It feels surreal to me that here I am, sitting on the soft sands of San Pancho’s beach, with both the beloved Kahlua and the elusive Rufus at my side. All of us are smiling.
When Rick and I took our leave of them last September, as always, I broke into tears, despite my clenched jaw swearing I would not. I’ve given up trying to understand the strong bond between a dog and a human who spend little more than a few months a year together. It just is. And I’m so happy that an unexpected set of circumstances brought us together again, and so soon.
Yes, we’re back in Mexico for the third straight summer, caring for Tai in Patzcuaro; Luna, Rigo, Cosmos and Rocky in Erongacuaro; Clinker, Coffee and Tessa in Barra de Potosi; but, for the first time, no Kahlua, Rufus and the three amigos in San Pancho. Barb had accepted a job offer in California and was now dividing her time north and south of the border. Bill would close up Casa Obelisco, their B&B, pack up the dogs and drive north to spend the summer with her (the maid would tend to the cats). So our services as pet-sitters this year would not be required. We tailored our itinerary accordingly. Then, when a sudden snag derailed our plans, we found ourselves transiting through Puerto Vallarta. Hey, why not call up Bill and camp out at Casa O. for a few days?, we thought. He generously welcomed the company.
On the one-hour drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport to his and Barb’s personal paradise, Bill filled us in on this new set of circumstances. After Barb left, the five of them — Bill, Kahlua, Rufus, Valentino and Pico (Barb had taken Horatio with her to California, where the deaf, dreamy feline is living a charmed life, drinking in the cooler climes by day, sleeping on Barb’s head by night) — stood in the great open-air main room and looked at each other. What now?, they seemed to be asking. Man and beasts quickly settled into a routine of their own, and life went on. Except for Rufy. Readers of this blog (and book) will know the tragic tale of this proud yet paranoid Thai Ridgeback, how he was passed from owner to owner, of the mistreatments and neglect he has suffered. Until he was welcomed into the Casa O. pack. Now, with a member of that pack absent, he was once again nervous, uncertain.
Bill got to work cementing his own role as pack leader. He began to crate Rufus at night and leash him on walks. Far from rebelling, the dog took to this new structure like a bug to a rug. He now knew his place in the pack and he felt more secure within the walls of his crate. He began to relax. Don’t get me wrong, Rufus is still a Serious Dog, but he’s a little more placid, a little less excitable. When we approached the door, I was suddenly nervous that he — and, more dishearteningly, Kahlua — might not remember us. We held our hands up to the wrought-iron gate for them to sniff. They both began yelping and hopping on their hind legs. Worries dissolved into relief and a teary reunion ensued.
Because we were here for only five days this visit, we packed in as much time with our four-legged amigos as we could, taking them to the beach, up the jungle road, hugging and patting and cuddling every minute we were in the same room. And they soaked it up. Kahlua frolicked in the ocean while Rufus kept his dignity (read: fear of water) in check; they both trotted up the jungle road, sniffing and snuffling; they lay at our feet when we whiled away the afternoons. Bliss.
When we weren’t with the dogs, we were reacquainting ourselves with the funky little town of San Pancho. Like it’s neighbour, Sayulita to the south, San Pancho was undergoing a few beautification projects: they were ripping up the roads, sprucing up the square, splashing on fresh coats of paint here and there. Oh, and Hollywood had come to town. Up the jungle road, on a beach only locals know about, they were shooting a reality show called — I kid you not — Redneck Island. The premise interested me as much as a root canal (the title itself told me more than I wanted to know), but apparently it’s hosted by wrestle maniac Steve Austin and premieres in June on cable channel CMT.
Because it was May and not deadsville summer when we are usually here, we were able to sample a few restaurants that were always closed: the superb La Ola Rica, owned by Bill and Barb’s friends Gloria and Triny, who have also opened up a bare-foot version on the beach, called La Playa, where we gorged on the Big Beach Burrito as the sun slipped into the sea; the upscale Mar Plata, with deck seating overlooking the Pacific; and La Taza de Cafe, a cute little breakfast and lunch joint serving killer huevos Mexicana. We also made it to a new place called Zydeco’s, run by a New Orleans’ couple who have brought a bit of the ragin’ Cajun to San Pancho. Sadly, the one place we most looked forward to chowing down at, The Blue Pig, was on reduced hours and not open while we were there. No pulled pork, no juicy ribs, no creamy potato salad . . . Next time. Meantime, I’m pretty sure I packed on 10 pounds in those five days of fine dining. Who’s the blue pig now?
All in all, it was like coming home, catching up with friends, making new ones, spending time with Bill and his menagerie, walking the beach, tasting the salt air on my lips.
And then it was over.
We took great care not to let Kahlua and Rufy see our bags, but they sensed something was up. Kahlua, particularly, started lasering me with that hard stare she does when she knows we’re leaving. I avoided her eyes like a liar. I kept a tight smile fixed to my face, but she knew. On the morning of our departure, she walked up to me, sat down, and put her paw on my arm. She looked at me with those soulful, black eyes, as if to say, “It’s OK. I’ll see you again, old friend.”
I foolishly thought it would be easy this time, saying goodbye once again, since I’d said it so many times before. But foolish is the one who thinks any goodbye is easy.