As I was sipping my last drink of the night and desperately trying to soak in the last few fleeting days of freedom, aka vacation, I watch as our caretaker’s girls are called in for the evening. The 3 of them march diligently across the dirt courtyard into the house and just as the big black steel door is creaking shut, the youngest shyly peers her head around the door and sweetly waves to me, goodnight.
As I type this I try to think about all of the little things that make traveling so much fun. In the background I can hear a man singing at the construction site just next door. He is carrying a heavy load of bricks up three stories in the hot sun, but he has been singing every morning for the past week. He’s not all that good, but I enjoy listening and appreciate his enthusiasm. I can also hear the fisherman just off shore passing by in their panga, joking with each other and laughing loudly. I have no clue of what they’re saying, but when they all laugh loudly together I chuckle along with them. Just outside the gate I can hear children in the nearby town square chasing each other around and screaming with excitement, dogs barking in hot pursuit as to applaud their joy. It’s witnessing these different cultures, learning how and why they live the way they do, and to see how they utilize what they have available to make it all happen that makes traveling such an adventure for me. It may not be the most efficient, but it’s what they have and they make due.
Like the fisherman who was fishing next to me the next morning who’s made his own lure out of a piece of led and some glitter glued to a piece of old bicycle inner tube tied to a hook. He is hand lining it, but he’s casting his lure 2 times as far as I can with my brand new reel and 10 foot pole. We didn’t catch anything that day, but I’ve seen him come back with literally a hundred pounds of fish a few days later. I have yet to catch one that’s worth keeping.
As I travel throughout the West Coast of Mexico I try to be the American that we were so respected for in the past. Not the ugly Americans of today who repeats their English request, or more like orders, louder, slower and more pronounced so the Mexican who speaks no English can understand. If I hear “grassyass” one more time I think I’m going to break a bottle over their head. Don’t worry I usually have one in hand or nearby. So to put it into perspective lets turn the tables. If a Mexican came up to you asking questions in the states, speaking Spanish and you just shrugged your shoulders and said “no, I don’t understand.” Then this person gets in your face and repeats their request, but this time only closer, slower and louder, so you can magically understand. You’d think that person was insane, but yet I’ve seen this time and time again.
As an American witnessing such things it’s a major embarrassment to me as a fellow countrymen. Americans just don’t travel as much as the rest of the world and that’s another thing that should be a national disgrace, but it’s not. It’s almost considered shameful to be traveling in such a bad economy, and it’s always a bad economy, except for bankers, lawyers and stock brokers. In an effort to live up to this higher ideal I’ve thought about this ahead time and brought down extra items that not only could help us on our journey, but to give away these items to people who could use them the most. My first gift was an air pressure gauge to the gas station attendant in the middle of nowhere. I ask in my limited Spanish if he can check the air in a leaky front tire. He tells me no, he doesn’t have any way to check the pressure when I suddenly realize I had picked one up at Les Shwab for free right before we left, but it doesn’t go up high enough to my recommended tire pressure, so it was basically useless in our RV. I knew right where it was, so after paying the man for gas I presented the gift and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He immediately removes it to inspect it, and the look on this grown man’s face was like a kid on Christmas morning. He thanks me and then immediately shows it off to his co-workers as he waves goodbye.
The next gift was an extra set of jumper cables to one of our campground host who had to push start his car, because of an weak battery. Same sort of expression, but only after I showed him that I had a duplicate set. The next an extra roll of duct tape to the grounds keeper who I know could use it. His reaction was the typical back handed salute with a nob of the head in appreciation. The next an extra winter hat to the night security guard who was complaining about how cold it was and who’s face I’ve never completely seen, because I’ve only met him at night, but as we were pulling out of town he ran across the street waving to us unusually excited and pointed to my hat he was wearing in 80 degree heat. Again, he gave the back handed salute and head nod. I waved back once I realized it was him and could see him in the rear view waving until we were out of sight. And then an extra volleyball and nerf football to our neighbors who were collecting items for the local orphanage. I pretty sure it will be used as a soccer ball, but better than nothing. I can only imaging the joy it might bring to those kids who have nothing. Next a few extra steel fishing leaders to a local kid fishing nearby. A spare bike pump to man who runs a bike club for kids in the small fishing village were we stayed for two weeks. His family also serves the best Chili Renos in town.
Another gift was to offer my services as a photographer to the couple who were about to get married the next day. They didn’t have a photographer and since I didn’t have anything going on that afternoon I thought it would be fun. Also, I’ve always wondered if I could do it. I’ve always been pretty good at shooting portraits, but a wedding is a whole other beast. It was fun and the photos turned out great. They got married on the beach and the bride was delivered to the alter on a white horse led by her father. Later that evening we got invited to the reception dinner and I thought it would be a huge event with lots of people like a typical Mexican wedding, but we were the only non-family members invited. They were speaking German and Spanish, but threw in a few words in English so we didn’t feel too awkward. It was a real treat and I felt honored to attend. All together a great experience and I’m glad to know that I can do this wedding thing pretty well.
My biggest gift was a surgical kit I purchased at a g-sale that I thought I could re-sell, but had no luck in the 4 months I’ve tried, so I asked my biker buddy who I gave the pump to who could use it the most. He told me the free clinic could make the best use of it. They treat people from all over the neighboring villages and run only on donations. He went with me and translated my intentions to the nurse at the front desk. She probably has seen more blood, guts and pain than anyone I know, except for maybe a war veteran, but I could tell she was shocked when I opened it up on her desk. I think she was expecting me to then ask for money they didn’t have by the look on her face, but as I was walking out and saying my last goodbyes I turned back to take another look at her and she gave me a look with a tear in her eye.
I’ve also stopped to help two people who were hopelessly stuck in the sand on two separate occasion in the exact same place. The bridge near by has been washed away by sever flooding last fall, so locals try to make it around a nearly impossible bypass through deep sand and always get stuck. The first person I helped was a 350 lbs man in a very tiny car. The contrast was striking and I wish I had my camera handy, but it’s pretty easy to picture. His tiny little car was so buried his wheels were no longer touching the ground. I helped dig for a few minutes, but I could tell from previous experience it’s pointless. I ask him if he has a jack. He does, so we jack the car up and place wooden board from the nearby broken bridge to stick under the tires. He is out and on his way within ten minutes. The people watching this fiasco are stunned. The next person who was stuck in the exact same place a few days later had been desperately trying to get out and by the dark blue cloud of burning rubber hanging overhead I could pretty much tell he had given up thinking rationally. I offered to help and after a few minutes of digging and getting prior permission to drive, he was out of there. The trick I tell him is to dig out in front of the tires and pull forward, so you can get some momentum. “You are my hero” the young man says while I’m walking away. “Da Nada” I replied. He immediately pulls out a fresh fish from the back of his truck offering it up as a reward, but I tell him we’ve already have dinner waiting, but thank him for the offer.
I don’t mention these gifts because they’re significant, or I feel sorry for them, because that far from my intent. The Mexicans I’ve met on this trip are honest, hard working and friendly to a fault. They’re also very ingeniousness, happy and family orientated. One of my favorite days of the week is Sundays just to watch all of the families spend the entire day together. They laugh, eat and drink together for the entire day. It’s a joy to watch. I mention these things not because I think I’m a Saint or a do gooder, but to inspire and be the positive change I want to see in the world and that’s what it’s all about.