My main reason for coming here is for some much needed restorative dentistry. My Canadian dentist quoted $40-50,000 to do bridges, etc., or as he first put it, the price of a new Buick.
He wanted to remove all my bottom teeth except the back 2 molars and put in implants. Here the dentist can do it in 3 appointments - 4 bridges for $30,000 pesos, less than $3000. (Final price was $3,000 pesos LESS than the estimate!) Down here, I saw land selling at $39,000 pesos, so by Mexican standards, it's a lot of money. Many of my friends have had work done successfully from Dr. Abraham, who has a thriving practice with many Norte Americano patients. My last appointment is March 29, and I will be back in Canada April 4.
This part of the country is beautiful with everything existing side by side - all-inclusives next to decayed, crumbling buildings. The horrid roads are very hard on cars, basically uneven widely
spaced stones of different heights and sizes in dusty dirt roads, but better in more affluent areas and on highways. You see garbage, wandering dogs, people cooking on every street
corner, gringos filling restaurants on the most beautiful beaches for beer at max $1.50 and full meals at about $6.00.
Mexico is a noisy, boisterous, colorful country with lots of poverty and everyone hustling for a buck. You can sit right on the beach with your toes in the sand sipping a Margarita or a cerveza, watching vendors hawk everything from food, beach toys, jewelry, blankets, dolls, masks, purses, sun glasses, etc. It's quite amazing - larger than life and very safe, really, though you MUST constantly watch where you walk. The locals greet you with 'hola' and a smile as you walk by, very respectful of tourists.
Yesterday, we were having breakfast at the beach and everyone ordered fresh orange juice. The staff went to a store for more oranges since they had run out. If we want it, they try to
supply it since we support the economy during the short tourist season. Most places speak English and have English menus. Breakfast is $3-4.00.
The gringos have built a wooden swaying bridge called the bridge of life, la puenta de vida, over a muddy river separating La Penita and Guayabitos. So many people were getting killed
on the highways that the bridge was necessary. The area now boasts a recycling program for plastic bottles, bags and packaging, carelessly tossed away before, which has much improved the litter problem. Gringos living here part time have created their own theatre group and musical bands with quite a following. Many retired people spend winters here and it's very easy to meet people.
Yesterday, I saw a small crocodile or alligator, can't tell the difference, sunning on the sandy river bank. There are huge pelicans on the beaches and lovely white egrets with bright yellow feet fishing in the rivers. Tiny geckos appear in the evenings and huge iguanas closely guard their territories, one moment motionless on a garden ledge, the next a racing blur, even mastering tall palm trees. A friend got bit in the ocean by an eel-like fish with double rows of sharp teeth - very painful - and many tourists never go swimming, just walk the long lovely
beaches. The food is wonderful, very fresh, and the drinks are amazing. We ate fresh coconut shrimp last night straight from the Thursday market. I bought some shorts there, aided by 3
Mexican ladies holding up sheets in the stall since there were no change rooms.
open, close, bite, rinse and relax (not that that last advice ever worked for me in a dental chair with a drill in my mouth!) inspires complete trust, is very fast and very good. All the drilling is over
and the bottom bridges will be in place the 29th. Meanwhile, eating is awkward but it won't be long now.
I am getting into the rhythm of Mexico. Every day I pack the essentials - glasses, sunglasses, hat, sun screen, bathing suit, a change of clothes, money and I'm off - usually returning to the hotel late evening. Last week we visited a local Catholic shrine, climbing high atop a hill for a fabulous view of Guayabitos beach. Instead of the usual 12 stations of the cross, there are 14. Typically Mexican to elaborate on a theme. Everything is being readied for Santa Semana, the major Easter fest where every spare closet and inch of sand is claimed. Apparently, it's a nonstop 2 week celebration; the first week the hill people come to the coast, the next the city dwellers.
Saturday, my friend Linda and I went to Lo de Marco to visit her friends. The touristas take taxis everywhere at a cost of 30-40 pesos, average 3 dollars with tip. The collectivo van making the
circuit the locals use costs 7 pesos. There don't seem to be set stops; you just wait by the road and flag them down. When we caught one the other day, a man and his son got in, carrying a
watermelon and large, heavy trays of pastries. They sell them on the beaches and keep traveling until they are all gone. Linda turned me on to Micheladas: beer, clamato juice, lime, spices and ice in salted fish bowl glasses. Delicious! And who knew real tequila only came from the blue agave plant?
Lo de Marcos, just 20 minutes away from bustling, touristy Guayabitos, has the authentic feel of a local Mexican town. We spent an amazing afternoon at a lovely coved beach, very clean and uncrowded under a sunny blue sky. A fun couple from Colorado took us there in their red pop-up VW van with HIPPY plates, bright flower-power decals everywhere and mattresses in back for their 2 dogs. When I answered yes to whether I was still working, the man, in classic tie-dye shirt replied, "You gotta get over that!" I could hear a Joplin-Hendrix soundtrack in my head. I tried paddle boarding, harder than it looks, but the trick is to go out past the waves where it's easier to balance standing up. (Despite his advice, I have begun seeing some astrology clients here.)
We spent Sunday at Chacala, 'where the shrimp are', compliments of new friends, Roe and Bill, boogie boarding some pretty big waves. Timed just right, you can ride a breaker right into shore at a good clip, sand plastered to every crevice. Two piece bathing suits not recommended. There's an upscale spa retreat, Mar de Jade, near patches of porous black
volcanic rock at one end of the beach, and a marina with a sheltered little cove at the other, palm trees and small mountains providing scenic backdrop. I had to keep pinching
myself... We sat at Chico's beachfront bar where, like elsewhere, anything and everything goes. Two Mariachi bands were competing, (20 pesos a song; yes, they do requests) --- loudly --- at adjoining tables, a young girl was being tattooed on her lower back at another, chihuahuas ran around, kids wandered happily, people played cards, beach vendors sold food inside
the restaurant and a bottle of tequila appeared on another table, without complaint from owners, busily preparing seafood on outdoor grills. Then there's the beach scene - music and
dancing, barbecues, boats, swimming, food, noise, fun, blowup toys, more dogs, tents, palapas, (makeshift shelters), an impromptu bongo drumming concert - everyone happily
coexisting amid noise, surf and sun. I want some Latina blood next time round!
Mexicans seem to travel in large multi-generational groups, often in back of crowded pick-ups, and really know how to have a good time. Family is very important, central to the culture, which is much less regimented than rule-bound Canada. Drinking and driving is LEGAL! A family of 4 (parents, baby and toddler) rode by on a motorbike, no helmets, and a mom drove a truck with baby on her lap, no seat belt. Some manholes are uncovered, electric wiring lies visible and rebar juts from half-finished buildings. (I later discovered that incomplete construction means no taxes, so buildings are constantly being renovated or left unfinished.) Double no passing lines on narrow roads with no shoulders mean nothing.
The other night a beautiful young Mexicana, talking nonchalantly on her cell, was proudly displayed on the hood of a white car progressing down Avenido Centro in La Penita, two young men inside. Heavy disco throbbed from a huge souped up sound system gaping from the open trunk. Even the blase locals shook their heads on that one.
Every year to celebrate the first day of spring, preschoolers have a parade. That whole day, papier mache hummingbirds, half-decorated floats, uniformed band members, fairies, little
lions, bees, butterflies and Disney characters buzz around the town as excitement mounts. Top fundraisers for schools and daycares are crowned kings and queens for a day. Miniature
princesses in ball gowns and updos, very serious on their flowery thrones, throw candies and pencils scooped up by the crowd. Adorable!
Last night, I realized I really wasn't in Kansas anymore. At home, the new moon appears as a crescent to the left, but here it's a smile at the bottom of the circle. No man in the moon either, but a rabbit with perky ears. A totally new angle. Like coming to Mexico for the first time.
raindrops obscuring starboard windows. My Mexican bee pollen, purchased from an older street vendor, doesn't make the cut at Canadian Customs.
My cellphone doesn’t allow access to messages here in Mexico, so I finally shut it off. For the first while, it feels strange not checking my in-box several times a day, then my psyche seems
to unplug as well. I really begin to live in the moment. Time feels different, bending and stretching, slowing down in the hot sun and speeding up when swapping experiences with others in pools or cafes.
I spend a solitary afternoon on the beach, surrounded by boisterous Mexican families living under colorful tarps during Holy Week festivities. I break in my new 2 piece, exposing my
pale northern midriff to public view for the first time in many seasons. Mexican women don’t seem to obsess about their shape as we do, proudly displaying ample curves and bulges in
too tight garments. Pelicans bob with the rolling surf, unconcerned with frolicking surfboarders and bathers nearby. Pairs of fisherman tend nets anchored by nylon twine from shore, but the fish are unresponsive today. I am anxious about leaving my things on the beach, but nothing is disturbed.
Another day, I hop a boat tour on the fly, wading into the surf as helping hands haul me aboard. Cash accepted; life jackets optional. I meet a professional photographer and younger cousin from California, visiting her mother living nearby. She has never seen Canadian money before, comparing it to colorful peso notes. I feel very worldly carrying 3 different currencies. My salmon $50 bill doesn’t impress our young cocaptains, since 50 Mexican pesos are worth less than $5, the price of my Mexican haircut.
They take us to tiny Crab Island, little more than a rocky sea outcropping, literally crawling with crabs of every size and color. Nearby is uninhabited Coral Island, the treed mounded landmark covered with guano, its sheltered sandy beach providing excellent swimming. We see dark coral formations through a glass bottom, our hosts smiling at our delight. Birds rule here, overseeing a family of goats climbing the rocky face. Majestic frigates, wings so wide they cannot take off from land, perch by the hundreds in treetops shared by pelicans, buzzards, seagulls and more. The grey whales are most prevalent into early March, though friends still report morning sightings from the beach.
My friends Don and Linda, veteran winter residents, meet me at Vista Guayabitos, the lovely open air restaurant atop a hill, for a sunset mango Margarita. I am awestruck at the sweeping
panorama before me. The gently curving bay ringed by mountains and palm trees, Coral Island subdued under a cloudy sky, hums with activity far below: tour boats, swimmers, strollers and diners amid the beach palapas, bungalows and all-inclusives. Later we enjoy a twilight seafood dinner at Juan’s as lights appear around the bay. The caged squawking parrots do nothing to deter the relentlessly biting no-see-ems, so in desperation I slather fresh lime over exposed skin for instant relief.
Sunday morning, I awake to drumming music as a procession of waving green fronds, just visible from my third floor balcony, progresses down the Avenida. Palm Sunday, I realize, later
charmed by the elaborate threaded palms in church pews, enormous slender specimens framing the arched entranceway and altars. (Next year on Ash Wednesday, these palms will be burned to mark the foreheads of devout Catholics, beginning the 40 day Lenten fast until Easter Sunday celebrations.) A market featuring religious artifacts, food and flowers, along with more usual fare, seems to appear from thin air in the square. After breakfast, a donkey carrying an elderly Mexicano passes us by, their part of the festivities complete.
My ears have trouble adjusting to the deafening decibels in La Penita streets. Loudspeakers in circulating trucks advertise anything from turnips to gas, furniture and local happenings with great gusto. Mexico being a show-and-tell society, two caged monkeys with vivid red bottoms accompany the circus come-to-town pitch. Our waiter is unimpressed, joking that the promised jungle animals consist of the monkeys, a horse and donkey. He relents when a bored Bengal tiger sails by.
A local cautions against buying silver jewelry at the Thursday tianguis or open air market, since he has appraised fake pieces that vendors later swear weren’t sold by them. My friend Bob
jokes about haggling over a colorful Mexican tablecloth for 2 days, later displayed at a dollar cheaper on Wal-Mart shelves back home.
Topping the local tourist hierarchy are those who’ve pulled up stakes and live here year round, then the 3-6 month snowbirds, followed by newbies and 2 week vacationers on the bottom
rung. The annual March 31 block party heralds the unofficial end of the Season, after which the tanned gringo population rapidly dwindles. This, of course, means an all-day beach bash: tubs of ice cold beer, potluck offerings and a bluesy quartet that really gets the blood moving on the sandy dance floor. The big surprise is beautiful fireworks exploding high in the dark sky, glowing sparks descending around us. The wise take refuge under beach umbrellas. Stories of singed clothes and skin burns surface the following day. We marvel at the Mexican devil-may-care attitude during this, the dry, dusty season.
As my visit draws to a reluctant close, people confidently ask me, “So you’re coming back, right? Longer next time?”