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>We’re There: Mazatlan & On the Road Again – But Why?

January 31, 2010


The  map above shows our journey from Mazatlan to San Blas, our last stop before Guadalajara. I don’t believe Mom had any idea of what our final destination would be after leaving Mazatlan but the trip had gone so well to that point that I’m sure she was feeling reassured. San Blas is in the state of Nayarit, on Mexico’s central west coast. And, for those of you not familiar with Flit, referenced in this post, I’ve included some flit magazine ads that appeared in the 40s/50s. You’ll note right away that they were drawn by Theodore Geissel. 

Finally, I encourage all who read this to write some comments. First, it’s welcome feedback for me and it’s nice to know that people are reading and enjoying the posts. Second, it’s an opportunity to ask questions, leave constructive criticism, or comment on similar experiences. 

BTW, “Anonymous” posted a four-line poem by a Spanish poet, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, after last week’s post. In essence, the four lines are a poetic version of the Cock Robin couplet we all know so well. Thanx “Anonymous!”  Enjoy this week’s post!


We’re There: Mazatlan!
            Back on the road it didn’t take long for the complaints to begin. “I’m bored, Mom.” My complaint was immediately supported by Valerie. “Me too, Mom!”
“All that means,” Mom pointed out in that way parents have of responding without really responding, “is that we’ve had a safe trip.”
The northwestern state of Sinaloa, like Chile, is long and narrow with over four hundred miles of coastline. Its largest city, located on the coast in the southern part of the state, is Mazatlan.
Mazatlan at last. This was where we were going to hook up with those “friends of friends.” These were the people who were going to help us find a house and make a home, introduce us to the city and to new friends, guide us into our new life. Val and I wondered about school and worried about making friends. I fretted about not being able to listen to my rock and roll music. I worried over whether Mexican boys dressed cool, like we did at home, with chinos and pegged pants and shirts with rolled up sleeves. Did they favor the pink and charcoal color combo that was all the rage in the States? Would the Mexican boys beat me up? I tried not to think about all that. I imagined, instead, settling in somewhere and being the center of attention; the fashion and style leader for an admiring group of Mexican boys. I didn’t think much, if at all, about the language barrier. It never occurred to me that we’d need to learn a new language. So far we’d done just fine speaking English; why should that change?
And Mom? I put myself now in her mind and I find a long list of questions and concerns she must have considered, some important, some trivial. How will I find a good doctor? Or dentist? Or a lawyer if we need one? How about a good mechanic? Where will David and Valerie go to school? How will they do? How quickly can we find a place to live? What will it be like? What will it cost? Where will I get furniture? Will Felice be okay? Will we have enough money? And if we don’t, can I work? And, maybe most important of all, if Mexico doesn’t work out, then what?
Valerie and I took considerable interest in Mazatlan as we drove around and got our first look at a large Mexican city. Pedestrians, bicycles and donkey carts vied with buses, cars and trucks in the narrow cobblestone streets. Each moment I expected to see a collision or someone run over. It was like pandemonium at a roller rink, except that here movement was in every direction, not just counter-clockwise.
The buildings lining the streets came in a cornucopia of colors. Wild blues on top of off-reds, next to turquoise followed by two shades of green. Windows were open and I caught glimpses of people, photographs, and religious icons as we drove by. In some blocks, apparently at random, the sidewalk was raised a good two feet above the level of the street, high enough that there were steps at each end of the block to allow people to actually use it. I spent considerable time trying to make sense of this. Was it raised because streets flooded? To prevent cars from careening onto the sidewalk and into pedestrians and houses? I never did figure it out.
Parks we passed were lush gardens of greenery, including the first banana trees we’d ever seen. “Look, David!” a tone of wonder in Val’s voice. “The bananas are growing upside-down!”
SNAPSHOT: A narrow cobblestone street in downtown Mazatlan. A crowd of girls giggles its way across the street under the watchful eyes of a nun. More girls are emerging from large wooden gates set into a high wall. The girls all wear a school uniform: white pinafore over a navy skirt and light blue blouse. The pinafore sports a small school patch on the left shoulder. Most of the girls are carrying their mochilas, a cloth or leather carrying-bag for their school books and supplies.
We passed a school just as classes let out. “That can’t be a college, Mom,” I protested, pointing to the words Colegio Lourdes inscribed above the gates. “Those girls aren’t old enough!”
“Maybe you’ll be going to that school, Valerie. It’s obviously a girls’ school.”
“M-o-m-m-m ! NO! I don’t want to go there!” But Mom’s comment had jolted my sister and me back to reality: we would be going to school again in a couple of months and, worse, Mom was actually thinking about sending us to Mexican schools! It was hard enough to change schools when language was not an issue. But a new school where no one spoke English? (It didn’t occur to me think of it in reverse: A school where we spoke no Spanish.) I was aghast and Val wasn’t far behind. We rode on in shaken silence as Mom looked for a hotel.
On the Road Again – But Why?
            Hotel Cantamar. Six stories of peeling light blue paint sitting in sand dunes and tall dry grass. Our room, on the fifth floor, looked out over the principal thoroughfare of the city. The desk clerk warned us about the elevator. It would take us to the fourth floor or the sixth floor but not the fifth. No, he didn’t know why. No, he didn’t know when it would be fixed.
            Mom sighed but was too tired, and too happy to be out of the car, to complain much. We walked to the elevator, punched the button and the door opened. “Well,” Mom said leading us in, “we’re going to the sixth and walking down the stairs. Damned if I’m going to walk up!”
            We made our way to our room and were greatly relieved that it had a working, albeit wheezing, air conditioner. We unpacked a few things and then Mom went down to the car to smuggle Felice up to the room. Fortunately, this was never a problem. She was so overwhelmed with all that was happening in her little kitty life that she’d given up protesting (but not glaring). I do wonder greatly about one thing, though, as I look back: what did we do for a litter box? I have no recollection whatsoever.
SNAPSHOT: The pier, half a mile down the beach from our hotel, extends some fifty yards out into the bay. I’m at the end of the pier, leaning over to take a net being handed up to me by a kid who’s kneeling on a plastic inflatable raft.
That afternoon on the beach, I made friends with a boy my age, another American, named Thomas. He had a small inflatable raft and had been out beyond the breakers. “There’s lots of jellyfish out there!” he exclaimed. “You wanna get some? I’ve got a raft and a net.” Without waiting for my answer he went on. “I’ll go first and then you can go. Wait for me at the end of the pier.”
He ran with his raft into the surf, bucked the incoming waves and paddled out toward the end of the pier. I watched him as he intently surveyed the water, frequently scooping his net and bringing it up.
After about ten minutes his net was full of jellyfish and he paddled back to the pier where I was standing. He began to pass it to me while kneeling on the raft, but it was too unstable and he started wobbling, threatening to lose his catch. Changing tactics, he lay down on his back while I crouched down on my hands and knees and reached down to take the net. Just then he lost his grip and the net, with all the jellyfish, fell on top of him. All I remember is him screaming and people running over to us and then taking him away. I walked away shaken, glad I never got my turn.
* * * * *
 “C’mon, kids, let’s pack up. We’re leaving.”
One of the many questions I wish I’d asked Mom in later years is this: Why were we back on the road again within a couple of days? Did something happen? I don’t remember meeting anyone in Mazatlan. Did Mom go to meet them by herself? Did she not like them? Were they drunks? Religious fanatics? Were conditions attached to the assistance they were going to provide?
My best guess is that in addition to hating the heat and humidity of Mazatlan, she did what many of us would probably do in her place: refuse to commit herself, her life and her family to total strangers. Indeed, Mom probably never went to meet them. She was experiencing the first true independence of her life and, knowing Mom, she did not want to be told what to do. She didn’t want to feel obligated to take someone else’s advice. She was going to make her own mistakes and experience her own successes in her own way, thank you, no strings attached.
Whatever the reason, we were back on the road again. And now I have a new question: Did Mom know where we were going? Did she look at a map, see Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, some three hundred miles down the road? Or did she just get us in the car, point it southeast down the coast and take off, destination unknown? I like to think that’s the way it happened.
We dutifully got in the car and left.
Our next stop turned out to be not Guadalajara but San Blas, a small coastal fishing village only one-hundred forty miles south of Mazatlan in the state of Nayarit. It was smaller even than Guaymas and where Guaymas was desert, San Blas was tropical. It’s hard to know just why we stopped there, although several possible reasons come to mind: Mom was tired of driving or she was feeling adventurous or she just wanted some time to think. Valerie and I had both noticed that Mom was more relaxed, more chipper. We had been traveling in Mexico for several days now with no mishaps and her confidence that she could see this through was growing. When Valerie asked her where we were going next she just smiled and said, “I don’t know, but I’ll know when we get there,” an answer that didn’t do much to reassure us. In my mind we were heading off the edge of the map and the edge of the world. What could possibly lie ahead? But if she wanted to stop at San Blas, then by God we’d stop at San Blas. And so we did, for three days.
SNAPSHOT: Hotel del Rey in San Blas is a squat, gray, concrete box, four stories tall. Palm trees line both sides of the walk from the parking area to the lobby. It’s a dark, cloudy night but there are no lights anywhere.
Our hotel was a cavernous old building on the beach resembling a hospital more than a hotel and smelling everywhere and all the time of Flit. It reminded me of summers spent with my grandparents when my grandmother would come into my room with the big hand-pumped Flit atomizer just before I went to bed and spray for mosquitoes. And there were hordes of them in San Blas, swarming driving us back inside. On the other hand, staying inside was complicated by the fact that the hotel lost power all three nights we were there, leaving us with no lights, no elevator, no ceiling fans. We did a lot by candlelight: reading, getting ready for bed, rummaging through the luggage looking for PJs and clean underwear for the morning, brushing our teeth.
The storms we experienced those three nights (probably the cause of the power outages) flashed and thundered around us with a ferocity and magnitude that I’d never before encountered. I sat in our dimly-lit hotel room alternately watching the storm and watching the shadows on the wall dance to the candle’s tune, thunder crashing now over here, now over there, now overhead. None of us were particularly troubled by any of this. It was just part of the unfolding adventure.

NEXT: We’re There: Guadalajara! & Mercado Juarez

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2010 8:50 pm

    >The phrase "everyone speaks English" is indeed an urban legend.Yet people also claim "no-one speaks Esperanto" which is also untrue.If you have a moment have a look at Kvasnak teaches English at Florida Atlantic University.

  2. January 31, 2010 11:18 pm

    >Thanx, I checked out the video and it's interesting. Esperanto's been around a long time and continues to attract people due to its ease of learning. One of the comments posted to the video, however, is pertinent: Esperanto draws heavily from western languages, both in vocabulary and syntax. Asian language forms are generally absent.

  3. February 1, 2010 6:43 am

    >Was never sure if some of the fragments of stories were figments or enlightenment when I heard them from you and your mother – Val never talked much about Mexico. Your on-going history is adding much clarity to the notions of a family I have always been fascinated with. Keep the paths of your pre-Virginia days open for this old follower, my friend.

  4. February 1, 2010 3:51 pm

    >I wish I had more, many more, fragments of information from Mom. There are so many questions I wish I'd asked. We learn too late that we know too little. When I finally did get around to asking them, Mom, for whatever reasons, did not want to answer them.

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