Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life And Muerte

I was heading home with a six pack of Modelo 'Barrillitos' from the abarrotes. I carried my bolsa outside into the bright light and as I turned the corner to start the climb home I saw a dead man on the street.

Laying on his back, his worn clothes matched the color of the dusty cobbled sidewalk. His grey eyes staring blank through half opened lids at nothing just beyond the tree branches. Two plastic bolsas were at his feet, the contents of his morning grocery shopping spilling out. Some bananas, a pepper, tamarindo. A small clutch of pedestrians looked down at him from their improvised amphitheatre, some making the sign of the cross while a short policeman stood by impatient for the ambulance to come fetch the body. I'd crossed the street to get a better look. I don't often get to see a dead person, in fact I've only seen one other in my life, many years ago.

He was the father of a friend, and was dressed up and put on display at the funeral parlor near his Salinas home. I had no emotional connection to him, only met him once before so approached his prepared body with only curiosity. He was unmistakably lifeless, but that recognition wasn't obvious from the color of the skin, or its texture but from the lack of energy that it normally emits, an energy that you don't pay attention to except in its absence.

The man on the street lacked that same energy and it occurred to me that all the connective energy was gone too, like removing the ligature from muscle. Some invisible energy that could be described as strings or twine that binds the man to his family, friends, the familiar things of his life. The defining history, the events. All that energy evaporates too, leaving a stillness around the body, a magnetic void that is perceptible on a level apart from intellect.
I continued up the street towards home glancing over my shoulder every once in awhile to see if the body was still there. When I turned up Calle Mesones the buildings blocked my view and I quit turning back.

The next day and a block over I watched as the city buses shouldered up along a stretch of road under construction. Piles of cobbles and sand kept them from getting too close to the sidewalk where the locals lined up to board. They formed a line, leaning against the warm walls of the colorful concrete buildings eyeballing the placards in the bus windows that displayed their destination. Mega, Santa Julia, Soriano, Mexiquito.
As I got closer a newly arrived bus veered in close and shuddered to a stop by a pile of rubble. Passengers climbed down from the rear doors through a heavy cloud of diesel fumes and dust while others entered the front. After a moment it pulled away, cranking sharply into the road to avoid the debris but the rear tire nearest the sidewalk rode up over a cobble pile, compressing the stones with its extreme weight. A split second later several of the potato sized stones shot out from the pressure, a bird shot blast of granite projectiles, they blew into the line of pedestrians before anyone could react. Some ricocheted off the building walls, thudding and cracking with their force. Painted concrete splintered into the dry air. I froze in place, while the crowd, now alert, moved about in jerky motions brushing concrete fragment from their clothes. Then a young boy, maybe ten years old stood from a crouched position by his mother. A quarter sized divot of flesh missing from his forehead exposing the bone. Blood began to form and then drain with intensity from the opening and he stagger stepped toward me. I knelt and held him by his shoulders to prevent him from walking into the street and he looked at me absently from behind his pain and shock, blood running down his face. The bus driver stopped and climbed down from his perch as I and the crowd yelled for help. He approached with cautious alarm and then motioned for the mother to quickly help the boy on board. I stood watching as the bus pull away with the wounded, wondering if his going on the bus was a wise choice. But it's not my place to question the drivers logic, I'm just a witness here.

When I reached home I let out the sadness that I felt, a sadness born of my impotence to help or make a difference in either persons life and the recognition of my own mortality. I let the emotion run out of me feeling sympathy for the boy, the dead man and myself as I considered our innocence in this life and how little protection it gives.

- Mark
Previously posted in 2009 at Beer Diary...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reluctant Tourists

We don't think of ourselves as the 'tourist' types.  In fact we are horrified by the vision of ourselves as beer bellied loud sunburnt vacationers; those packaged tour junkies lounging by the resort pools sipping drinks embellished with skewers of fruit and paper umbrellas reading mass market paperback novels. 
Instead we presume ourselves to be cool bohemian travelers, a cut above the common masses. We want adventure and unexpected discovery, to break bread (or tortillas) with the locals.

And yet, here in Puerto Vallarta, this has proved to be virtually impossible. What can we say? Our skin is white, we wear gaudy beach outfits, and even though we speak Spanish we might as well wear targets on our backs saying 'Look at me, I'm clueless! Sell me something, please!' 
'Come look at my yunk! says a man thrusting his open case of questionable silver in our faces.
'The real McCoy, amigo!' Silver! Opals! Mezcal!   
And so we buy the chachkes inlaid with abalone shells, the tee shirts, the straw hats. Our brains turn to mush from the sun and too many kahula and tequilas, and we know that if we're not careful we just may find ourselves shamelessly acting like silly kids at a Summer camp, paying good money for the opportunity to join several hundred other nature loving Norte Americanos getting our pictures taken being kissed by captured dolphins in an aquatic petting zoo.

'Hola amigo! Where you from? Unitestates? Canada?' 'I have good deal for you, amigo! Special today, only for you. Come look!' 
Brochures of leaping whales and waterfalls abound, and luxurious low priced timeshare condos and Las Vegas type glitzy stage shows with 'dos por uno' drinks can all be yours with the swipe of a credit card. 'Come on, gringo, you know you want it!' After all, where else can you get to scuba dive without being certified for only thirty bucks, or dangle your legs high in the sky from a tattered harness with a patched parachute attached to a sputtering motorboat? 
We say no, gracias, to the hawkers on the beach. No, no
Can't you see, amigo, that we are not like THEM?

And then, suddenly, after several days of sun we say 'what the hell', and find ourselves on a shabby catamaran called Geronimo on our way to the Marietta Islands with fourteen passengers and five crew members, where the promise of tropical dive adventures, whale sightings and an all you can drink open bar awaits.

On the way to the islands we spot distant plumes of white and head off towards them, and when the dark curve of the humpbacks surface we are ready with our cameras and our cries of awe, our shaky sea legs pink from too much sun. 'One more time!' Shouts the boat's captain, a young skinny boy of about fourteen with one hand on the wheel and another around a can of Squirt. We strain for more, holding our breaths, the pause of anticipation almost palpable. And then, as if on cue, the whales surface again, spewing white spray into the air, followed by the enormous glistening fan of a tail which poises for an instant, dripping seawater before it disappears beneath the surface of the dark blue green froth. After cries of glee and clicks of the shutters we all stand silently for a sacred moment, until the engine cranks and the CD resumes its disco beat and we are off again.

Finally we arrive at the barren rock of the Marieta Islands, where seagulls pelicans and the rare blue-footed boobys chuckle from the rocks at our approach and settle in for the day's entertainment, in what must surely be a welcome break from the tedious routine of everyday life in a bird sanctuary.

'This is SO worth it!' We say as we don our rented snorkel gear and waddle awkwardly into the water like a flock of crippled ducklings in our neon yellow flippers. Mark and I manage to detach ourselves from the clutch of bodies and diesel fumes to find our own way among the rocks and crevices, where schools of sardines and psychedelic fish appear from the murky depths .We follow tunnels leading to tiny beaches worthy of a castaway scene in a B movie, returning just as a huge boat pulls in to the cove carrying about 50 young tourists, howling and bumping to a grinding disco beat as they plunge into the water. Unlike our boat, in which the crew has given us strict orders not to drink until after diving, these people have obviously been chugging tequilas from the moment they left the marina two hours ago.

We turn the cove over to them and reboard the Geronimo, where a small buffet lunch awaits, as well as the long awaited open bar. Several watery margaritas and pina coladas later and we begin to howl and squeal, holding our plastic cups high as we wiggle our hips and do the unthinkable.
Shamelessly, we dance the Macarena.
The crew leads us on, and we let them. Weary, drunk and giddy with the adventures of the day, we succumb to all of it. Who cares if we are old and sunburnt and look ridiculous bulging out of our bathing suits? We are gringo tourists on vacation, after all, doing only what is expected of us.

Every once in a while someone points excitedly toward the horizon or alongside the boat as a pod of whales or dolphins raise their tales in farewell, (or possibly good riddance), and heave their enormous majestic bodies out of the water as the Geronimo takes us back to the safety of the marina and solid predictable earth, where the largest animal you are likely to run into is a Texan. Which isn't much to get excited about or make you reach for your camera, let alone inspire you to dance the Macarena.

-posted by Susan


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Life's a Beach

We are spending a few weeks at the beach in Puerto Vallarta. 
What can I say? Warm sun, warm water, life is good.
Our brains have turned to mush, so here are some pics.
Sunset in the hammock

Beach toy vendor at Rincon de Guayabitos. Yes, that is a bike.

Our digs at Acqua Flamingoes. Mmmmmm.

Want to know more about the Acqua Flamingoes?
Click HERE

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shocking Views Of San Miguel

Walking the warm and dusty sidewalk into town on the Ancha de San Antonio one day, I noticed an odd feature on a telephone pole that was planted in my way. About eight feet off the ground was an electrical outlet that was wired and taped to the pole.

Oh no, it's not grounded!
Just out of reach

I speculated as to its use while my eyes traced the connecting wires. They led up the pole and were twisted into place on the power line high above. I suspected that in the evening a street vendor or food cart of some sort plugs into it to illuminate his food or power the portable T.V. for clients to watch as they munch on 6 peso tacos. The interesting thing that I further considered was that at some point, someone with an extension ladder made the hasty connection, tightly wrapping the stripped wires around the 'hot' leads above insuring a good contact before strapping the outlet in place. I actually liked the idea that someone took the initiative to do this. I also smiled, realizing that nobody of any civic authority cares that it's there.

A view from out roof. I think that's
our tapped in power line in the middle.

Lamp cord run through conduit
Bulging switch without cover
This is not the first time I've seen this kind of guerrilla electrical commandeering. Last time here, I recall standing upstairs at the neighborhood pizza parlor sipping on a beer while I waited on my food. I stepped out to the balcony and watched the street scene below. As I gazed down through the telephone wires that hung limply across my view, I noticed a white lamp cord with its insulation stripped on the end. The exposed wires twisted into place within arms reach of where I stood. I followed the path of the wires which led back into the cool room. It sagged against the painted stucco wall, tacked every yard or so with a bent nail. Eventually it ended at an electrical box that was screwed to a dark stained shelf and was providing power for a 1980's television. It was showing an old episode of The Simpson's dubbed in Spanish. This too made me smile.

Oh what a tangled web we weave

Apparently, it's open season on stealing electrical power in this town. But, these two examples of Mexican ingenuity have sidetracked me from the original subject of this post which is the importance of aesthetics (or lack there of) here compared to where I live in the U.S. The emphasis here is placed on efficacy much more so then appearance. And although this idea of efficiency over beauty applies to most things, because I'm a handyman, I notice it more in regards to the building trades. The plumbing, electrical, and construction in general.  If the switch to the lights works, who cares if it's being pushed out of the wall by a fist full of corroded wires. If you've got water to the sink, then it doesn't matter that the copper supply line is soldered into the shape of a double helix and pressed to the wall with a hollowed out root ball. I am in no way wanting to sound critical here. It's different than what I'm use to and although I constantly have the urge to correct it, this is just the way it's done here and I respect that. It's my problem that I want to change it. This I have to learn to accept, and it's easier to do when I consider that none of it is mine. 

Posted by Mark

Here again is my installment (#4) of video taken from a rooftop. This is looking down on Calle Pila Seca from the roof of the Lifepath Retreats complex.
rooftop video of pila seca