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Talk For The Animals: Nyack Native In The Yucatan

by Claudia Lifton-Schwerner

After two days of shoveling snow, it’s time to live vicariously through the eyes of a Nyack native now in Mexico blogging about conservation, sustainability and wildlife rehabilitation projects. Claudia Lifton-Schwerner, a Nyack High School and SUNY Oswego graduate, won a Facebook contest last Spring to blog on behalf of Global Vision International (GVI) about their animal and environmental protection projects around the world. Here’s her latest update:

Four years ago I volunteered at a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica.  While there, I was reading the Dhammapada.  I was drawn to the Buddhist mantra of ‘€œcontentment with whatever there is.”  I found it so easy to simply ‘€œlive in the moment’€ while playing with baby raccoons and spider monkeys in the Costa Rican jungle.  I had this line of wisdom tattooed on my hip in Sanskrit to remind me of how deeply content I was at that very moment in time.  Over these past few days I have been reminded of my time in Costa Rica and that wonderful feeling of pure contentment.

Friday night all of the volunteers went into Tulum to celebrate our first weekend together.  After taking our first non-bucket showers and ecstatically checking our Facebook’s, we ventured into town to get a taste of the night life in Mexico. One taste is not enough. The outdoor bars, with swings as seats and live bands on every corner, make for an enchanting night life.  Friday night, while dancing away to a rock/salsa fusion band, I was reminded of the full moon drum circles and reggae nights I loved so much while interning at the Animal Protection and Rescue League in San Diego.  We met the most interesting people from all around the world, all of whom had their own unique story to tell. In the morning, we visited the beautiful ruins in Tulum, and spent the rest of the day laughing on the beach. I spent almost an hour lying on the rocks, gazing into the eyes of an Iguana about 5 inches away. I’d like to believe we were having a bit of a staring contest. I definitely lost.

The second night I walked into a bar full of friends.  I recognized several of the wandering souls from the night before and joyfully hugged my new family of travelers. The band, as they describe themselves, was a mix of ‘€œgypsy, soul, reggae and rock’€.  There was a 5 month old Pitt Bull puppy in the bar, and all of the shoeless, dreaded dancers glided along the floor in unison to the intoxicating music.  It was my definition of heaven.  Earlier that day, Inca, a fellow volunteer who has quickly become a close friend, and I, were walking down the street, bartering our way through shops and waving at our new found friends from the night before. Arm in arm, we strutted down the vibrant streets of Mexico like we owned the place. It felt like home.

The 6am wakeup call the next morning was difficult to say the least, but we powered through, and it ended up being one of my best days yet.  I finished my open water certification, and saw a sea turtle AND a sting ray.  I was so ecstatic! Water flooded into my mouth as I smiled ear to ear, regulator in mouth, and stared as long and hard as I could at the magnificent creatures. They so gracefully drift through the ocean, effortlessly passing us clumsy humans. Every time I dive, I am more blown away by the ocean and all of its creatures.  I am so grateful.

Claudia’s worldwide journey will include stops in Mexico, Fiji, Thailand, South Africa and Kenya. Follow her online at

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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