Janet Dunnett

Home Exchange on the Beach

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Janet Dunnett is an enigma. She has travelled the world for 30 years delivering aid in Asia and Africa. She thrived in this challenging career, but snatched her pension the moment she could to embrace the pace of grace of Island life. Loving the wet-coast environment, she still yearns for cloudless skies. Janet is grateful for her life but questions her identities as mother, grandmother, and wife of a grizzled golfer. She’s taking it easy, but remains deeply engaged in a quest to figure out what age means to her as a boomer. Janet knows she’s not alone.

The kayaks are dots on the horizon. They belong to our neighbours in the other trailer on Las Tortugitas, our private acre on the beach at La Manzanilla on the Costa Alegre of Pacific Rim Mexico. Brenda and Rico hail from an off-the-grid outcrop near Quadra Island. Today they are heading to spend the day on an even more private beach than the one we inhabit where, like true BC boomers, they can shed their clothes and lie around all day in hammocks. Ani introduced me to them, then sprinted off to catch the bus for her urban getaway in San Miguel de Allende. We are house swapping, and so she’ll stay in my casita for the week. We agreed on this last year, after I discovered that she is my neighbour in Qualicum Beach. We hatched our plan over cappuccino in the Courtyard, after our foray into the farmer’s market. I met Ani on a sultry night, eating pad thai in a funky restaurant on a cobbled back street in San Miguel. She was introduced to me by Leslie, who lives in the Yukon. I was introduced to Leslie by Monique, who lives in Courtenay. I love how the small world relationships spread and take root around here. Rapid friendship is one of the miracles of San Miguel.

But I digress. I smile as I think of Ani waking up in my casita stuffed with outlandish folk art, for her week of yoga workshops, retail therapy, and old friends from her years living here, while I take a holiday from my holiday and explore her beach society.

I love these lazy days in the simple but comfortable RV, tucked into a grove of coconut palms right on the beach. I open my eyes as the sun pours in, and smile as my sleepy brain picks up the beat of the surf. I peep out the window to see Rico finishing his dawn tai chi ballet, both of us gazing at the sparkling sea. The best time for a walk is early, before it gets too hot. I put on my shorts and walk barefoot at the water’s edge, checking out the crabs and beached sea life. A BC man who walks at dawn takes along a garbage bag which he fills with any plastic or other rubble that might have floated in from the other side of the world or the night’s fishing boats. It’s his way of giving back, even on holiday. Other beach walkers wave and air punch when they see my Vancouver Island Music Festival muscle shirt and say, “awesome, wasn’t it?” We are a diaspora of Islanders, it seems.

I stroll back along the shady path behind the beach, skirting the mangrove swamp, and keeping an eye out for crocodiles. Once home, I enjoy a leisurely breakfast, coffee from Chiapas, sourdough toast from Puerto Vallarta, smeared with dark sweet Zipolte spread from the jungle of Michoacan. The fresh fruit and goats milk yogurt come from right around the corner. Mangoes are in season and the pineapple never fails to dribble stickily down my chin.

Our chins, actually. I’m here with my identical twin sister Judi, who is visiting for a couple of months from Calgary. We’ve fantasized all our adult lives about living together, assuming we would be elderly widows by then. Now, with husbands happily “up North”, we’ve learned that the dream is now. We plan our day, periodically stopping to smile again and repeat to the universe our gratitude to be together in this beautiful place.

Strolling along the beach, taking cool ocean dips and eating lunch in laid back beach restaurants are favourite activities, rivalling snoozing in the hammock under the coconut palms, stargazing, or glowing in the peach skies of the sunset, part amazement at the scene and part the result of our Coors and Chardonnay.

The food is fresh and simple. Shrimps caught last night, filets of snapper or mahi, cooked in wine, with an organic green salad on the side. We get it each day from Roberto, our deli guy. He comes from Vancouver, and like everyone else here escaping the BC winter, is living his dream. In the afternoon, Rico chops coconuts from the pile, and we suck the nectar through a straw, then scrape out the custard inside. It’s great in smoothies. I do some writing to while away the hours, and try my hand at water colour sketching too. After dinner, and after counting shooting stars on the beach, we load a new release movie into Ani’s flat screen TV that takes up the whole back wall of the trailer.

On one night at La Tortugitas, we’d chosen the video called Captain Phillips. We’d snuggled a little more tightly than usual at the edgy scenes of hungry- looking pirates with big guns, scooting across the sea and bent on making trouble for undefended white folks. We nervously spoke of narcos out there somewhere looking for an undefended beach. How silly! What vivid imaginations! That’s when we heard the noise.

We dismissed it at first, commenting smugly that people should be more careful about disturbing the neighbours. The thumping didn’t go away. Finally, we had to agree that it was coming from under the sink. Judi is a landlord back in Calgary and wise in the ways of things going wrong. “It’s the water pump”, she said, “sucking air”. She touched it and jerked her hand back, “getting really hot”, she added. “We’ve got to turn it off”. The first strategy would have been to simply refill the tank, but in this water careful town, the hose only delivers in the morning. So we hunted ever more desperately in every nook and cranny of the interior, looking for the off switch for the darned thing, and found nothing. “I’ll pull the plug” I said desperately, “if I can find it”. With flashlight in hand, watching for wayward iguanas, I crawled through the palm and cactus hedge and finally gripped the fat stove sized wire, rusted tightly into an outlet peeking out of the sand. With an enormous yank, out popped the plug, throwing everything into inky darkness. The chugging stopped. We crept to bed and dreamed of pirates.

All was well in the morning, of course. We filled the tank. Handyman Armando came with his duct tape, and jerry rigged a solution as only a Mexican can. Ani had an adventure too. A herd of cucarachas invaded our casita with the arrival of the hot weather. Ani was un-flapped after her years in Mexico where they are regarded in song as a somewhat friendly, if unwelcome, insect. She shared with us her cuc management tips. Cover drains, sprinkle boric acid powder mixed with cocoa under counters, a non toxic roach bait, and setting little traps. Mercifully, we haven’t seen a roach since our attack on all fronts.

All in all, it was a wonderful home exchange. I wonder if other Island women have home exchange tales to tell?


Janet Dunnett
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  1. Fun read ….. You, dear Island Woman, are a true inspiration!

    • Thanks, Cherie. I have found my Mexico to be full of joy-filled women and men on a mission to find their true selves…something about getting away, I think.

  2. Hi Janet

    Sounds like a great trip. Home Exchange is such a wonderful way to travel, I am so surprised that more people do not travel this way so many thanks for being one that does.



    • Hi Brian,
      I agree. In this case what I had to swap was my choice apartment in the middle of a town people love to visit, in Mexico. But our homes all over Vancouver island also get people dreaming.

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