Local Entrepreneur Needs Help

Most every expatriate living even part of the year in Mazatlán knows of Athina Spa. Ten years ago, Athina Afroditi Pyrovolissianou (say that three times fast!) opened her spa doors in a gorgeous building in historic downtown after having fallen in love with our beautiful port, and today she has a second location in the Golden Zone. 

Scott and Athina on their wedding day, May 2019

Athina Spa supports fourteen local families. Today our community is in danger of losing that business, as it has had to be used as collateral to pay 2.5 million pesos in medical bills. A sad story, for sure.

Many of us know and love Athina. She is always ready with a big smile and a bear hug (ok, this latter maybe not during this time of social distancing). She is a positive, loving woman and a friend to everyone she meets. Athina contributes to every charitable cause there is in this fair city; she is incredibly generous with her spa services and her time. She supports local artists, hosting a gallery and inviting us to display our work periodically in her locations. And she is a whole lot of fun, an invaluable member of our local community.

A single mother for many years, those of us who know her were so very happy when she and Scott Peterson fell in love. Loving people deserve loving companionship, and their story was a dream come true. Handsome and beautiful, both full of life, radiating love and joy. Their beautiful beachside wedding in May, 2019 was THE event of the season. Now, as they approach their second anniversary, they are experiencing heartbreak.

To escape the craziness of spring break here, the couple went to Puerto Morelos in Quintana Roo, where there are quiet resorts along the Caribbean Sea. On the third day of their holiday Scott fell ill: hot and cold flashes and difficulty breathing. He tested negative for COVID but had water on his right lung. As sadly can happen in Latin America, Athina tells me that the hospitals looked at them as foreigners and saw dollar signs. Scott was intubated and spent over two weeks in two different hospitals, both of which insisted on treating him for COVID and over-medicating him, according to doctors here. The love of Athina’s life has since been diagnosed with fibrosis of the lungs and severe pneumonia. 

With Scott not getting better and medical bills piling up, Athina made the difficult decision to airlift Scott back home to Mazatlán, where she is familiar with the hospitals and medical staff and felt she could better trust that Scott would receive the best care.

“I am living in a nightmare and I can’t wake up. I feel a little better being at home and not 1200 miles away from it! I am exhausted mentally and emotionally, but I do know this too shall pass,” she told me.

Scott continues in intensive care locally but is being treated by one of Mazatlán’s leading pulmonary specialists. Shirleen Von Hoffman has set up a GoFundMe account to help these two dear people. If you are able to help out, I know they will be deeply grateful. Local people can transfer to their HSBC debit card from the bank or OXXO, to account number 4213-1660-7591-5045, in the name of Athina Afroditi Pyrovolissianou. I’ll attach a photo that Athina sent me, but it’s very difficult to read.

Athina’s card

Please, everyone, learn from their heartbreak. So many expats here self-insure. If you have a lot of cash lying around as back up, or if you never have major issues, you’ll be fine. But, as with this case, an unfortunate illness has beat this family down and jeopardized a ten-year business. The irony is that Scott and Athina were in the process of obtaining major medical insurance when they took their trip.

I’m confident many of you will join with me in prayers for Scott, that he recovers well and quickly now that he’s in his adopted hometown, and for our beloved Athina as she tries to get through this nightmare. Thank you for any financial or moral support you can extend them.

House of Good Vibrations!

Today we handed over the keys to the “House of Good Vibrations,” as I now call it, thanks to the love and generosity of over 80 individuals, couples and families who built and furnished the small blue “Home for Juan Manuel!”

18 people attended an appreciation ceremony this morning, during which the new owners, Don Rodolfo and Juan Manuel, expressed their thanks to the VidaMaz community. Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo both were completely overwhelmed with your generosity. They both cried several different times and were at a complete loss for words. You truly have changed their lives and filled them with hope! They plan to move in tomorrow. Many people arrived today bearing food and gifts to help the men settle into their new home.

One of the attendees recorded the “giving of the keys” ceremony on her cell phone. Sadly the wind was rather gusty at times, but I believe  you can hear most of it. The full video is below:

We first announced this project to build a small house on November 25, 2020. Initially it was to be a 3 x 4 meter home with an outdoor bathroom and kitchen. Since Juan Manuel is on crutches (he has only one leg) and blind, we felt the home needed indoor plumbing, and you agreed. We ended up building a home that is 4 x 6 meters, so still very small, but very livable and much better than anything they would have dreamed possible. You even helped us install hot water! You all donated kitchen sink, cupboards, refrigerator, microwave, utensils, bathroom sink, toilet, shower, mirror, a shelf, a trundle bed, two tables, four chairs, a ceiling fan, boiler, a tinaco, concrete, gravel, doors, windows, septic tank… you truly rocked this! You gave monetary donations of 20 to 32,000 pesos. Thank you!

Every step of the way, if we had difficulties, you came through to help. We had been searching for weeks for a trundle bed. Two men will live here, but there is not enough room in the house for two single beds and a user of crutches to move around. Last week we kindly received the donation of the donor’s grandson’s beloved, solid wood trundle bed with two mattresses AND handmade quilts! Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo were over the moon when they saw it. Zata installed the front walkway this week, but, of course, most of Mazatlán has been without water this week. How to make concrete for the stairs? No worries; we figured it out.

In the end, we came in exactly with the money needed. Greg and I personally paid for a bonus to thank Zata, our albañil; without his honesty and dedication I can only imagine how difficult this project might have been.

Total Spent: 130,795 pesos or US$6507

Construction: 94,886
Refrigerator: 1225
Boiler, install and protection: 7784
Walkway and yard work: 14,300
Electrical from street: 12,600

The amount above is significantly higher than our original estimate for this project, but that estimate was for a basic structure only: no windows, doors, plumbing, electrical nor interior furnishings. Even with the ease with which it functioned—your generous donations, no theft, an honest and dependable builder—it was way more work than any of us imagined it would be. Feeling the joy and happiness of these two men today, however, made it more than worthwile. I trust you are happy to have participated.

The full story of the building of this house is right here. You can read it from the beginning if you are interested:

  1. Nov 25: My introduction of Juan Manuel and his father, plus asking you to help with the project
  2. Dec 1: An initial budget plus 22 donations
  3. Dec 8: Our first hiccups: re-examining the initial plans and having to find a new builder
  4. Dec 13: Architectural plans and a wonderful new builder
  5. Dec 16: Ground breaking!
  6. Dec 21: Foundation and plumbing during the second week of construction
  7. Dec 24: A Christmas Message from Juan Manuel plus thank you’s to the new neighbors
  8. Jan 2: Don Rodolfo’s first glimpse of his new home
  9. Jan 10: The roof is up!
  10. Jan 18: 87,000 pesos collected, but trouble paying our builder
  11. Jan 26: Exterior is plastered
  12. Feb 1: Interior plaster, delays on the windows and doors prevent us proceeding
  13. Feb 18: House is painted; videos of interior, exterior and the view from the roof
  14. Feb 25: Kitchen is in!
  15. Mar 8: Refrigerator, boiler and an invitation to donors

Bless you all! I trust your heart is bursting with joy! Pretty much everyone who attended the ceremony this morning remarked at how moved they felt, how honored they were to be able to make a difference in someone’s lives, and how wonderful it is to be in the company of people committed to making this world a bit sweeter.

Almost Ready to Hand Over the Keys!

Bless you all! Time for celebration!!!

Everyone who donated should have received an invitation from me to a ceremony of appreciation and handing over of the keys to A Home for Juan Manuel next Saturday, March 13, at 11 am. If you have supported this effort and the internet intercepted your invitation, please send me a private message and I will resend it to you. We are limiting attendance due to the pandemic. Masks and social distancing are required. We will conduct tours of the small home for two people at a time, and Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo will join us. It will be a short and simple ceremony, but full of love and caring—you all have done a beautiful thing!

This past week we:

  • Built a simple back patio and installed the donated washboard and a water hookup.
  • Purchased and installed a water heater and protection with another very generous donation earmarked for this purpose.
  • Received the donation of the major part of a brand-new refrigerator, with us making up the final 1225 pesos, thanks to Mueblería Valdez and Liz Garza.
  • Our two wonderful painter volunteers, Martin and Marie-Anne Glaude, finished painting the inside of the house.

We had a hiccup today when we went out to the house, as water was coming off the roof. It seems the float in the tinaco has broken and is not registering when the tank is full. Zata fixed that once already, but we shut the water off and he will fix it again and hopefully for good tomorrow.

This week his goal is to add fill to even out the front yard a bit. It won’t be anywhere near perfect, but it’ll be better. Zata will also move the extra donated gravel to the side yard, so the yard looks cleaner and more finished. Finally and best of all, he will build a front sidewalk leading up to the house. We had hoped for a ramp, and Kay Rodgers kindly collected money for it, but what we have available isn’t quite enough. Thus, we have opted to have Zata put in a concrete walkway with extra deep steps (five in total, I believe, as it’s a steep grade up to the house). Juan Manuel should be able to use it with his crutches no problem, and it should be easy enough to add a ramp later if and when he needs to use a wheelchair. Hopefully that day won’t come!

Thank you and may good karma shower over you for a long time! The home is much better and more solid than originally planned, thanks to all of you: indoor kitchen and bath, hot water, brand-new microwave and refrigerator, bright coats of paint. I look forward to thanking you live and in person on Saturday, as do Juan Manuel, Don Rodolfo, Greg, Jorge, Yolanda and Zata.

Travel through Outer Space on a Day Trip from Mazatlán

Culiacán, in general, is not my favorite getaway from Mazatlán. I’ve gone there for concerts, art exhibits, CostCo and an occasional weekend away. I do very much enjoy a long walk along Parque Las Riberas, 12 km along the rivers, especially in the evening when the bridges are lit up (cycling, pedal boats and kayaks are also popular). I love spending time in botanic gardens, and Culiacan’s is beautiful, including plants as well as modern architecture and art: well worth a visit and perhaps a picnic on the grounds. Other people gravitate to Jardines del Humaya, the world-famous narco cemetery with its lavish mausoleums (If you want to visit, I recommend you go with a local in the morning). Thus, I’ve always felt that if I needed to go to Culiacán for some reason or another, there are things to do and see, but not much to pull me there eagerly.

That opinion changed radically earlier this week when I accompanied a couple of friends there for the day. What was it that delighted my soul? The newly refurbished Sinaloa Science Center Museum, MATERIA. I would describe it as a hybrid of a science and an art museum, one in which all the interactive exhibits work and are truly astounding! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The building itself is a gorgeous piece of architecture, at least on the inside, with angular shapes and the light streaming in through windows on all sides. The main attraction is Sideral, a huge meteorite that fell in a small nearby pueblo in the early 1800s. The museum has the large meteorite front and center in the main gallery. Over it is a gorgeous moveable wooden pendulum that moves several times a day (we attended at 3:30 pm) and generates a song, resonating to the magnetic frequencies of the minerals in the meteorite and of the people nearby. It is magical and completely mesmerizing! HIGHLY recommended!

In several galleries surrounding Sideral are art installations that, we were told, change every six months. I very much enjoyed what was there now, with two standing out for me: an exhibition of hanging glass called “meteor shower,” and a hammock holding five or six irregularly shaped geometric pieces; the shadows of the light on the floor were hexagons for each, thus showing us the power of perspective.

Heading upstairs was another standout exhibition called “Blossoms,” a set of white ceramic-looking kinetic sculptures designed by a Stanford mathematician. They are beautiful, mostly natural forms. When you push the button, they start spinning and the human eye tells us they move in entrancing ways.

We had only been in the museum maybe thirty minutes, and I was enthralled. The docents were all young but incredibly knowledgeable; some of the most outstanding I’ve encountered in Latin America. Kudos! One of them invited us to enter the IMAX-like theater to watch the show at 4:00 pm: Cubo Negro 8K. 8K is an immersive projection of images unlike any I’ve experienced before, the only one of its kind on our continent, I was told. Again, HIGHLY recommended. This was actually my favorite part of what I saw at the museum. We experienced going into space, via projections on the large screen and the floor. We felt that we spent some time on the Space Station, and then travelled through several nebulae. Definitely not to be missed.

There was significantly more to see at MATERIA, but we needed to leave Culiacán to make it home before it got too dark. If you go, I’d recommend you plan to also spend some time in the Botanic Garden as it’s right next door. While I did not experience the James Turrell light exhibit, “Encounter,” the only one of its kind in Latin America, I have attended two other exhibits of his and can wholeheartedly recommend them. There is one show at dawn and another at dusk, Thursdays through Sundays, and you need reservations. The show lasts one hour and costs 150 pesos.

Where to Stay
Since Encounter is at dusk or dawn, it makes sense to spend the night. Culiacán offers hotels at all price ranges. One conveniently located, very nice hotel that I can recommend is the Wyndham Executive. It is very near the MASIN: the Sinaloa Art Museum and it’s GAALS (Galería Antonio López Sáenz). The MASIN is a gorgeous early 1800s building with an arched central courtyard. Permanent galleries are downstairs and temporary ones up top. GAALS usually has a main professional art exhibit downstairs, and a series of student or young professional exhibits upstairs. I thoroughly enjoyed both. While the websites say these museums are open Tuesday-Sunday, I believe that during the pandemic they are only open Thursday through Sunday. We got in, but we had special permission and a private tour.

Around the corner from the art museums is a darling little coffee shop well worth your visit—TantoGusto. They have a diverse collection of brewing devices from around the world, are very welcoming, and serve sandwiches and pastries.

If you do spend the night, don’t miss out on a visit to Mirador La Lomita, the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its panoramic view of the city. Day and night the view is very good. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is Tomateros stadium. I have never visited the MIA Museum, but it is the world’s only museum dedicated to addictions.

Where to Eat
Restaurant-wise, I enjoy Cayenna Cocina del Mundo from the Panama group, Brasa y Masa for breakfast (or any time of day), Presidio Cocina de México, and if you are a meat lover, do not miss eating at local favorite, Palomar del Rio.

Enjoy your flight through space! Please let me know how it goes! I’m curious if they rotate the movies or change them out regularly.

The Kitchen is In!

You all are absolutely the BEST! Thank you for your generosity in making it possible for us to build a Home for Juan Manuel!

In our last post to you we showed you the newly painted outside of the house with its doors and windows in place, including several videos. Today I am happy to report that we have a working kitchen installed, using donated wooden cabinet doors and a steel sink and building a base around them for kitchen storage and a counter to cook on. Woot woot! We also have water and electricity functioning in the house! Zata has built a very basic back patio using extra block and gravel, where a hose bib and donated washboard will be installed so Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo can wash their clothes and the water will run off or soak in rather than make mud. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

A good friend of mine has offered to donate a brand new refrigerator. Fingers crossed! So, all we seem to be missing are:

  •  A small boiler for hot water—might you know someone who has one???
  • And two single beds (a trundle bed would be ideal) or at least single mattresses, as anything larger will not fit in this very small home.

Please help if you can. Ways to donate to support this project are listed at the bottom of the very first post in the series.

Once the above projects are finished, we still need to paint the interior. Some work remains on the septic tank as well.

My hope is that next time I write to you it will be to invite you to the masked and socially distanced celebration at which we hand over the keys to the home’s new owners! Bless you all!!!