Insights & Observations
May 7, 2020
By Joe Stuver
Continued from last week.
I had many fine adventures with Vicky and Natalie in past years, and continued on with several very fun road trips this year.
My respect for Angel, who is 6’1” and weighs probably 210, soared on the news that Mony had awakened to burglars breaking into the place across the street. While she called the police, Angel grabbed up a machete and ran across the way to confront the burglars. He had them chased off by the time the police arrived.
At the beginning and end of my many trips to Jarredaradas, I am also greeted by loving, soft, sweet smelling hugs coming and going by the girls.
I am not sure why they are so fond of a crippled up old gringo, but I remain truly blessed.
One of my favorite restaurants is a little mother-daughter street side operation, Sarah’s, just across the main drag. Some of my favorite dishes included chicken mole, caldo-de-sur, wood-grilled chicken with a chili sauce and beef stew with a red chili sauce. All dishes of course came with a huge plate full of beans and rice and fresh veggies, tortillas, and lots of fresh limes and avocado. I got so I could palm role a tortilla, and enjoy munching on a hot pepper.
The owners, Sarah and Carmen, have become good pals despite the fact they don’t speak English, and my Spanish leaves a lot to be desired. As a bonus, I got hugs as I departed after each meal.
The cost was about $5 for a meal fit for a king. Plus, many times I was joined by some of my crew.
The restaurant boasts four plastic lawn tables covered by cloth, with two tables pushed together, surrounded by plastic lawn chairs. If there are a few people at a table, anyone and everyone is welcome to join them.
I also had my choice of numerous seafood restaurants, where I dined on a wide choice of shrimp and fish dishes and seafood soup. I was in heaven!
I heavily favored those frequented by the locals rather than those catering to gringos. The staff is much more friendly, and the food is better.
I rented Mony’s main home – a splendid four-bedroom, adobe and marble structure within a gated community. My neighbors were all Mexicans, and Mony drafted those close by to keep an eye on my safety. Her neighbor to the south is Senora Nancy and family, long time friends who own a really fine but rather expensive seafood place in Buccarias.
I got a hard reminder of bare feet on wet marble, and crashed heavily one of my first days there. I am used to living alone, and such wrecks are accompanied by lots of cussing and yelling, as I check my old body for broken bones. I was in mid-cuss when Senora Nancy rushed over, in her undies, to offer help. I was more than a little embarrassed, but very grateful.
I dropped something a couple of days later, and five minutes later I got a call from Mony to see if I was ok. Senora Lucy, to the north, had been put on spy duty. It made me feel good inside to know that people were watching out for my welfare.
Senora Nancy and crew run a family restaurant on the beach. It’s a busy place indeed and the food is excellent but a bit spendy. I was re-introduced to a site I’d thought I’d somehow managed to erase from my mind: Mr. Burns in a speedo. Except this specimen had long white hair poking out of his chest and back. Gha!
Day two found Mony and one of her brothers, whom she drafted into putting in a shower in her utility room downstairs, which is an open air area. That meant I got to take my showers listening to the birds greet each new morning.
Except her brother was only about 5’4”, so even in his reaching up, my shower came to about chin level. I was happy in that it had a mount so I could take the head off.
My shaving mirror was also hung at about chest level, so scraping all of the whiskers off my mug sometimes left patches of old growth which went unnoticed until I looked in my jeep mirror.
Day three I went back to Jarretaderas for Leah’s second birthday party. They simply blocked off the entire street for the celebration. I counted 23 kids between the ages of six or seven down to toddlers; 20 were little girls. There were also about the same number of adults, mostly moms, to make for a fine and noisy celebration indeed.
The celebration included a snake dance, with an auntie leading the procession with Leah. Senora Virginia was a few people behind, but showed off some terrific moves. There were, of course, candy-filled piñatas, games, and lots of food. Leah herself was pretty much ambivalent about the crowd, and spent much of the evening munching on a slice of pizza larger than her head, cutely attired in a Harley Davidson jean jacket.
I think, somehow, that Mexicans are happier than we are. They love celebrations, food, fun and family.
I didn’t watch television, so my days were taken up mostly by reading, eating, and enjoying time with those sweet people. My location varied from my front yard patio, to ocean beaches just a few blocks away. My favorite spot was a few miles away where I could sit and read, and watch magnificent humpback whales through my binoculars. It’s a very quiet stretch of beach, without the clamor of vendors, heavily laden with merchandise, bothering you every few minutes.
Driving in parts of Mexico is indeed “interesting,” especially on the coast, and especially between Punta De Mita and Puerto Vallarta, it’s an area between the mountains, that I call “The Flats.”
Traffic from the only coastal highway, a windy, two lane, horrible roadway, combines with local traffic into four lanes center, with two additional lanes running along side. You can’t turn left off of the center of the main highway, so you have to merge with the side lanes, and also to get onto the village streets.
High, very rugged, jungle covered mountains jump up out from the coastline. They are truly wild places.
For the most part, drivers are polite, and don’t hesitate to let you enter their lane. Others, not so much.
At the top of the food chain are the busses. So many poor Mexicans who cannot afford passenger transportation rely on these, and they are mostly driven by escapees from the local loony bin. They hardly ever signal; on one occasion I was pushed across two lanes of traffic with no give from the driver. I remember visiting with Carole Richards, following a visit there, who was horrified when her taxi took on a bus and actually won.
There are also huge semi trucks and trailers, but those drivers seem to be a bit more patient than their huge bus counterparts.
Then there are heavily laden, slow-moving construction and cement trucks everywhere. Next, there are the taxis, vans and cabs, which race with the more impatient drivers for the lead. The latter I call “swervers,” as they dodge in and out of lanes, usually without signaling first.
I had to stop suddenly one time when a turning truck was blocking both lanes of traffic. I looked in my mirror to see a taxi, brakes locked, come past with tires smoking.
About two thirds of the traffic, though, are passenger vehicles; cars and pickups. There are no child seat belt laws, and few other traffic laws that are actually enforced, so the backs of most of the pickups are full of workers on their way to and from their jobs, or families with kids.
Mix that with motorcycles of all sizes, from the 30 mph top speed putt-putts to Crotch Rockets to Harleys. These good folks speed up the center lane at lights, hoping that no one swerves into their lane. You have to have your head on a swivel.
Whenever I had the kids on board, I paid extra-close attention, and prayed a lot.
But I have only actually seen one fender bender in all my years there, which you can credit mostly to the sane drivers.
There are also Transit Police everywhere, on foot or on motorcycles and cars, who seem to specialize in targeting gringos. After you get stopped, the officer takes your drivers license and then tells you to get it back you must go to the police station. “Or,” you can simply slip them the requested amount of pesos and you’re on your way. Several have requested I put the requested cash in a folded up piece of paper “so people don’t get the wrong idea.”
Angel, who had purchased a very hot Yamaha 750 since last year, had a private and kind of humorous relationship with the police. He refuses to get license plates because of the cost, and the transit police often waved him over. His answer: wave back and “drop a gear and disappear.”
There are a half-dozen very long traffic lights in between. There are some really cool and talented street performers, and lots of hawkers selling everything from flowers to selfie sticks and maps. My favorite performers were jugglers, who carried with them the tools of their trade: balls or bowling pins, an eight-inch piece of plastic pipe, and a board approximately a foot long. They place the board on the pipe, climb aboard, get their balance, and proceed to juggle whatever they have on hand.
They have an internal clock, so they can quit about 20 seconds before the light changes, and walk down the center of the two lanes to collect pesos from passersby.
The only beggars you see are those with obvious physical handicaps. I always keep a tray full of pesos to oblige them.
Drug use is not much of a problem there, but if gringos are stupid enough to kill themselves and destroy their families they will supply it. I have never understood why our drug use is so much higher than theirs. Our addictions have fueled absolute horror on both sides of the border.
I was again denied a trip into the mountains bass fishing. A new cartel has popped up, and they are completely ruthless. In a small village in between, they broke into the wedding of a brother of a different cartel, shot the bride dead, and kidnapped and tortured the groom to death. It’s a horrible thing indeed, what human beings can do to each other for the sake of money and power.
We took several really cool side trips though; several to a little sea-side village called Huximatle, and up in the mountains to the beautiful old silver mining town of San Sebastian. One trip there was Mexican car pool style, with six adults and three kids happily and noisily crammed into my jeep. San Sebastian boasts a centuries old cathedral, with a church museum along side. The museum boasted items from their Aztec past and religion, side by side with church memorabilia
My favorite times were of course those trips, and taking the family out occasionally for supper. Angel and I were indeed the envy of all of the male audience.
On one drive, I was watching the sea birds soar effortlessly in the ocean updrafts. Among those are a huge number of buzzards. I was watching one in its graceful flight when my memory went back several years ago, when one perched on my awning some 30 feet away, and spent some time eyeballing me. It was kind of creepy, until I realized it must have recognized me. “Hey, you were the gringo we pooped on up north. You should have seen the look on your face. It was really funny.”
“We were trying to get that guy behind you with the egg shaped noggin, but we ran out of poop.”
Of course I’m not sure if buzzards have a sense of humor or not. I still wish mightily they would have waited until Dashing Doug, who all but forced me aboard one of his little electric scooters, had gone first…