Thursday, December 29, 2005

Happy New Year.

I must confess that I was a bit dishonest in my last post.

While I was yes, busy with holidays, it wasn't of the rushing around and buying gifts variety. I was preparing for my vacation to Mexico. I've been in Sayulita, Mexico for the past eight days and spent Christmas there.

First, let me make it clear that gaps of time between posts on my blog do not mean that I'm traveling. In fact, I've had times where I've not posted for longer times out of a lack of things to say or, just not wanting to say the things that I do have. I just didn't think it wise to advertise on my blog that I was out of my apartment for a length of time.

Are we still friends?

Luckily, I don't have to come right back to work since our show is on hiatus. We don’t go back until after New Year, which is just fine by me. I like to have a few days of down time after vacations, especially if they involve extensive travel. Sort of a slow way to get back into the daily life. And to be honest, after the mellow, positive time that I had, I didn't want to come back to focusing on subject matter that highlights the worst of humanity. I'll post about Mexico in parts, but I'll start with the basics. First, I've been to Mexico several times, but not to a town like this. I've done Cancun, which is gorgeous, and the border towns, but that's about it.

Sayulita is a gorgeous, sleepy surfing town in the Nayarit province, just north of Puerto Vallarta. It's on the Pacific side on Mexico, and is the kind of town where you actually get to know the locals, can walk everywhere, and everyone on the street says "Hola." A few cars and motorbikes, ATV's, foot, and horses are the transportation of choice. My sister and I were walking down the cobblestone roads and a Mexican woman on horseback ran past. My sister looked at me and said, "You don't see that every day." That's what's so great about the place.

I picked up a lot of Spanish while I was there even though many of the locals speak some English from dealing with us Gringos. I've never taken Spanish, but picked up some in Los Angeles due to the large Spanish speaking population there. In Sayulita, you go to local marts and stores and therefore aren't shielded from the people by a big hotel and those who work there. In Sayulita, you shop where the locals do. The town of 3500 is varied in its foray into modern conveniences. It doesn't have an ATM, but little internet cafes, once again, run by locals, are sprouting up and plenty of little restaurants. Sure, I could have posted from there, but that would have been telling, wouldn't it?

Right on the beach there is a restaurant with a fancier atmosphere, but the food everywhere is excellent. We ate at one place literally run out of the family's house. We ate on a large front porch while a cook made our dinner in an outdoor kitchen. When my mom had to use the restroom, our teenage waiter walked her through the house, including the living room where grandmother was tending to the kids, then out the back door, through a yard, past the hanging laundry and a mattress leaning against a wall to reach the banu. As we ate, three young girls played with Barbies behind us. Along with the charming atmosphere, the food was outstanding. While Sayulita is on the cusp of being discovered outside the surfing circles, it should be safe from exploitation is since it is hard to get water to the town. It is located in a remote mountainous area right on the beach, so the poolside resort sitting, golf playing crowds who are fans of sprawling hotels need not stop by. The surfers however, are in abundance. I met many American ones who came down with their parents and never left, but the majority of them are Mexican locals who work during the day to support their surfing. There were some great surfers who were really fun to watch. Most all of them compete and are sponsored.

In the mornings, I awoke to the calls of roosters and at night I had to check my bed for scorpions before sticking my feet under the covers. Whenever putting on clothes, I had to shake them out to make sure none of the little creatures had snuck in there. Those were the instructions left by the homeowners, and I was sure to follow them. Reese, my friend who worked for Club Med in Mexico, had an experience involving his wet suit and scorpions that have forever implanted the importance of checking for the little buggers into my brain.

This trip was the first family vacation that I’ve been on in a long time. My sister and nephew flew in from Atlanta to Puerto Vallarta, and my mom, Jack and I took a recently added Mexicana flight from Baltimore to Mexico City, and from there we took a flight to Puerto Vallarta. I almost didn't get out of the country, and after getting up at the crack of ass in pitch dark, had to take a cab back to my apartment to get the paperwork that Mexicana required for me to fly into Mexico. I had an expired passport and current driver's license, which on several websites, including US government sites were said to be sufficient for travel into Mexico. Neither my mom nor I could find my birth certificate which is why I checked and double checked the requirements. When the representative at Mexicana dropped the bombshell, I became silent. It’s a defense mechanism of mine that can look like despair, but I’m mostly letting it sink in and planning my next action. After talk of me traveling the next day, I decided to chance taking a cab to get my voter registration card and make it back to the airport in time. I jumped back into a cab and told the driver that it needed to be a round trip and fast. After some fantastic driving from my cab driver, an older Asian man who spoke little English and drove like a NASCAR driver, I raced up to my apartment, found the extra paperwork, and raced back to the waiting cab. As we pulled off, the driver saw a guy coming out of a rowhouse a few doors down from me who was dragging a suitcase. We stopped, asked him where he was going and he said to BWI. I opened the door and said, "So are we, get in."

He did.

Turns out he was also going to Mexico, but to Cancun where his aunt has a house. He was a MICA student named Curtis who hadn't called a cab. Karma shined on him that day, and we happened by. I didn't mind, because we had made such good time and five minutes was not going to make me miss my plane. I couldn't do anything about making the flight, so I just relaxed and talked with Curtis about design school. He was a graphic design major, which was what I had majored in at Parsons, and so much that he spoke of sounded so familiar. He lives three buildings from me and I'm sure I'll see him around. We dropped him off first, and then the cab driver dropped me off. I gave him a huge tip and ran toward the Mexicana counter. The women who had helped me brightened when they saw me and said they were waiting for me. They checked me through, and then radioed the gate to tell them that I was coming. I asked the other travelers if I could go ahead of them in security, and they acquiesced. I’ve done the same thing for people in the past, and was glad to get the favor returned. When I ran down toward the gate, the flight was boarding. My mom and Jack sighed in relief as I ran toward them. I had made it. All of us had decided not to check luggage which weighed heavily in my favor.

Despite the predawn adrenaline rush, I slept most of the flight to Mexico City. I was sitting in a different spot than my mom and Jack, something I highly recommend to families without young kids traveling together. It just gives you time apart before, and then on the way back, time apart after. In Mexico City, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop while going through customs but it didn't.

I was in.

Little did we know, the adventure had just begun. When we arrived at the house that we had rented, called Casa Alegre, we learned that though it had a breathtaking view of the ocean, it had not been tended to and had a broken water line among other problems, one being a strong mildew smell. After eating dinner and meeting my first Mexican surfer Regis, (pronounced RayHees) I walked to a corner store and bought air freshener and scented candles. It helped a little bit, but the smell was pervasive and thick. The water was such a problem that we dubbed the house "Casa No Agua." After two days with minimal water and failed attempts to fix it, "No agua en la lĂ­nea," we were told by Miguel, the handyman, the property management group moved us to a nicer house with a gorgeous lawn, nestled into the hills on the other side of town. The new house, called "Casa Angel" was a major improvement and steps from the ocean as are most of the places there. It had a beautiful mosaic of an angel on the wall. Our moods shifted dramatically, knowing that we could shower and use the toilet. It was what the first one should have been, according to expectations and the price charged. This house was beautiful, charming, pristine, and had water to spare. When I mention water, this is simply bathing and plumbing water, not drinking water. Everyone, even the locals drink purified water that is delivered by truck. All the restaurants as well as the ice packagers use it to avoid sickness.

On our second night there while still at Casa No Agua, my sister and I went walking around the plaza, (center of town) and were hit on by some cute 19-year-old American boys. That cracked me up, because my sister and I are far from being 19. One of them was a smooth talker, that's for sure. We were soon approached by the two teenage girls they had ditched for us, and the group of us chatted. I whispered to Joan that we'd found the teenage hangout, and we giggled. To our left, a bunch of young Mexican kids were setting off fireworks and Joan remarked that fireworks made her nervous. I agreed, saying that especially when they were in the hands of kids at that age, most of whom were around ten years old and don’t know the dangers of them. Soon, we were approached by one of the teenage girl's parents and were chatting when I felt something hit my left side at waist level. I thought it was a large insect or leaf falling, so I looked down. To my shock, it was a lit firework stuck in my shawl and shirt, spinning, buzzing loudly and changing colors. I jumped and flicked it away, but the damage had been done. I was burned on my side. My sister exploded into a rage toward the group of kids who had thrown it, screaming at them in English and then repeating "Ojos!" Eyes. They looked at her in fear, but to their credit they didn't run off. I was still in shock and pulled up my shirt to see two fresh burns that had blackened my skin. The firework had burned my shawl and through my shirt. The silk shawl was a gift from Joan from Thailand, and could have easily caught fire had I not acted quickly.

The kids stood there in shock, and I calmly walked over to them to show them my burns. The group quickly gave up the culprit, fingers pointing to a chubby cherub-faced boy who looked terrified. Every time I looked their way, those brown little arms shot up, pointing at him accusingly. The lone girl who was with them scolded the boy in Spanish and a Mexican woman walked over to see what was going on. She was calm, asking them questions in Spanish and the kids explained to her as the little boy stood there speechless. I held up my burnt shawl and showed the holes in my shirt as my sister pointed to them. Point made, we walked away, me still looking at my wound as it was starting to smart. The two parents asked me if I was okay, and we were talking when the little boy approached me and said, "Yo me disculpo." "I'm sorry." At first I didn't understand, and then someone translated. I put my arm around him and said, "It's okay, sweetheart, I know you didn't mean it," and gave him a little squeeze. I know he didn't understand my English, but he could tell that he was forgiven. We said, "peligroso," which means dangerous and smiled. He did too. Truth is, though at first we thought he threw it at me, I'm pretty sure that he didn't mean to do it. I think he lit it and it got away from him as it was a projectile firework. Also, the lesson would sink in more profoundly if I was nice in accepting his apology, rather than mean. We've all been kids, and I think he truly was sorry. That was good enough for me.

On our next to the last day in town, we came back from breakfast to see a note on the gate asking us if we wouldn't mind moving one more time since the house had been reserved starting that day. It was just a "little" oversight by the management company. So, they moved us again, back to the other side of town to a cliff hanging house that overlooked the ocean. Once again, a breathtaking view and a first rate place. In all places, we could hear the waves crashing against the shore.

Instead of being irritated, I looked at it as a way to see the town from different perspectives. The houses for rent are very nice, so Casa No Agua was sort of an anomaly. The property management company wasn't aware that it had fallen into such disrepair and was very displeased with the owner who was an American who lived in the States. And, we got two nights free out of it. However, that very owner just sold it for half a million dollars. The new owner is going to demolish the house and build a three story behemoth that he plans to rent out. Perhaps we were the last to stay in Casa No Agua.

There is so much more to my trip than the musical houses, but I will save that for later.

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