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Published: March 4th 2009
here is a garble of mayhem. Buses spit, gears grinding and thumping. Horns from their push-buttons blare; from yellow and white Mazda taxis, from gritty pockmarked trucks, from local peoples and passing pedestrians. It’s hot where all these species interact, for a strong Mexican sun burns low in February skies. Everything seems to sweat. My pores. The parched plants covered in dust. Those firing engines inside their oil blocks. And the roaming dogs: Chihuahuas, poodles, mutts. I wander into una tienda
(a shop) owned by a small family and pull out three beers from the cooler. It’s Negra Modelo
by choice, and for a mere 45 pesos
(approximately three US dollars), I head to the beach and cross the old part of town.
I’ve been in Mexico for over a week, but it feels like the all-consuming, all-pervading splendor of Day One. This is the Mexico I’m use to; a vast industrial network of business, movement, culture, color, heat and sweat. And the current city I roam is all of this, especially when the tourist bonds are broken and the traveler explores farther from the hotels, deeper away from the villas lining the beach.
The northern city in
the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta caters to all. A Cancun for the college hooligans. A social, yet restive, guacamole/margarita party for the retirees. A place for the French, the German, the Japanese and the national Mexicans on holiday—it’s a city with intimate hideaways into traditional Mexican culture besides the stalls of Pacifico/Corona T-shirts; woolen geometric blankets; pottery of fish, fruits and peppers; medley of bracelets and necklaces with shell, stone and thread; silverware that glistens under whitelight in air-conditioned shops; Mexican wrestling masks left by a Nacho Libre dancing in sleek nylon aerobic tights; and lines of chains from Senor Frogs and Carlos O-Brian’s to the classy squandering of McDonalds and Carl’s Jr. fast foods.
No, I’m walking down Cárdenas
heading west for Bahía de Banderas
as I leave the residential barrio
(or neighborhood) of El Remance
. I started out by following the Rio Cuale
watching los pequeños niños
(small children) splash in its cool and surprisingly clear waters. Beside them a cluster of women wash laundry in black shorts and white tank tops. And down the Cuale I continue and into a grid of streets known as La Zona Romántica
, where locals sit out on the
streets laughing, eating, shopping—day-to-day on a Saturday afternoon. Along Cárdenas I pass mini mercados
(markets) with shelves of foreign edibles stacked in bright plastics. I wander by rooms of cement full of people drinking cervezas
, clapping to a colorful mariachi
band with a standing bass painted in the green, white and red of the Mexican flag. Small restaurants crack fresh oysters on the roadside while taco stands display hand-written menus on neon pink and green poster board. I stop. I indulge in two fresh tacos loaded with frijoles
and runny guacamole for a buck fifty, and then continue on my way.
As I go I peek into dimly lit rooms where elders converge and pass the time. At one point as the buses tumble down cobblestone streets, a small art gallery reads CERCA
(closed), but as I look inside its wrought-iron barred windows I see three wise-looking gentlemen sitting in a triangle, each clamping an acoustic guitar between their legs. I listen, and posed astutely with straight spines, their fingers create an artform as they rhythmically twitter over the chords. There, combined in harmony, a hum of Spanish flamenco ascends out into the street and through my ears.
I’m entranced. I close the eyes and lift my awareness off the ground into an invisible world of musical notes that dance to a passing vibration.
Movement, lots of it; outside on the streets, fleeting in the air, and inside in my conscious awareness. And this is the grand characteristic of any city neighborhood where locals shop, dine and live. In some places it is dirty. Rotting fruits going putrid by the tropical sun. Stashes of crinkling plastic bottles kicked and crunched. Wispy piles of bags and old newspapers floating in the traffic’s breezes. All the while, mangy dogs hunt in packs, sifting through their territorial mounds for a morsel. Yet in other places where humanity congregates to industrialize and live, the plaza or square is clean, tidy, covered with a canopy of leafy trees. Old architecture remains standing instead of the razing for new high-rises of business and luxury hotels. Religious and/or spiritual centers are open-aired in warm climes, inviting and trusting those interested. And stands of fresh produce spill out into the sidewalks: the rich hues of red, orange, yellow and green. This city neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta is self-contained, a self-sustaining biosphere of life like
a little tide pool with distinct rhythms that ebb and flow. It is like a snake eating its own tail.
Then, slowly as I near the beach of Playa Olas Atlas
the scenes shift. Shops that used to cater to beauty salons advertising manicures and pedicures that hung posters of famous actresses off its chipped walls now morph into tequila shops. Traditional eateries without names turn into larger spaces offering pastas, burgers and satellite television. White cloth appears more regularly and gaudy sun hats with bland dresses stamped “Puerto Vallarta es la vida” hang outside doorways. And onto the malecon
Up and down Puerto Vallarta’s seaside boardwalk and back. People are everywhere. White, dark, burnt red, browns and African blacks. The diversity is beautiful, the ages a whole genealogical chart of beach-combing humanity. Whether working or not, with the sun and the ambiance it feels as if everyone is on vacation… even the jewelry sellers and the sand-carvers, who build a monstrous array of sculpted artwork that is all to be washed away in rising tides.
I come and go, feeling the sun on my face, the tiredness of walking creeping up my feet and
into the legs like a strangling vine. I smell the ocean. I hear the bass of audio systems that rattle cars’ plastic panels. Then sunset. I sit in a lounge chair, pop another Negra Modelo and watch. The ease of life sways in the sea currents. The joy of travel explodes out of the children playing in the waves. And the brilliancy of experience—learning, adapting, surrendering—shines out of the sinking sun. When it disappears without the expected green flash, a choir of clapping arises. We salute the sun with our beers, mixed drinks and popcorn as if a theatre performance reaches its climax and comes to conclusion. I enjoy my drink in the sand with the rest of it as the disappearance of daylight fades. Then, I find my way back through the barrios and into El Remance to relive the moments as if for the first time.
The first time, the first day— el primer día
—it is not. For let me take you back to the alternate paradise from which I have just arrived. It begins north of the city I now wander in a tropical valley where butterflies quiver like paper maché, where lizards skitter across fallen
leaves, and where vultures catch ocean breezes to circle over a blessed land of rebirth. To be continued...
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