Posted by scott from 18.104.22.168 (ip68-7-100-95.sd.sd.cox.net) on domingo, septiembre 01, 2002 at 14:25:58 :
Another day, another book. While we go through the morning ritual of coffee, fruit and pan dulce, I face the difficult task (yeah, right) of choosing my next book. ‘Anatomy of Restlessness’, by Bruce Chatwin, accompanies me to the balcony. But it isn’t long before the phone rings. Hello Francisco. Yes, we’re going to Barra today. 10? Let’s make it 10:30. Great, see you downstairs.
Along with the usual beach accoutrements a large bag filled with crayons, paints, notebooks, pens, pencils, and a few clean T-shirts will be going with us. Every year when we visit, we bring school supplies, and rather than leave them with Rob, this time we’re taking them directly to Barra. The only problem is that I’ve totally forgotten with whom I’m supposed to leave them. You see, while the good Lord has blessed me with a photographic memory for faces, said Lord left me to fend for myself when it comes to names. I cannot for the life of me remember names without help. And so, here I am, prepared to deliver school supplies to…well, we’ll deal with it later.
10:30 on the nose and Francisco is at the curb. We load up the trunk and leave for Barra. Francisco turns out to be the best taxi driver we have had in all of our travels. His taxi isn’t clean, it’s immaculate. Like he washed everything right before picking us up. He drives the speed limit. He doesn’t just stop for stop signs, he stops ten feet behind the sign and looks both ways before he proceeds. Imagine that. As we leave town and enjoy the highway sights, he shows us where he lives, points out various things, and in general makes a tremendous guide.
As we take the turnoff at Los Achotes, I point out the trucks that take people to Barra. Part of me wishes we were taking them too, but it’s also very nice having a dedicated taxi and such a nice guy driving us. We’re surprised to find that the dirt road turns to pavement not far beyond. Francisco says jokingly that it only took then 20 years to get this much paved and will only take another 20 to finish the job. He also notes that it’s paved because some government folks bought property. I have no idea as to the veracity of either statement, but they do have the ring of truth. The trip in is quite pretty. We pass alternating views of hills, meadows, fields, and lagoons. Some cattle here, a few goats there. It’s a very pleasant drive and Francisco is driving just the right speed to take it all in. We pass men on bicycles carrying packages.
Eventually we come to the beach and the schools. But one school, the primary grades we think, is closed and empty. Now here is where things turn humorous. A couple of young girls are walking by and we stop them to ask where the lady who runs the school is. Actually, our questions aren’t quite that direct because I don’t know if the person I’m looking for runs the school or simply helps out. And to make matters worse, the only name that comes to mind is “Susan”. Don’t ask me why, I’m embarrassed as much as anybody could be since I’ve been using Rob’s message board for some time now. But when I’m blocked, I’m really blocked, and believe me, I’m blocked. The girls first say, “no, we know of no Susan”, but then one turns and says, “oh yes, there is a woman named Susanna who works at the school, but she’s not here.” We confer for a few seconds and decide that we’ll proceed with plans and worry about this later.
At the end of the road, Francisco recommends La Condesa. It’s a large enramada, with lots of tables, chairs and hammocks under a several hundred square feet of palm roof. Off to the side are fresh water showers. As we park, we’re told that these are friends of Francisco, that they’re natives, and that the food is very good. He shouts friendly greetings to an older gentleman as we make our way to a beachside table. As we sit down, surf rolls up under our feet and it’s obvious that this will be a great day. A couple of hammocks away, somebody sleeps. He doesn’t move all day.
It’s a bit after eleven now, and so we ask for a couple of beers. Come on, say it with me. Hey, we’re on vacation, no? It’s all I have to justify drinking beer at what is nine am back home time in San Diego. To the left of and behind us, tables stretch on for what seems forever. On the sand, pangas are lined up waiting for use. Yamaha and Mariner seem to be the outboard motors of choice. And curiously, a number of guys I assume to be fisherman, are standing around the surf directly in front of the boats, all walking tight circles while looking at the sand. They’ll do this for the next couple of hours and it isn’t until we ask that we learn that they’re actually looking for things washing up on the beach. Money, jewelry, anything of value. I don’t ask if they actually find anything because if they didn’t, why would they look?
The beach itself is breathtaking. Looking north, the sweeping, curving, expanse of sand bordered on one side by blueish-green water and on the other by lush greenery and dots of palapas makes us sigh with pleasure. The only thing out of place is a nearby 4-story hotel that stands above everything else like a giant middle finger. Unlike Ixtapa, where all of those hotels kind of work together to disrupt the skyline, this one seems hell bent on ruining it for everybody else. I’ll give the owner the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t actually intend on “flying the bird” as it’s sometimes said, but that’s the feeling I had as I gazed upon mile after mile of beach with tree-height development only to see this white monstrosity. We imagine that it’s the first of what will ultimately be more multistory hotels and that saddens us. That's just our opinion and your mileage may vary.
One thing that is undeniable though is that the surf here can be strong. We’re warned that every now and then a large wave breaks which has the ability to drag away our kid, and so whenever J is in the water, M or I are between him and the breakers. But it’s also a good beach for sand play, and it’s not long before we have built a nice sand fort to play around. A few dozen yards away, J finds a dead puffer fish washed up on shore. Next to it is another fish, the species of which I cannot determine because it’s bloated to unusual proportions. I explain, as best I can, the whole “circle of life” thing to J and how that fish washed up becomes food for other various animals like crabs and birds, but he’s having none of that. He insists we bury both fish, and so, with plastic shovel in hand, father and son dig two holes, bury both fish, and say a simple prayer. J is happy now, and that makes me happy too.
Lunch at La Condesa is fantastic. M has a pulpo cocktail while I have abalone. Now, I know it’s not the abalone of my youth, the reds, greens, whites, or pinks that we used to pry off the rocks from the depths of kelp beds of Pt. Loma. Southern Californians know the ones I’m talking about. The ones we can no longer take because they’ve been fished nearly to extinction (in fact, the pinks are extinct I think). And yes, our waiter confirms that these are smaller, no more than a few inches in diameter. He doesn’t know exactly what they’re called, referring to them as “hats”, if I remember correctly. I’m guessing some kind of limpet, although later in the week, I’ll see limpets on the menu under a different name. In any case, I give them a try, fried, and they’re delicious. M’s pulpo is similarly fresh and fine.
After lunch we walk over the lagoon. Families play on a sandbar not far from shore. We walk in the shallows past a few smaller enramadas and pongas, with little fish nipping at our feet. The water causes our feet to look yellow as we shuffle along through the silt. Across the lagoon, we see thick plants and birds. Lots of birds. Eventually we come to some children playing in tied up boats and so we stop while J joins in. One boy has a shrimp from which he’s taken flesh to put on a fishing line. No luck catching fish, but lots of fun trying. We’re asked if we want to take a lagoon tour and while it sounds like a neat thing to do, the flojitos have taken hold and we defer to another day. We know we’ll be back, if not this trip then the next.
When it comes time to leave, we signal to Francisco, who’s been hanging out near the kitchen. We told him early on that he could leave and come back for us, but he said that he’d just visit with his friends, and now, he tells us not to hurry on his account. We pack up, pay the totally reasonable bill, give praise and thanks all around, and walk to the car. A detour to the shower is in order because we really don’t want to dirty Franciscos’s super clean car. As we leave, we ask to once again find the mystery school person, and here is where the punchline of the day’s joke is delivered. Francisco had told us earlier in the day that he had asked and discovered where this “Susanna” lived. And yes, she is involved with the school. So now we make a detour down the town’s main dirt road, to a house behind what is thought to be the kindergarten schoolhouse. Francisco honks his horn, says a few words to a man, and a young woman walks out to the car. While the Spanish speaker of the family, M, stays in the back seat, gringo me gets out to deliver the goods.
Susanna is obviously confused. Who is this tourist mumbling something about kid’s stuff? Why did he come to me? Nonetheless, she is patient and friendly, accepts the bag of supplies with courtesy, says that they’ll be taken to school on Monday, and thanks me. And just like that, in the course of one minute or less, the delivery has been made and I’m back in the car asking M why she didn’t bother helping me. Now, in her defense, by letting me struggle, she’s ultimately helping me learn to function in Spanish on my own. But this gringo can’t even roll his Rs, and is super self-conscience about it. The only consolation I have is that I know, no matter who got that package of supplies, it will eventually get to somebody who needs it. Of course, the next morning, I’ll wake up and say, “Laura. Her name is Laura.” To this day I feel like Forest Gump. Chocolates anyone?
The ride back is enjoyable. We’re all tuckered out yet in an extremely good mood. So much so, that as Francisco drops us off at the hotel, I can’t help but slip in something extra for him. And it doesn’t matter if others have used taxis to Barra and back and paid half of what we did. The day was great. Francisco’s service exemplary, and we had the flexibility to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and at great comfort. And I’m guessing that he’ll have a story to tell his friends as well. Little do I know that I’m a good guesser.
Not content with a day of beach, we make for the pool for a couple more hours of recreation. Once back in the room, from the balcony I see that at the Crystal, they’ve set up the stage, tables, chairs and booths that I expected at our hotel. And yet, within a couple of hours, rain will put an end to those plans. For some reason, I don’t really feel sorry for the conventioneers. Maybe I’m just tired. In fact, we’re all tired, and so we decide to enjoy an abbreviated happy hour and retire to the room for pizza. The room service pizza isn’t too bad and after “two for one” drinks, the early night is welcome. Lightening off the horizon flashes brilliantly. If there is thunder, the sound is masked by the surf. The wind has picked up and blows a steady cooling breeze past the curtains. With lights out, I sit on the balcony and watch people walk along the beach. M and J are already fast asleep.
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