03 June 2010

Rum O'clock

I have spent the last few months moving, working constantly, whether it's going to CoatCheck or the office, or a movie set or even just home to edit photos for hours, while also maintaining a very active social life...
All of that forward movement came to a grinding halt in Progreso and it took me a day or two to finally catch up, or rather, slow down, to the local pace.

The first day was spent hammock-hopping mostly; taking in the view of the beach from different angles on the veranda, and getting to know the other guests at the villa. I couldn't quite overcome the feeling that I should be doing something. Toward the afternoon, everyone seemed to get a bit restless so it was decided that we should go explore the malecón (boardwalk) and grab a bite to eat. The older folks would take the car, so GBF, his sister, M and I had to make our own way there.

The main form of public transport in Progreso is by combi, small white vans which run on loosely defined routes on no apparent schedule whatsoever. You walk to a corner and hope one passes by. Should you be so lucky, you hail one and hope it has room for you, that the driver feels like stopping, and that the stars are aligned in your favor (more on that later).
Fortune seemed to smile on us, and we hailed a combi within minutes. As it made a quick stop at the marina, we could see a festival with a large outdoor stage and a variety of vendors, and decided to take a look around there.
M introduced us to a favorite local snack, marquesitas (a crepe which is rolled into a tube and filled with cheese, or sometimes nutella).

The snack only reminded us of how hungry we were, so we decided to continue our journey to the malecón. Easier said than done...
We were finally able to hail a combi and get underway, when *sputter*...The stars were evidently not aligned in our favor. Or the driver forgot to put gas in the tank. We all sat, uncomfortably stewing in the heat while the driver made futile attempts to start the van. As a camión (bus) drew nearer, he gave up, handed us back our money and suggested we hop on that.
To call it a bus would be...generous. It was metal and plastic loosely held together by paint. Any springs/shocks it may have had were long worn down, and the slightest turn or bump would send us bouncing and hurtling about.
This bus in particular had certainly seen better days:

As M and I giggled nervously and held on for dear life in the back seat, she exclaimed "Who knew riding a bus could be an extreme sport?!"

The malecón is essentially the heart of the town, but also the most touristy. Progreso boasts one of the longest piers in the world (4 miles), and many cruise ships dock there. The town really comes alive when the tourists disembark, and every opportunistic scam artist, vendor, and strolling musician comes out of the woodwork. Everyone wants a piece. Even the many restaurants which line the malecón will try to pull some shady math (adding taxes and tips in sneaky ways) to take advantage of unsuspecting visitors.

We finally arrived at Buddy's, a restaurant which very obviously caters to European and North American tourists. But, they did have seating right on the beach, under little thatched-roof kiosks, so I wasn't complaining.

I sat quietly and observed our little group. What an odd collection of people. We ranged in ages from 14 to 70-something. I wondered if we'd have much to talk about.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried. As conversation progressed from social pleasantries into the more personal, it was apparent we all had things in common.

From the third day on, our disparate little group started to gel. We'd all wake up in our own time and nibble on something for breakfast. Somebody had brought up yoga, so we started doing group yoga in the mornings. I would lead us through the The 5 Tibetan Rites and a meditation, and Peter would lead us through some Hatha yoga.

Peter and his wife have been married for about 45 years and do yoga together regularly. They met when she was 33 and hitchhiking across Europe, alone. I found their story very endearing. A Latin woman at the age of 33 is considered an old maid, and one who would go gallivanting about Europe alone in those days, must have been considered eccentric at best. She, herself, was resigned to a life alone until this charming Brit offered her a ride. The rest, as they say, is history.

After yoga, there would be more lounging until lunch. Most actual 'activity' seemed to revolve around food. The GBF's step-dad and the caretaker would drive to the Cocina Especial every day to pick up lunch. The Cocina (the name translates as 'Special Kitchen') is a loncheria. Loncherias are often run out of individual homes, usually just one cook: the lady of the house. They usually offer two options for the day. A quick phone order in the morning, and by lunchtime a delicious feast is ready for pick-up.

One thing that struck me about the eating habits of the other guests was that they didn't seem to eat any of the local fruit. That was one of the things I'd been most excited about! GBF'a parents are very much American's living in Mexico like Americans. They shop at Costco, Wal-Mart and Mega-Mart. They buy apples, kiwi and strawberries imported from the U.S.
It absolutely baffled me, when there was such an amazing array of tropical fruit to be had in any of the little fruit stalls in the market. On one of our trips to the malecon, I stocked up: papaya, pineapple, chico-zapote, guanabana. All throughout the day I would cut up fruit and set it out.

"What's that?" GBF's sister asked.

"Papaya with lime," I replied

She said she'd never seen or tasted papaya like that.

"That's what papaya is supposed to look and taste like! This is actually ripened on a tree, not gassed in a warehouse...real papaya is very sweet" I replied, feeling a little smug.
It was a little coup, getting everyone to try some of the local produce. Between M and I, we even convinced them to try some of the fruit growing in their own driveway, some of which they didn't even know was edible (tamarind)!

But it would not be fair of me to ask everyone to step out of their comfort zone without offering to do the same...so I faced one of my fears. We were at the beach after all. I had not been in the ocean in about 20 years.
Swimming in the ocean absolutely terrifies me.
Caribbean waters are fine, since I can see the bottom and see if anything were to approach, but recent storms had left the water there rather murky. The storms also washed up a lot of seaweed, which by now has become a sulfurous muck. Getting through this malodorous goo is easier said than done. I borrowed water socks, thinking it might help with my fears of stepping on unseen critters, but I almost lost both of them before I realized I'd have to try to float over it, shallow though it was.

The pier lies North (I think) of GBF's house. The original structure was built by the Dutch and is a true engineering marvel. The more recent addition, built by the Mexican government, is a disaster. The arches of the Dutch portion of the structure did little to disrupt the natural currents in the region. The Mexican addition is solid rock, and has affected the entire beach toward GBF's side. It's been a political and ecological disaster, but it does mean the water is a comfortable depth for quite some distance from the shore.
Of course, I wasn't really comfortable at any depth, but I had to face my fear. But, oh, what a sunset that was! As it grew darker, however, I gave up. I started to panic a bit and headed back to shore.

All Content Copyright 2010, Juliana Tobón. All Rights Reserved

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