April in Mazatlan
Spring is here. How can we tell without the filthy snow banks melting and shedding of our down coats? Here’s how: trees are bursting with new buds, the wild canaries are chirping louder, the bougainvillea blooms brighter, the surf splashes onto the Malecon, the days grow longer, the air is warmer and the jasmine is more fragrant. April is also the month where decisions are buzzing around in our heads.
While we are waiting for our condo to be finished (to get started?) we eliminate returning to Villa Serena in October. Too expensive, too many people partying, and we are craving an ocean view and more privacy. Canadians and Americans holding our courtyard hostage with midnight guitar sessions fuelled by tequila are not amusing us. We find the view and privacy with Pepe, on a street named Pedregoso. This whacky, winding road is right in Centro and close to all that we hold dear. Because the apartment is on the second floor, and because Pedregoso is a street built on a steep hill, we overlook the ocean and can see the cruise ships glide in. It’s a 180-degree view, almost impossible to find in Mazatlan in a rental property. It’s perfect. Except that Pepe needs to install the kitchen, finish the bathrooms, build doors, hook up the gas and water, and furnish the entire two-bedroom, two- bathroom apartment. Minor Mazatlan details.
Pepe promises us it will be totally finished in October, and we give him our deposit for the first and last month’s rent. Cheaper than Villa Serena, and we can hear the Pacific surf roll in — when the dogs finally stop barking and the roosters cease crowing. Pepe’s English is decent and he says he wants to conduct business the Canadian way; we trust him and have confidence all the work will be completed by October. Delighted with our new rental, from October 2009 until July 2010, we are not as concerned about our condo deadline. Gerard, the developer, likes our attitude because setbacks can happen in Mexico or in Canada. We won’t be a nagging owner bugging him for a delivery date. July 2010 appears to be an ambitious finish date, but what do I know about building a condo? In Mexico? It could go quickly, or it could go slowly. Right now, those timelines seem far away.
Right now, a bowl of menudo soup is staring me in the face. Menudo is another regional recipe that most Mexicans gulp down every morning. The dish also boasts a sure fire cure for a hangover. Menudo is another big boil, like pozole, but this time you toss in a cow’s stomach — tripe — a veal knuckle, hominy and several secret spices. It boils for years, months or, possibly, four hours. It looks and smells revolting. Every family, every restaurant, keeps their recipe locked up tighter than the Coca Cola formula; it’s usually granny who stirs the menudo cauldron. I had recently reviewed in the English magazine, Pacific Pearl, a restaurant in Centro called Chayito’s. I am delivering the printed review to the owner, Jesus (hay zeus). It really is a great local restaurant with a darling patio and fabulous Mexican food. We are there for breakfast and Jesus is beaming over the picture of his restaurant in the “gringo” publication. We had just placed our order when Jesus places a large, steaming bowl of menudo in front of us. I am most likely hung over, but there is no way in hell I am going to touch tripe at 9 a.m. Or even 9 p.m. Jesus is thanking me for the review. I’m desperately seeking diplomacy. Thirty years in advertising pays off. I lie. I profusely thank Jesus for the menudo, but I can’t possibly consume eggs and bacon, and really savour his precious menudo. Could I take it home for dinner? He agrees it’s rich and worth saving for dinner. We leave smiling, waving, with our huge Styrofoam container. Once out of eyeball range I promptly place our takeout in the hands of a blind beggar. Good home found for menudo.
I’m currently reading Vicente Fox’s Revolution of Hope. It is a dramatic sweeping account of his childhood on the family farm, to his years working for Coca Cola and, of course, his eventual election to the President of Mexico. This book is chock full of facts and data on Mexico’s history, its current problems and recent successes. The tone and manner make the book an easy and engaging read. Fox points out that Mexico was walled off by its dictatorship for most of the 20th century and missed out on the boom years that other democratic nations experienced. Reading this, I’m amazed how far Mazatlan has come with its communications infrastructure. Cells phones are hanging off every ear, satellite dishes are on every rooftop and the internet is prevalent — from Centro to the Golden Zone. Even the Plazuela Machado offers WiFi; it appears you can connect anywhere to the internet in Mazatlan. During our Copper Canyon trip, we were able to log on in the most remote locations. Enterprising Mexicans are opening cyber cafes and stores daily. You can get photocopies made while you print out your memory stick and the travel agency located at the back of the store designs and print your business cards on a heavy stock —100 cards for $8 (US). Mind you, the owner will not take any creative direction whatsoever. I asked for some additional spacing between our address lines. “No, it’s fine this way,” she says in Spanish, but I get it; I know not to push the request any further. The local rib joint, Paulina’s, which serve the best fall-off-the-bone ribs, has a printer and a fax machine for its customers. Some dine, some send a fax. Variety stores carry phone cards for your cell phone and pharmacies have a large bakery section. The hard- working Mexicans hustle for every peso; and the lazy ones are, well, like lazy workers in any country.
Toward the end of April the wide smiles are replaced with white medical masks. Swine flu cases are reported in Mexico; so far there are no cases in Mazatlan. The press develops a scary picture, and we keep hearing the word pandemic. I swing by Dr. Levid’s office, and while he is collecting his mail he assures me it’s a mild form of the normal flu and there is no reason to panic. I believe him. The press continues to churn out grisly statistics and soon the cruise ships stop docking in Mazatlan. While Mazatlan does manufacture Pacifico beer, Marino coffee and is the largest shrimp port on the Pacific, the sudden drop in tourism creates a pall over the entire city. Taxis and pulmonias are empty, deep sea fishing boats have no customers, the restaurants are barren, our beloved square is deserted. We depart Mazaltan no longer hugging in yoga class, no longer shaking hands with Alfredo, our Spanish teacher. A distance has been created and we are all uncomfortable with it. Mexicans are warm, loving people, and it’s normal to kiss and shake hands. Remove those typical greeting gestures and no one knows what to do. It’s like the plague has struck Mazatlan, except there is not a single reported case of swine flu.
We fly through the sad skies, knowing, yet not knowing, what awaits us in Toronto.