4/5/19 – 4/12/19
Time is a fluid concept in Mexico. In Sombrerete, my host Fer explained to me that “Ahora” which basically means “Now” really means something more like “Whenever” in practicality. I generally use a multiplier of three when people estimate a time that it might take to achieve something. For some reason I let my guard down when one of the teachers at my Spanish school told me it was about three hours from San Cristobal to the Pacific Coast.
My bus left at six in the morning. I immediately went to sleep and awoke nearly three hours later to find that we’d barely made it beyond Tuxtla, which is an hour by car. As you cut through the hills, you start to get a sense of the poverty here. Most houses in Mexico are built of concrete. Here you see little wood shacks. One room. Gaps in the planks and no insulation. Iron pots cooking above little fires outside. Occasionally a pile of rubble from buildings that I’m guessing collapsed in an earthquake.
The bus drops you in Tonalá. When leaving San Cristobal the air is thin and cool. As soon as you step into the open, the tropics stick to your skin. From here you take a taxi to the collectivo station. A collectivo is like a clown car for hire. They wait until they are full before leaving. “Full” does not mean the same thing here. In America a full car probably means two up front and two in the back, because nobody wants to sit in the middle. In Mexico, every cubic inch of a vehicle is utilized. Expect to have your personal space violated. Expect to have somebody’s sick child sitting on your lap or to have to hold a pig’s head. Once in the car (all old Nissan sedans that appear to still be made for Mexican cabbies) you will notice that the AC is broken and most of the windows are stuck closed. The air is dank with the perspiration of up to eight people.
The collectivo driver dumps me at a dirt parking lot near a river. He says something I don’t understand before driving away. Before I could ask myself where the hell I was, a small fishing boat pulled up and a man waved me on. Without much thought, I complied. He dropped me on the other side of the channel and pointed to some palapas. A little Portuguese woman demanded three hundred pesos ($15) from me and gave me a key.
The isthmus was about five hundred feet wide. On one end the canal I’d rode in on, and on the other side the Pacific. I took a dip in the ocean and wandered back to the main building because the little woman that ran the place had threatened that lunch would soon end. I ordered shrimp ceviche. It was marvelous. Another man order a fish sandwich. The guy who had brought me in on the boat grabbed a mask without hesitation, ran to the shoreline, and jumped off the dock into the river. He reappeared in less than three minutes with a fish that he then fileted and grilled.
Once back in San Cristobal I continued my Spanish lessons. At some point I had decided that it was important to be able to tell stories and had written a few out to translate so I would have a way of entertaining people at cocktail parties. My teacher, Rocio, was a good sport about the fact that I was having her help me write a story in Spanish about how I’d shat down the drain of a fire station. I’d also started to notice how language can offer a different way of thinking about things. People tell you this all the time, but it is difficult to understand. I spent a solid day pondering the fact that somebody had told me that they one day hoped to grow a farm. The simple swapping of the word “build” for “grow” seems innocuous at first. I think it reveals something important about the speaker’s view of himself in the process though.
I’d been in town long enough that I had a few go to bakeries and sandwich shops. One day I discovered a new place with a great falafel sandwich and superb bread.
“We used to get the bread from the bakery around the corner,” the owner told me. “We were trading weed for it though and after a while they kept forgetting our orders.”
He was a nice fellow from Arizona. “San Cristobal is great,” he continued, “been here for a year now. Watch out for the water though, I saw a dead pig in the river the other day.”
Soph returned early in the morning on the twelfth. I waited up until almost two for her to get dropped off by her cab. In the process, two Europeans showed up to their room around quarter to one. They were banging around and playing music. I quickly walked over and asked them to turn the music off. They complied.
Five minutes later there was a knock on my door. One of them was pissed. He began asking questions in Spanish that I didn’t understand.
“Do you speak English?”
“We just get in.” I waited for him to elaborate but he didn’t.
“Ok.” I finally said.
“We just get in and you ask us to be quiet.”
“It’s one in the morning.”
“But we just get in.”
“Great.” I understood where he was going. He was drunk and smelled like cigarettes. Ten years of slinging drinks. I was a lion hunter and he was a rabbit. He didn’t stand a chance.
“We just get in and you immediately ask for quiet.”
“Look,” I smiled, “I’m not telling you that you have to turn your music off. I’m telling you that it is one in the morning, there is a woman sleeping in that room over there, and I am enjoying some quiet time in this room here.”
“Yes but we..”
“Yes yes, I know, oc course. And that is why the only thing I am going to say is that if you continue to play your music you are what I would consider to be an asshole. But if you’re ok with that, then play your shitty Europop.”
“Goodnight.” I shut the door. He slammed his. They rustled around for a few, but the music never came back on.
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