt, he would find his way to a pueblo magico, to a place called All Saints, where he would continue his integration of mind, body and spirit by learning to surf. And doing more yoga. And more meditation. And embarking on a career in massage. In fact, even when his Master’s thesis gets (some would say inevitably) published as a book by Editorial Académica Española in Spain, he’d likely decide to take his budding practice to the next level of therapeutic massage, helping others to experience the healing benefits of mind, body and spirit integration. Naturally he will do his training in Auroville, India. The Dalai Lama couldn’t have planned it better!

And that Mexican kid – now a young man – could be one of your neighbors. He could be one of those surfer dudes that you see at Los Cerritos, or one of the massage therapists that you see working with guests at Los Colibris Casitas while on a Todos Santos Eco Adventures trip, or maybe even one of the baristas at Baja Beans. In fact, he could be all of those people. And of course he doesn’t have to be the actual reincarnation of a lama to set a great example of a life lived in joy and focused on helping others. Even the Dalai Lama said that we can live without religion and meditation but we can’t live without friends. Hesed does mean “friend” in Hebrew. And sometimes – although we will miss them – we have to rejoice in our friends going far away to places like India to pursue their destinies and fulfill their dreams. We just hope that the lure of our magic village brings them back to us.

What’s in a tattoo?
Hesed’s back tattoo is actually two tattoos working together as one. The first one is the circle in the middle which he got in Indonesia. “It’s a mandala of who I am, radiating light out from a circle in the middle.” The three spirals within the circle stand for the elements of earth, water and fire. The second one is, most obviously, a snake, which in prehispanic culture represents Mother Earth. Hesed has two other tattoos on his chest and is working on the design for a new one to go down his left arm.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012

The Saints of Todos Santos: The Brilanti Family

“My mother was a free spirit, an egalitarian and a bohemian, and ended up getting sent away to school because she was always running off to work with Diego Rivera on his murals. And all this was when she was just 10 years old.  You know, she never really cared for Frieda Kahlo very much.” So begins Alejandra Brilanti’s story of her mother Ana Nuñez Basso de Brilanti, the matriarch of the Brilanti family of Todos Santos and renowned silver artisan of Taxco.

While the likes of Eleonor Roosevelt ultimately became fans and customers of Ana’s, and her story is featured prominently in the histories of the silver jewelry industry in Taxco, it can be definitively declared that her artistic success was not her mother’s fault.   When Ana was a little girl one of her sisters died and was laid out in the family parlor for 3 days. Ana thought the scene was beautiful and painted it. Her mother thought the painting was blasphemous and smashed it. These constant struggles over art earned Ana a passage to boarding school where, at the age of 14, she graduated to a teaching position to contribute to the family income.  She worked incredibly hard for the rest of her life, but – despite her mother’s best efforts – she worked doing what she loved most: art.

Ana Brilanti

Ana and her husband Rafael moved to Taxco from Mexico City in the 1930s for Rafael’s government job. Around the same time, an American named William Spratling left his job as an instructor in architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans (where he shared a house with William Faulkner) and moved to Mexico full-time. He became an integral part of the Mexican art scene, and used the proceeds of a commission earned securing a New York exhibit for Diego Rivera to purchase a house in Taxco. At this time, the early 1930s, Taxco was famous for the production and export of silver, but there was no silver jewelry industry in the town to speak of. That all changed under Spratling. He opened his first store in Taxco in 1931, and by 1933 silver jewelry and silver objects designed by Spratling had become the major sellers in his shop.

William Spratling

Spratling needed talented artists and artisans to create the jewelry for his store, and he was continually on the lookout for new apprentices for his workshop. One day as he was walking down the street, he saw Ana Brilanti in front of her house, and couldn’t help but notice the beautiful designs carved into her door. He inquired and Ana admitted that she was indeed the wood carver and designer, and Spratling persuaded her to share more of her designs with him. Amazed by what he saw, Spratling invited Ana to learn to work silver with him and the Brilanti silver dynasty was launched.

By 1940 Ana – like many other Spratling apprentices around that time – felt accomplished enough to go off on her own and, with Spratling’s blessing, opened her first silver store in Taxco, Plateria Victoria S.A. Ana’s husband had created a new technique for making jewelry of both copper and silver, and this combination became one of the distinctive hallmarks of Ana’s line of Victoria jewelry. American department stores accustomed to buying jewelry for their customers in Europe had their supply lines disrupted by World War II, so they started purchasing silver jewelry and objects from Taxco. Ana’s store did so well that her husband left his government job to become Ana’s manager and promoter, and their success lead to the opening of a 2nd store in Taxco in 1958 called Cony.

Alejandra was 12 when her father passed away, and it was only then that she really got to know her mother. And despite all of Ana’s success, the woman that Alejandra discovered was still that 10-year old egalitarian at heart. She never spent any money on herself (“why would a person need more than one pair of shoes?”) but continually gave her money to those in need. Not only did she run a small local hospital, she also made all the clothing and sheets that it needed. Alejandra continued to live near her mother after she married Ruben Gutierrez, and the couple only left Taxco and Ana when the tough economy in Taxco drove them to seek opportunity in Mexico’s last frontier, Baja California Sur.

Alejandra Brilanti with Ruben’s Pottery in Manos Mexicanos

Cabo was Alejandra and Ruben’s first home in Baja, but a few weekends in Todos Santos soon convinced them to move north, and for the last 16 years they’ve made their home, built their business, and raised their family in Todos Santos. Their beautiful store of pottery, handicrafts and jewelry – Manos Mexicanos – has been in at the corner of Centenario and Topete since its inception.

And the magic of our pueblo magico has nurtured the artistic leanings of the family. Shortly after moving to Todos Santos Ruben took a pottery class with a Navajo Indian who had been invited to town by founding artist Charles Stewart and his wife Mary Lou. While Ruben had always been good with clay, that instruction and inspiration set him on a path to creating some the most beautiful and distinctive pottery to be found in Baja. Alejandra and Ruben’s nephew Arturo also found his artistic calling in Todos Santos: he works at Manos Mexicanos by day, and paints every night after putting his children to bed. His works can be found in both his mother’s store Galeria A and Manos Mexicanos. And of course there are the Brilanti silver stores. After Ana Brilanti’s death, Alejandra’s brother Pepe joined her and Ruben in Todos Santos. He opened Joyeria Brilanti, a store that pays wonderful homage to Ana’s beautiful designs. Pepe’s son Rafael also runs a Brilanti Joyeria in Todos Santos, producing silver works based on both his Grandmother Ana’s designs and his own.

Alejandra and Arturo in Manos Mexicanos

Given the fierce battles that she fought to pursue her own artistic career, Ana Brilanti would no doubt be thrilled to see her skills, designs, and innate artistic talent blossoming and thriving with her descendents in an artist colony. Her only note of disapproval might be for the Frieda Kahlo Christmas ornaments on sale in her daughter’s store!

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012

The Saints of Todos Santos: Spiritual Leader Robert K. Hall

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

It was 1968 and Robert Hall was living The American Dream. He had a thriving psychiatric practice, a huge house in Mill Valley, and a wonderful family with his childhood sweetheart of a wife and their children. The only drawback was that it was killing him. He was working 24/7 – a Rolfing practice during the day and a Gestalt therapy practice at night – and he was exhausted, drained and he needed some answers. As has happened at every critical juncture in his life, he got them – immediately. He went to a friend’s house and, while waiting for him, saw a piece of paper on the floor. He picked it up and found it was a transcript of a talk by an Indian spiritual master. As he began to read he found it was like a voice speaking in his mind, a light literally shining in the darkness. It was a light so bright that his wife actually saw it too. He dialed the telephone number at the bottom of the page, and it was his next-door neighbor in the geodesic dome. The signs were clear and Robert didn’t hesitate.

Charan Singh, Robert’s Spiritual Master

Robert and his wife Alyssa left their 3 children with a friend and went to India for 4 months to study with Charan Singh, the man whose talk Robert had read on that fateful day, and the man who was to remain Robert’s spiritual master for the rest of Singh’s natural life…and beyond. As Singh’s guests their 4 months in India were completely free, but not without some costs. Alyssa contracted typhus and Robert was frantic as there were no doctors in the area they were living except one who didn’t like to work on Westerners, despite– or perhaps because of – the fact that he was an Austrian-born American himself: Dr. Randolph Stone. He also happened to be Charan Singh’s personal physician, who was finally able to persuade him to see Alyssa. When Robert and Alyssa arrived at his garden office, they saw lots of Indians sitting around in various stages of distress, many with metal clamps on their fingers. There was screaming coming from Dr. Stone’s office. Robert, an army veteran, pressed on. When Dr. Stone worked on Alyssa with his hands he swayed and sang like the religious ecstatic he was. Robert tried not to freak out. When Dr. Stone finished working on Alyssa he had completely healed her. On the spot. Robert became his apprentice.

Robert’s career to that point had been shaped by his apprenticeships with two leading lights in the psychiatric world, both of whom were focused on mind-body integration in treating patients: Dr. Fritz Perls who developed Gestalt Therapy, and Dr. Ida Rolf, originator of the body-work known as Structural Integration or “Rolfing”. In fact, he ended up with that house in Mill Valley when Dr. Perls asked him to move to the Bay Area to start the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco. Robert’s apprenticeship with Dr. Stone took his approach to mind-body work to a whole new level. Dr. Stone, the founder of Polarity Therapy, taught Robert how to work and heal with the energy of the body.

Randolph Stone, Robert’s Teacher, Partner and Friend

Inspired by his experiences in India, the teachings of Charan Singh, and his 3 main apprenticeships, Robert co-founded the Lomi School in Santa Rosa, California in 1970 “to bring together a group of far-out modalities into one practice. Lomi was founded on the principle of the integration of mind, body, and spirit, with particular emphasis on the life of the body.” Robert, his wife Alyssa, and two other couples formed the core of the school, and Dr. Stone became their partner and teacher. Robert earned an international reputation for his innovative and pioneering therapies and the Lomi School thrived. Robert no longer had to do Rolfing during the day and Gestalt at night – he had integrated it all into one unique, inclusive and embracing practice. Turns out The American Dream just needed some Indian spice.

But this wasn’t the path that Robert had set out on in life. When he was 15 and living in upstate New York, his passion was to go into surgery, and he managed to get himself apprenticed to the town surgeon.  He paid for medical school at the University of Buffalo by working nights as a surgical nurse, then took a year of internship and beginning surgery residency in Salt Lake City. Surgery was his calling. But in Salt Lake City Robert was hit with the realization that surgery residencies didn’t pay enough to support his growing family, so he joined the army as a captain and enjoyed a pay grade that covered his family’s needs. The tricky part was that at that point the army didn’t want more surgeons, it wanted more psychiatrists. So Robert agreed to a psychiatric residency under the army’s auspices, with the result that his first job out of residency was as Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Fort Knox (where his job description covered something called Mental Hygiene). When contemplating his numerous accomplishments in a field chosen for him by the army, a field that he so obviously loves and thrives in Robert says, “I didn’t do any of it. I didn’t make any of it happen. There is no such thing as free will. You just have to say yes to life.”

Robert in Mexico. Photo by Alvaro Colindres

In 1999 Robert decided that he was ready to retire, so he and his partner Alvaro began searching the world for the best place for them. (Robert and Alyssa had divorced, although they remain very close to this day and share 6 grandchildren.) They traveled to Italy and Spain and points beyond, but never found exactly what they were looking for. Then one of Robert’s apprentices called to tell him about a great artists’ colony he had heard about from a woman named Catherine Wall, a Todos Santos resident and artist. Robert and Alvaro came to Todos Santos to visit soon after, and within 10 minutes Robert fell in love with it. In fact, he remembered driving through Todos Santos on a vacation in 1987 and sensing “something very special in the air.” Alvaro, however, was less enthusiastic. Robert returned by himself a few months later and asked Janet Howey, the owner of El Tecolote Bookstore, if she knew of any places to rent. In short order Robert had signed a lease on La Ruina, a house in as good a state of repair as the name implies. He didn’t mention it to Alvaro until he returned home.  Within 6 months Robert (eagerly) and Alvaro (reluctantly) had moved all their belongings to Todos Santos and made the town, and La Ruina, their home.

Robert at home in Todos Santos with his paintings and an Erick Ochoa original

Like many Americans, Robert had the bulk of his retirement encased in his home, a beautiful old Victorian in Tomales Bay, Marin County. With the final move to Todos Santos Robert put his house on the market and – as was common and expected at the time – it was quickly snapped up and placed in escrow. But at the last minute the buyers found some termite damage and abruptly withdrew from the deal. Robert and Alvaro found themselves shockingly, jarringly and absolutely flat broke. Literally no funds to survive on. They decided that prayer was in order, so they got down on their knees and prayed for guidance. While they were kneeling on the floor a knock came at the door. Alvaro got up to answer it and there stood an American woman whom neither of them had ever seen before. “She said ‘I heard that Robert was a follower of Charan Singh and thought he might like to have this.” She handed a book to Alvaro, who went inside to give it to Robert. When they both returned to thank her, she had left. The book was the memoirs of Robert’s spiritual master in India, Charan Singh, now long dead but clearly not gone. Two weeks later the Tomales Bay house sold, Robert and Alvaro bought their current home in Todos Santos, and Robert settled in to enjoy retirement. As added grace, Alyssa bought a house nearby, and Alvaro grew to love Todos Santos as much as Robert, becoming a real estate agent and a great photographic chronicler of the town and its surrounding natural beauty.

One of the many results of his first trip to India was that Robert became a serious practitioner of meditation, and a firm believer in its benefits for the mind and body. In 1974 he befriended several dharma teachers who practiced Vipassana, or Insight Meditation. He started going on 10, 11, 12-day silent retreats with them and saw that these types of retreats strongly dovetailed with Gestalt therapy, helping people to really focus on the here and now, on being in the immediate present. He also came to embrace Buddhism because he saw how practical it was and how it actually answered the question of the meaning of life. He became an ordained Buddhist priest and started leading his own silent retreats in 1980. He also became affiliated with Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and currently serves on the Center’s Teachers Council.

When he retired to Todos Santos Robert had no intention to teach again. He had taught thousands of people all over the world and served as a mentor to hundreds more. He loved teaching, but now just wanted to sit back, relax and enjoy the serenity of Todos Santos. “Then one day Alvaro told me he thought I should teach again. I was against it, but he finally persuaded me to at least give it a try. So we advertised a dharma talk at La A.R.C.A., and to my surprise over 30 people showed up. And Alvaro was right, the teaching really stimulated me and I realized then that I would like to continue.” Now residents and visitors alike find that one of the best things about being in Todos Santos is the opportunity to participate in Robert’s weekly Sunday morning dharma talks at L La A.R.C.A. They also have the opportunity to participate in the week-long silent meditation retreats that Robert offers several times a year in Todos Santos. Robert does not confine his activities in Mexico to Todos Santos alone. A fellow student of Fritz Perls contacted him a few years ago and persuaded him to hold workshops in various cities around Mexico, and he now conducts several of these every year. “I absolutely love teaching my Mexican students.  Mexico is my home now and it’s wonderful being able to connect with young Mexicans in this way. This has been a great part of my so-called retirement.”

Robert Teaching in Puebla. Photo by Alvaro Colindres

On the Easter Sunday when Robert was 12, he took his young boy’s worries up the hill to seek some solace in nature. As he sat there, he was struck with the forceful inspiration, with what seemed like Word from on High, to be open to all of life’s experiences. Robert embraced that inspiration, and built an inspired and inspiring life around it. Luckily, Robert is willing to share some of the knowledge, some of the learning, some of the magic that flowed from that moment, and thereby inspire the rest of us in this pueblo magico. Thank you for prodding him on Alvaro!

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2011

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