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Postcard from Mexico

Fri, Mar 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

Running parallel to the Pacific Coast, Guayabitos is a resort town south of Puerto Vallerte frequented by Canadians, Europeans and local Mexicans.

Its 7:30 in the morning in room 18 on the third floor of the Luna Mar Vacacional in a small town along the Pacific coast of Mexico. The ocean looks like a sea of glass outside the veranda, yet, every five seconds the surf cracks like thunder onto the beach. Due west thousands of miles are the hula dancers of Polynesia, the copra plantations of Melanesia and the small atolls of Micronesia.

While CNN International plays out the never ending news like a fisherman giving line to a hooked Marlin, the sports bar runs along the bottom of the screen telling me that Kenya has upset Sri Lanka in a cricket test match and that, more closely to home, the Timberwolves have edged the Phoenix Suns by two. The CNN anchor is Michelle Han in Hong Kong, whom I knew when I lived there.

In the town of Guayabitos, shopkeepers sweep in front of their stores and splash water in the street to keep the dust down. Beach towels, tourist T-shirts, cowry shell crucifixes and conch shell key chains are for sale, as are ceramics and pirated CDs. A statue of a guy named Renaldo Reyes is in the middle of the town plaza. In Spanish, the plaque tells us that Reyes had the vision to see a tourist corridor along the Western coast from Puerta Vallerta to the smaller pueblos along the ocean. The first three feet of the palm trees along the street are painted white. There is a faint smell of raw sewage.

Two story houses and brightly colored bungalows line the street. There are deep azure blues, Mediteranian yellows, Caribbean roses and lime greens. Dos Amigos Cafe is a starting point for Europeans in the morning. The breakfast special at 30 pesos (less than $3) is two waffles, fresh squeezed orange juice and a cup of java. The coffee comes from the coffee farms located a half-hour from here in the coastal mountains. The morning is still fresh with the sun burning off the thin clouds as a group of retired Norte Americanos swill coffee, smoke fags, and talk about their daily routine. Comely senoritas wait on them, their buenos dias and muchas gracias rolling off their tongues like melted ice.

There is an Internet cafe in LaPanita, a small city of 10,000 south of Guayabitos. Here, tourism is a supplemental industry to the normal trade that takes place. Banks, hardware stores, cafes, butcher shops and grocery stores sit on both sides of the boulevard. There is a bus depot, out by the highway. At the fish market, pelicans line up on the roof of the two story building waiting to clean up the fish parts that litter the ground. Down the street is the area rehab clinic for alcoholics and drug addicts. Carnival rides are being set up around the town square as school kids do lessons under the shade trees. Music wafts into the street from the small stores as people go about their commerce.

Bartering is the most fundamental form of capitalism, although it puzzles us Americans who are accustomed to paying whatever fixed price is on a price tag.

Cuantos Pesos? you ask. The shopkeeper responds. You counter with another offer. In Mexico there is a social component to buying something as engagement is required between the buyer and the seller.

All of the houses and shops have intricate iron work, which serves a dual purpose as decoration and security. Open hallways and foyers are important for the movement of air in the cement block and stucco houses. Iron bars allow for air to cool the house, while keeping unwanted guests out.

As the day progresses, the beach becomes a promenade where all kinds of people congregate. Beach combers, exo-walkers, joggers, strollers, lovers. People in all shapes and sizes - retired Canadians, svelte young German ladies, and macho Mexican beach cowboys. A woman does sit-ups on the beach while a vender comes by selling shrimp. A dog barks. Two women wearing mu-mus walk by. Sandpipers, terns and pelicans search for food.

Beach vendors are the bottom feeders of the tourist industry food chain. Locals are selling inner-tubes, braiding hair, pushing shrimp kabobs, serapes and lush fruit. By noon it will be 90 degrees. Ninety percent of the weekend sunbathers are Mexicans.

Valley of the Throat Cutters

A half hour down the highway we begin a gradual assent toward Alta Vista, a coffee town in the coastal mountains. Bobby, an expatriate Californian, drives a Ford jeep made in Mexico, its chrome fenders glistening in the sun.

A retired Marine, who was in the second group to be deployed at Danang in 1965, Bobby lives with his Mexican wife, Vicky, a nurse. On the side they operate a tour guide business taking gringos like me to different tourist sites in the area - waterfalls, coffee plantations, small towns and the like.

Bobby puts it into four-wheel drive as we descend down a valley road that sidesteps around orange and mango plantations with cattle grazing in the shade. Jorge, an American friend and I, are going to visit the Valley of the Throat Cutters. A long lost tribal group, who would kidnap and murder neighboring people for ritual sacrifice, the Tecoxquin (Throat Cutters) carved elaborate religious symbols in the volcanic stone that litters the isolated valley. The petroglyphs lie helter skelter about the valley. Archeologists have recently studied the area and have identified sacrificial altars and temples.

The locals who still live in the area say the valley is haunted, claiming white ghosts are all around. No one lives there.

Pre-Spanish farmers, fisherman, salt producers and traders in Cacao and cotton, the Throat Cutters vanished with the epidemics that came when Francesco Cortes de Buenaventura colonized the area in 1524.

We eat lunch in Alta Vista between the Catholic Church and a defunct roofless coffee processing factory. Bobby passes out candy to the school kids going home for lunch.

The World Bank poured millions for agriculture into Vietnam, Bobby explains. They put it all into coffee plantations which has devastated the market for Robusto coffee here. Bobby says that local coffee sells for 5-7 Pesos a kilo (18 - 27 a pound).

Alta Vista has clearly seen better days. On the way down the mountain we pass through unharvested coffee fields. Three machete carrying boys hitch a ride with us. They are on their way to cut weeds in the fruit plantation. A flock of orioles flush from a tree in advance of the jeep.

Along the highway on our way back to Guayabitos we pass sorghum, pineapple, watermelon and agave fields. Agave is used to make Mexicos famous tequilla.

There is a construction boom along the coast. Private villas, new hotels, and seaside bungalows are going up as fast as the low-tech, labor intensive crews can put them up.

After an afternoon siesta at the Luna Mar, Jorge and I grab a cerveza and walk the beach at sunset. A fishing boat roars onto shore and begins off-loading three to five foot Dorados, bonita-like tuna, into the back end of a Silverado pickup owned by a local resort. The fisherman throw them like cordwood, the bullet shaped dark blue fish suspended in the air like airborne torpedoes.

Across the bay, the sun peaks out of dark purple clouds leaving a fluorescent vermillion sky.

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