For days I’d been staring at the map. The coastal road meandered along the Pacific Ocean with villages scattered like pebbles beside it: Walamo, Caimanero, Teacapan.
According to my trusty Lonely Planet, Teacapan is “surrounded by a rich mangrove ecosystem and several pristine beaches,… this small fishing village [is] at the tip of an isolated peninsula…prime territory for nature buffs.” Apparently, the place is an “epic bird-watching spot” and local guides will gladly take a boatful of folks into the mangrove swamps and to the Islas de Pajaros,
Isolated. Pristine. Mangroves. Epic birds.
I looked at that tiny dot at the tip of that tiny peninsula and decided to go there and see the epic spot.
So I said good-bye to the Belmar Hotel in Mazatlan and hailed a golf cart to the bus station. Golf carts are the poor man’s taxi in Mazatlan. On the way, I engaged in my standard taxi driver conversation. In this case, the driver was a nice man about my age
“Where are you from?”
“The United States in the north. Near Canada.” Few Mexicans know where Michigan is, but they know about Canada.
“Yes, very far.”
“Is it cold there?”
“Yes, very cold. Lots of snow and ice. But I like the cold.”
Glance of disbelief. And then the question that was always asked…
“Are you traveling alone?”
And then I’d start the family conversation, about no, I don’t have a spouse, about my kids and how I missed them, and about how Mexican people are very kind (amable), and I haven’t had any trouble. And often, they’d tell me about their family or when they or their brother or their cousin went to America to work, and we’d end up with that cozy feeling of having made a warm human connection. Variations on this theme happened often in taxis.
Then he dropped me at the second-class bus station to make my way to tiny Teacapan.
Several hours and a couple of crowded buses later, I dragged my very Norteamericana luggage into the small and dusty town square and began asking about a hotel. I was tired. I felt conspicuous. There was no hotel of any sort to be seen. I was pointed from person to person, and I began to question the wisdom of leaving the broad and beckoning tourist highway for a backwater, however epic. Finally, someone knew someone who had a small hotel and pointed me down the street.
The place didn’t have a sign, but it did have a couple of rooms that would have been clean but for the dust swirling in from the street. The grandmother owned the place and lived in a nice house a couple blocks away. She was a sharp old gal who let her son’s family live in the hotel while she managed the money.
As with many such places, the tourists kept to the beach while normal life unfolded in the dusty streets where I was staying. There were, however, no tourists at the time. They had all departed after the holidays, so the locals (and I) had the place to ourselves.
This might have been a good thing, except that the guides with boats were loathe to go out with one sola passenger. I’m sure they would have for a price, but I was loathe to cough up that price. “Come back tomorrow. Maybe someone else will want to go, too,” said the one guy I was able to locate. But tomorrow was the same. I was only tourist in town.
So much for epicness.
I strolled around town. I strolled down the beach. I chatted with Almendro, a boy who followed me companionably. I chatted with Cesar Chavez (no kidding), a mid-twenties young man who had been deported from the US and still had a wife and kids in the states. “Sometimes, I think about them and cry,” he said. He worked construction in Escuinapa, the nearest city. Later, he drove by in a souped-up car and invited me to join him and his friends on the beach for beer. But I was still chatting with Almendro.
I ate at the restaurant across the street, whch was a family affair–a large, expressionless man with an apron did the cooking; his large and friendly wife did the serving An assortment of people hung around–a young woman and her newborn baby, an old man, some random kids.
“Do you have chicken enchiladas?” I asked, referring to the extensive handwritten menu on the door.
I was served a corn tortilla on a plate covered with brothy boiled chicken and some vegetables. It was good albeit un-enchiladalike.
The next night, I ordered a tostada. Same deal; crunchier tortilla.
But the agua jamaica (cold hibiscus tea) was delicious and became my go-to drink for the rest of my time in Mexico.
What I discovered about hanging around in less-traveled places is that I felt more self-conscious: Here is the gringa lady walking around town with her camera. Here is the gringa lady on the beach. Here she is eating boiled chicken by herself..
This was mostly okay, but it tends to probe the mushy underbelly of the unanswerables that I ask myself all the time–What is my purpose? Have I made the most of my life? What more meaningful thing should I be doing? How can I (can I?) make the world a better place?
These are annoying, useless, and irrelevant questions. They’re the wrong questions, and I torment myself with them regularly. By now, God must be weary of the drama. I can almost see the omnipotent eyeroll, and hear the all-knowing sigh: Just get on with it, already.
Two days after arriving in dusty Teacapan, I caught another chicken bus back to Escuinapa and waited on another dusty corner for the bus to Guadalajara.