Christmas in Mexico
28 December 2013
December 21-25, 2013
Now that we had arrived in La Paz and were tucked in at Marina Costa Baja for a month, we were wondering how to celebrate Christmas. We had decided on no gifts as we weren't wanting for anything. In fact, we were content with the gift of making it here safely and cruising in Mexico. With limited storage space, we chose not to carry our Christmas lights and decorations. We had left those in our storage unit. I did have a poinsettia. That was something.
In all honesty, I am a bit Scrooge-like about the holidays. I am annoyed by the Christmas music being played starting in October and the way the American advertisers act like pushers, constantly reminding us how much we can, and should, buy. Buy, buy, buy, that seems to be the mantra of the season. As if that is all Christmas is about.
There is one tradition I wasn't ready to give up and that is going to mass on Christmas Eve. That is a ritual that is meaningful and important to me and Jay always honors this by attending mass too. The church was easy enough to find. Catedral de La Paz is located in the center of town. In America, the times of Christmas mass are always displayed outside the church, but here they were not. It was just a guess, but I wrote down the times of Saturday and Sunday masses hoping this would work. Having resolved this issue we were now on a search to see how Mexicans' celebrate so we could enjoy a cultural holiday.
"What are these things call posadas? We asked Victor, our waiter at one of the restaurants by the marina. "We keep hearing about posadas."
"A posada is when families get together and go from house to house, knocking on the door, asking to be let in. Everyone turns them down until one finally says yes. This is where they have a party. Some of the people are dressed like Mary and Joseph."
"Oh!" we say, understanding, "It is a recreation of Joseph and Mary looking for an inn."
Suddenly Victor begins to sing. It is the posada song, in Spanish of course, asking to be let in to the inn. Wonderful.
Later we read in the Gringo Gazette that these posadas usually take place in the smaller villages in Mexico and go on for nine days leading up to Christmas. Half the village walks around, while the other half are in the houses. Each night the party is held in a different home. The nine represents Mary's nine months of pregnancy and the nine days it took Mary & Joseph to walk to Bethlehem. The houses and streets are festive with decorations and each home must have a nicimiento, or creche.
Casey thought we should have our own posada on Christmas Eve with the boaters going from boat to boat at our marina. We thought that a good idea, but then he came over the Saturday morning before Christmas and asked us, "Are you guys up for an adventure?"
Jay and I looked at each other and said hesitantly, "Well...What did you have in mind?"
"I know this Mexican guy, Martin. He works at the golf club up on the hill. He came over last night and asked me if I wanted to jam with him at his son's 6th birthday party. I wasn't feeling well so I couldn't go but he said he was going to have another celebration at his parent's house in Todo Santos Monday night. Maybe we can all go. Get a blues band together and jam. We would probably spend the night and come back on Christmas Eve. What do you say? Want to meet him? Up for the adventure?"
Jay looks at me and I say, "Sure. Why not?" Casey gets a big smile on his face, "Yes!"
Next thing we know we are in Casey's car, driving up the hill to meet Martin and his friend, Javier. It's decided that there should be a practice session at 6pm in the Cruiser's Lounge.
It's 6pm and Jay brings out the red wagon and puts his keyboard and amp in it and goes off to the Cruiser's Lounge. It turns out, Martin is quite the harmonica player. Javier plays guitar, as well as Casey. Willie joined in on the cajon. Peter Mac joined in later, also with a guitar and added vocals to the group. Not even two full days in La Paz and here Jay is jamming, playing the blues a with bunch of guys he just met; Mexican, American and I think Canadian, too. Crazy.
Around nine pm, thinking they have had enough practice, my friends from Meridian and I went to hear them play but they were already packing up and into the beer. Martin whispered to Jay, "Let's play one more. 'Train.' I lead." Wow! I have never heard anyone play the harmonica that well. The guys joined in. What a performance! They were great! This was great! Nothing like music to bring people together.
Monday morning, Casey and Diane picked us up in their car and we set off for Todos Santos. Jay and I had visited there before, in 2006, when we were in Cabo with Talia. We had rented a car and did our own sight-seeing tour, visiting Todos Santos and La Paz. I fell in love with both and was hoping one day we would be back. This was the day.
We weren't participating in an official Mexican posada, but we kind of had one anyway. It took me five emails and three calls before we found an inn in Todos Santos that had two rooms available. Everything was booked. It was Christmas week, after all. We finally found accommodations at a place called Hotel Casa Tota. Their philosophy is "proudly modest." The hotel rooms were sparsely furnished and simply decorated. Just the bare necessities and clean. Everything we needed and nothing more. Reasonably priced too. Casa Tota used to be Ms. Tota's residence and a few years back she turned it into this hotel. It was a terrific find.
After checking in, we were off to Bob and Sherri's house, Martin's parents. Martin had written down directions and Casey and Diane had diligently brought the hand-drawn map with them. But you have to understand some things about Mexico and driving and navigating. In town, it is basically a free for all and you had better be prepared to stop where there is no stop sign and not stop where there is a stop sign. People cross the street just about anywhere. Only the gringos use the crosswalks it seems and sometimes they don't even use the crosswalks. And street signs? There are none. Or, very few. So when Mexican's give you directions, they don't use street signs because they don't know them. In fact, Martin didn't even have an address for his parents' home. It was just take the main road into town, pass another main road, go down a hill, and when you get to the dirt road turn right, go up the hill, turn left. You will pass an elementary school on your left, a mercado and tortorilla on your right. There will be a split in the road, go to the left then take another right and it will be the big white house with a gate. Or something like that.
Do you have any idea how many dirt roads there are in Todos Santos? Or how many hills? Or mercados and tortorillas? And what exactly did he mean by "main road?" Yep, we were lost. For hours. With no lunch. But it was an adventure so everyone kept their sense of humor alive.
"I know I am a girl and all, but you have a phone number. Why not call?" I suggest. "Just a thought."
Even the men are ready to ask for directions.
Martin comes to meet us at the infamous Hotel California and shows us the way. We thought we had driven down every dirt road in town, but evidently not. Diane tries to match his hand-drawn map with the roads we are driving down. Nothing matches up. Meanwhile, I keep looking behind us trying to take a mental picture so we know our way back. We arrive at the gate and he opens it up to reveal a two-story, white house in a sprawling dirt yard with tall palm trees and a gigantic Bird of Paradise. Bob, Sherri and their four dogs come out to greet us.
Bob is a retired Navy engineer and Sherri is an artist who, while living in Washington state, worked as an art teacher in a middle school (I think. It might have been a high school). About seven years ago they came to Todos Santos and ended up buying this property we are now standing on. There are fences made with sticks of wood and wire, cordoning off a section for the dogs. Off to one side is Bob's workshop and Sherri's art is everywhere; a sculpture here, a painting there. The house, itself, is a piece of art. In fact, Bob and Sherri built this home they are living in.
They invite us onto their porch, which doubles for a living room. It runs the length of the house and off the first floor are four rooms. One is the kitchen/breakfast nook, another is the entertainment room with a bathroom, and the other two doors are bedrooms/bathrooms. On either end of the house is an outside stairway leading to the second floor. We never saw what was up there but I am guessing the master bedroom and maybe another bedroom? Each room has a tall, metal-roof like door for an entrance. The story is, Sherri thought she was ordering beautiful Mexican wooden doors but when she arrived from the states, these metal ones had been delivered and installed, making for an interesting conversation piece, if nothing else.
From what I could gather, Bob is the builder and Sherri, the designer. Bob also tells us that Sherri is that special kind of person that understands teenagers. She loves them and they love her. Maybe it comes from when she was an art school teacher, but evidently the children follow her and she ends up taking them in. Some of her students have even traveled down from Washington to visit with her in Todos Santos. Sometimes they stay for a week. Sometimes a month. Sometimes they stay for years.
Like the boy who quietly exited his room and was now standing behind me. Bob asked him if he was on his way to his martial arts class and he nodded yes and left as fast as he had appeared. We had been sitting on the porch for hours and never knew he was there. Sherri shared his story with us.
Several years ago he was a student in one of her art classes, here in Todos Santos. He was very quiet but showed great artistic promise. She connected with him for awhile but then when class was over she lost sight of him until one day, outside her house, she ran into him. Delighted to see him again she gave him a hug and asked him how he was and what he had been doing. It turned out, all this time, he had lived down the street. The very street she lived on for years now.
He was poor and didn't have a computer. So Sherri invited him to come over for an hour or two a day to use her computer. Before she knew it, he was staying several hours and then sleeping on her couch. Finally, she asked him if he would like to move in. And then he did.
This boy had lived with his grandparents and father (there was no mom in the picture) but it seems they didn't understand his talent, nor did they support it in any way. Sherri asked him if he wanted to invite his father to see where he was living. He did. He cleaned up his room and waited. It was ten pm and his father still hadn't showed up. He went to his house to see if his father was okay. Sherri told me that when he came back he had a blank stare on his face and said his father had gone to bed. The boy went into his bedroom and closed the door.
This is when I thank God for people like Sherri.
"Is this how you came to adopt Martin?" I asked Sherri.
"No, Martin came to us when he was an adult. I don't mess with adults. They have their own problems. We met Martin several years ago and he has been a good friend."
"Well, he identifies you as his parents. That is what he told us. That you were his parents."
I may have been mistaken, but I think I saw mist in Sherri's eyes. She smiled. There is more to this story but I understand it is intensely personal so I don't ask anymore. She offers a little.
"Martin was in America and his mother was murdered somehow. People need mothers, you know?" She tells me. "There is something mother's do for a child. Sometimes I fill that void."
We leave the conversation with that.
The boys began playing about six. Javier had arrived and Peter Mac too. They all jammed into the entertainment room and began to jam. We all enjoyed it, but somehow, it was a bit anticlimactic to the adventure of getting here and meeting Martin's "parents." Around eight Jay called for a dinner break. None of us had eaten since breakfast. It was off to Hotel California for a bite to eat. From there, we called it a night and headed back to Hotel Casa Tota.
We awoke Christmas Eve in a hotel in Todos Santos. We slowly got out of bed, showered and ventured off to the restaurant for breakfast. Casey and Diane had already risen and eaten and now were relaxing by the pool. It was a leisurely morning. Diane had Magic Jack and the hotel had good internet so we spent some of the morning calling family and friends, wishing them a Merry Christmas. Touring came next.
Casey and I wanted to see the mission. Jay was on a search for a nicimiento and Diane wanted to stop at Baja Beans in Pescadero. We saw the mission. Jay found his creche; a wood box with wooden figurines of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus attached and a painting of the three kings. Perfect for the boat.
Off to Pescadero, a surfing village 10 minutes out of our way and way worth it. Casey turned off the main highway onto a dirt road and Jay and I looked at each other wondering where he was taking us. Baja Beans was a delightful surprise. A coffee shop situated in the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed) in a beautiful outdoor setting with lounges and tables under thatched roofs with roosters and pugs roaming the dirt floors. And the coffee was great too.
On the way home we had hoped to stop at a market in La Paz. We thought we knew where we were but got lost in one of the housing developments that every home looks the same. We were little mice in a maze and our sense of humor was still there but running thin. We followed the sun and Jay and Diane's directions and found our way back to Marina Costa Baja.
It was Christmas eve night and now too late to go to Mass. Everyone was concerned for me but I knew there would be plenty of masses on Christmas Day.
And that is how we spent Christmas Day. We woke up on the boat, took the shuttle into town and found mass being held in the mission. We didn't understand the homily but got the gist of it anyway. It was Christmas, after all. The day we celebrate Jesus's birth. It was a beautiful service. Emotional too.
It was a day of gratitude for all our blessings, including the fact that we were spending Christmas in Mexico, cruising.