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Troubles lead to a sunny discovery in Mexico

By on April 26, 2017 in Travel with 0 Comments

By Morgan Fraser

When Diana Verduzco and Jose Valdovinos first arrived in Lo de Marcos, Mexico, it wasn’t for vacation.

The couple rode buses for more than 1,000 miles. They arrived on the highway outside of Lo de Marcos at 3 a.m. in the middle of December. The only light was from an OXXO, a convenience store similar to a 7-11.

Jose Valdovinos, right, wades into the surf at Lo de Marcos for his first stand-up paddle board lesson with Oliver Cruz and Flipper the Dog.

The only person in sight was a drunken man, who nevertheless helped them figure out how to work the pay phone. Their cell phones weren’t working, and the person who was supposed to meet them didn’t answer when they called.

They had no idea if it was dangerous to be out at that time of night. They had all their luggage with them, and no idea where to go. Eventually, they reached one of Jose’s cousins from the next town over, who came and picked them up.

Jose and Diana were both born in Mexico — within 10 miles of each other, in the northern state of Michoacán — and moved with their families to the Chelan Valley when they were children.

Jose, now 39, got a green card, served in the military, applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship, and now works for the Forest Service.

Diana, 27, didn’t have a green card and worked using false documents. Although she paid taxes on a social security number, it wasn’t hers. The couple met through Diana’s brother, and married in 2009.

In 2012, Diana and Jose went to Cuidad Juarez on the Mexican/New Mexico border to officially apply for a green card for Diana. Her application was denied.

The paperwork said it was because she’d been in the U.S. illegally for more than a year — the reason why they’d come in the first place. She was banned from entering the country again for 10 years.

Although they told her she could apply for a waiver, she had to do so from Mexico — she couldn’t go back to north central Washington, where they’d both lived for most of their lives.

They began calling family to try and figure out what do to.

“Realistically, we didn’t have anywhere to go,” Jose said.

Jose called his dad, who suggested Lo de Marcos. “He said, ‘Yeah you’ve got plenty of family there, so you should go check it out.’”

The morning after their late-night arrival, they surveyed the town that ended up being Diana’s home for almost two years.

“I fell in love with Lo de Marcos when I saw it the next day,” Diana said. “We were exploring as much as we could. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there. I took advantage of the situation.”

Lo de Marcos is a small town of roughly 1,500 people, 34 miles north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast. The town sits on a small ocean bay off the highway, and is still relatively unknown to tourists.

Sayulita, a well-known surfer’s destination, is about 10 miles south.

Lo de Marcos is clean, quiet and safe, with cobblestone streets, a Wednesday night dance in the main square, a local recycling program and a quiet sandy beach.

Jose had to go back to Wenatchee to work. He did what he could from the U.S. to get his wife back into the country, and sent money for her to live on. When he came to visit, they would explore the area. Within about a year, they began to meet more people, including local tour guides.

Eventually, Diana got approved for a green card and was able to move back to Wenatchee. She now works as a bilingual call center agent at Columbia Valley Community Health in Wenatchee.

However, the couple had found a second home in Lo de Marcos, and a lot of people that they cared deeply about who had helped them when they needed it. They went back to visit, and started to think about ways to help the town and its people.

Working with the guides they’d met, Diana and Jose created a website called Go Within Reach (www.gowinr.com). The site promotes local tourism operators and experiences unique to the area. Tours include some of the more popular excursions for the region, such as ocean fishing, surf lessons and whale watching.

In addition to the normal tourist fare, there are also some off-the-beaten track opportunities to get to know the area around Lo de Marcos, such as a visit to a remote, off-grid jungle ranch and a trip to Isla del Coral, a federally protected coral island that’s great for snorkeling and scuba diving.

The people Jose and Diana got to know depend on the tourism industry to make their living, but they’re also interested in helping the area grow in a sustainable way that preserves the environment and the local way of life.

Sayulita — which grew faster than its infrastructure has been able to support — is a local cautionary tale that they’re all aware seeking to avoid.

Although there are small beach towns all over Mexico, Jose and Diana are interested in sharing the wonder of this specific town that reached out and took them in.

They’re not seeking to just bring in more tourists — they’re trying to bring in more people that will appreciate Lo de Marcos for its uniqueness and small-town feel. It’s already working.

“The people Jose and Diana bring in know that it’s more than a tour, or a hike, or a trip to a ranch in the mountains,” said Oliver Cruz García, owner of Xplore Mexico.

Cruz leads adventure tours in the greater Lo de Marcos area, both on land and sea. “It’s an experience. It’s about sharing our playground.”

Morgan Fraser is a local writer and Spanish teacher. She recently visited Lo de Marcos herself and had a great time getting to know the town and its people. To read more about Morgan’s adventures, check out her travel memoir, Confessions of a Travel Addict, available at A Book for All Seasons in Leavenworth or on Amazon. You can also follow her blog at confessionsofatraveladdict.com.

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