Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mazatlan #10: The Series: Nachito, and others

Juan Jose introduced us to Nacho, an intellectual, musician, and music teacher from Mexico City who has lived in Mazatlan for 10 years.

Nacho invited us over to his home for an exemplary meal (sopa de frijoles, salmon, postre) and conversation. It was a wonderful noche.

The world is minute, as I am ever learning. I first learned about Nacho in 2002, via another friend, photographer Gerardo Montiel Klint, who lived with Nacho and his family for a time.

Nacho played "New York, New York" for us on his double bass.
I've learned something about the drug problems here, and how they are related to politics and corn. Yes, corn. This is a huge simplification, but it seems that in the field, corn and marijuana are complementary plants, and when the new government (PAN, which replaced PRI, who until 2000 had held power in Mexico for 80 years) doubled corn production, marijuana growth also doubled.
We also happened onto a bar full of expats the other day; it was a veritable Peyton Place. A few of the folks were friendly, but others clearly gave us the impression that we were not welcome. On two occasions I was struck by the utter arrogance of some expats.
Both times I met let's-call-him-David, he literally turned his back to me and said nary a word (to me) the entire time I was there. He was also one of the two expats we met who answered Greg's friendly question: "Where are you from?" with a semi-hostile: "I'm from here." Yeah. Right. You're from Michigan, or Vancouver Island, or Florida. You may have owned property in Mazatlan for 3 or 5 years, or even longer, but you are definitely not from here. These guys could spend the rest of their lives, be that 10 or 35 years, but they will never be FROM HERE. What a joke. And what extraordinary arrogance.
We've met a man who was an extra in the movie "Titantic" and "Troy."
We've met a woman who simultaneously reads and walks, all over the city.
We've met the doctor who owns the loro (looks like a macaw, I thought it was a parrot, but it is a loro -- a bird indigenous to an island off the coast of Mazatlan -- that talks a blue streak, and so often whistles the tune "The More we get together, the happier we'll be ..." I freaking LOVE this bird. http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psittacidae
I am gaining more material each day for my major writing project -- an essay -- in Mazatlan.

Mazatlan #10: The Series: El Quelite

Amigos, I have been without internet and phone service for a week -- damn MegaCable ... there's a story in this, too -- thus the lapse in posting, and this morning is the last morning of a month of mornings in Mazatlan.

I have much catching up to do. Last week we had planned to travel to the nearby city of Cobala with Juan Jose, and we were about 25 minutes out of the city when Juan Jose's fanbelt blew.

He called a grua (tow truck) and in 45 minutes or so we were heading back toward Mazatlan, all of us jammed in the towtruck, with me

on top of Greg. (Happy to report: he has retained the feeling in his legs.)

JuanJo phoned a friend, journalist Arial, who said "No problem, you can use my car to take your friends to El Quelite ...." (a town north of Mazatlan). Arial was waiting for us with a big smile at JuanJo's house when we arrived. Awesome. We drove him back to work at the NorOueste building, and we were on our way ... right across the Tropic of Cancer.
El Quelite was like a movie set. It's a charro town (cowboys who wear the large sombreros, studs down the sides of their black pants, etc.), with beautiful gardens, the largest cock fighting farm in NW Mexico, a cemetary like a wonderland (one of the crypts was akin to a child's pink playhouse, with electricity), and a restaurant owned by a doctor who is a friend to famous actors, writers, and Mexican presidents.

In the cathedral we saw a statue of popular Saint Charbol, and JuanJo told us the story about Juan Diego (of the roses) who walked 15 miles to mass every day, and met the Virgin. He told The Lady: "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf .." Poetry. He died in 1548, and was and is a model of humility for all.

(digression: as I write this, there is a gecko a few feet away)

In the cemetary and cathedral.

El Quelite sights.

Greg and Shell with the cocks behind us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mazatlan #9 - Just fun.

We're going for a country drive with Juan Jose today -- I'm excited to see a village close to Mazatlan.

Got a whack of exercise yesterday, and the heat knocked the hell out of me. We had two reprieves: we took the stairs down the cliff near us (less than 5 minutes) and splashed around on the shell beach. We are calling this beach "Watch Beach," as the ocean apparently swallowed my watch here.

The other break was the Pacifico Tour. I've long enjoyed Pacifico beer, and it was cool (literally and figuratively) to see how it is made. The Pacifico plant here is the oldest and smallest in Mexico. That said, it employs 480 people (who make between 150 pesos to 400 pesos a day, depending upon their jobs). Employees are aged 18 - 35. They even have a small clinic on site, as there are injuries due to glass exploding, etc.

It takes 22 days to process the beer, and they export Pacifico as far away as Australia (maybe my son's drinking some right now).

Greg and I were the only two on the tour, and after we were welcome to enjoy as many ice cold Pacifico as we desired. The view from the 8th floor of the Pacifico plant is second to none.

Photo below: Greg waits in the ground floor entry for the water delivery guy. They drive buy and you yell "!Agua!" if you need water.

We've seen several lizards like this one, below.

And always, the iguanas. They're even on the street outside our house.

Here I am shifting shells about 10 minutes from home. The waves really crash here, and swimming would be treacherous. Or fatal.

Greg lets the water splash over him.

As do I.

We saw this daredevil near the house a few days ago.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mazatlan #8: Skin of our Teeth? Getting my head around Mazatlan.

"Anything can happen anywhere" has long been one of my credos. Bad things don't necessarily respect geography. I know this. But, to use another cliche, living in fear is not living at all.

I'm trying to get my head around Mazatlan.

Last night, had Greg and I opted to walk rather than take the bus down our usual route along the malecon, we would have been in the eye of a gunfire storm.

Earlier we had bussed to a palapa restaurant on the malecon where we ate while being serenaded by waves and a CD of Beatles' hits played on pan flute. The beach was alive with people of all ages, enjoying the water, or watching the sun begin its descent. At least one marauding dog left a deposit on the sand not far from us.

"See those red lights down there?" I asked Greg. I was looking south, along the malecon, toward the Old Town, where we are staying. "The police. There's something going on down there."

Down there was Playa Pinitos, a beach not far from our home that we've walked and run past dozens of times. The small beach is popular with Mexican families. One of our rental options was directly across the street from this beach.

On our way home from the restaurant we decided to flag a pulmonario (golf cart turned taxi) and as the driver approached aforementioned beach, we had to detour around police cars, including one with three men in the back seat. I saw their faces.

I didn't know until I'd read this morning's NorOueste that at 6:15 last night, two people had been shot and killed and a bystanding 8 year old boy was injured -- shot in the ankle -- during the brazen AK 47 gunfire.

I quote NorOueste:

"Violence comes to public places."
"Broad daylight."
"A group of gunmen in a red car."
"Without any fear of the authorities."

This was the second shooting of the day.

A few days ago I read that Mazatlan is sending a commission to Canada
-- specifically to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon -- to encourage tourism in this city. Until the violence and the underlying problems that contribute to it -- namely, the drug trade -- are brought under control, I cannot fathom how tourism here can be successfully promoted.

I am an outsider, and have far too little knowledge about any of the above to make any claims or recommendations. I can only observe -- I saw their faces -- and try to process.

And what I see is that something is not working. Assassins seem to have the upperhand. Every day, grisly murders are front page news. Murders in 2010 are up over 50% compared to 2009.

And then there is the other Mazatlan. City of sun-lounging iguanas, singular ocean vistas, and paradisiacal Stone Island. As I write this, the parrot in the house of the Mexican doctor who lives across the street has turned positively verbose. He talks a bluestreak, and sings. Just now the bird's whistling the tune "The more we get together, the happier we'll be ...."

There are joyful, ambitious children -- like 13-year-old Jorge, whom we met in a bar (he was looking for English-speakers to converse with; he's in summer school to improve his English) with his mother, Julia, a few nights ago, and visited in his home yesterday. And there are children as young as 3 or 4 begging on the street.

There are glorious sunsets.

And every minute of every day, I am aware of how privileged we are.

The contrasts, the ironies, the similarities. Injustices. People I've met who live in what we would consider slums and those I've met who live in homes far more beautiful than I. They are all "good" people. All my friends.

It's hard to get my head around this. Damn hard.

Yesterday was eye-opening for Greg. Like a good percentage of travellers, his Mexico up till now had been of the all-inclusive variety, in Puerto Vallarta. (I've been to PV -- a genteel city -- as well.) Anyone who knows me knows that the words "all-inclusive" make me cringe. (Note: Greg has an explorer's heart, and even when staying in AIs, does venture out, patronize local restaurants, etc.)

Mazatlan is not Puerto Vallarta. Nor Merida. It's not Cozumel. Or Cancun. (But this is at best a mute argument, for neither is Victoria Winnipeg, nor Regina Ottawa; each city has its own distinct personality, at least wherever I've travelled.)

De todos modos (anyway), yesterday. Julia, Jorge's mother, had invited us to her home for "donitas" and the other pastries she makes to sell to businesses. (While Greg was conversing with Jorge in the bar, I was hablando con Julia, who speaks no English).

We walked in a part of the city we were unfamiliar with, and although we had Julia's address, we could not find her street. I had a borrowed cellphone, and called. We agreed to wait for her at the CristoRey (Christ the King) Cathedral. (Greg is sitting in front of it, above).

Julia arrived in a few minutes, and took us to her humble home.

Shelley on Julia's rooftop.

Greg and Jorge, walking and talking.

Greg and Jorge visit in his home.

Julia, mother of 6, grandmother of 1, with her cathedral behind her.

Neighbourhood children.

Last night was a semi-close call for us, and a rarity, gracias a dios, but for Mazatlecos it was a daily reality. Real and present danger.

Perhaps I am making too much of things. But last night I saw what may have been the eyes of an assassin. It gives one pause.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mazatlan #8 - Back in the Saddle

Day to day life in Mazatlan.

We might observe a game of
soccer on the beach.

Or sit on the malecon with thousands of others, watching the waves thunder in.

We walk.

I speak Spanish all day.

The lifeguarding here is unpredictable. We rarely see anyone on duty, and the lifeguard below was only "on guard" for a few minutes. This is the Olas Atlas beach, just down the hill from our house. You can't really swim here -- except, perhaps at Playa Norte, where every morning members of a swim club get their exercise -- because the waves are brutes.

The house we're renting is on the obscenely popular route to the lighthouse. As Greg's health's greatly improved, we climbed the hill to the lighthouse yesterday, enjoying sweeping views ...

and dozens of reptiles.
Iguanas here are as plentiful as gophers (or crows) in Saskatchewan.

(This little jigger is my favourite.)

It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the the lighthouse. (note the slick skin)

We gallivant in sopping clothes all day long; it's inevitable.

The house from the front. I am curiously dry in this photo ... wait another minute and I'd be dripping.

After the trip up to the lighthouse, we took the ferry to our favourite place: Stone Island.

Every few days I've been focussing on taking different kinds of photos. I was on a close-up kick at the beach yesterday.
The indigenous children are beautiful.

I've tried to blow this up sufficiently to determine if, in fact, this is a "tagged" lizard. I'm guessing he\she is. What a job that would be ... tagging and tracking small lizards.

These shoes were made for walking ... Greg testdrives a pair of huraches, but decides not to buy them.

(He has to experience them on the sidewalk, too).

Sandals (a different pair) in hand, with the storeowner.

I've had my last dental visit now.

Should one look this happy at the dentist's?
(p.s. My legs aren't really that big ... it's the angle ...)