Beneath the Surface
06 December 2014
December 2, 2014
Jay is always reminding me that to be a good writer, one has to be observant. So, as we arrived in Marina Puerto Los Cabos, what seemed to be a tranquil setting and, at first glance, to contain the natural beauty that welcomed us last year, upon a closer look, turned out to hold a darker truth just beneath the surface.
Hurricane Odile hit the Baja peninsula on September 14. It is almost three months later, and while much has been repaired, much is still in disarray.
The marina is up and running and, we are told, withstood the 125 mph winds fairly well. Still, as I look around, I see missing and sunken docks, shattered windows, and roofs being repaired. Palm trees lie at a sixty degree angle. The once manicured and landscaped walkway that borders the marina is no longer a beautiful garden path. A combination of wind, sea and rain water have uprooted the trees and cactus and stripped the bushes of their vibrantly painted pink flowers. What is left of the grass is dry; no longer a rich emerald green, it is wears a shade of pale gold. Mud is everywhere. Not just on the ground but high, on the sculptures. Like someone tossed mud into their faces. An insult to the artist.
This walkway was once a history lesson of this famous Mexican artist, Leonara Carrington. Gone are the plaques that told her story, both in words and in paintings. All that is left standing are her sculptures.
There is a Dolphin Discovery center at Marina Los Cabos. It is one of fourteen such locations throughout Mexico.
“What happened to the dolphins?” I asked Paulina, one of the trainers.
“We took them all to Puerto Vallarta. We have another facility there and the company has a jet. It took us two hours to fly there.”
“Did you take them together? The mother and babies and the males too?”
“Yes, all. We, the trainers, we stayed with them.”
“And the dolphins were okay?”
“Yes, fine. We just brought them back one week ago. We reopened the Dolphin Discovery only yesterday.”
Meanwhile, while they were safe in Puerto Vallarta, the dolphins' sanctuary here in San Jose del Cabo was thrashed with flying debris and waves breaking over the bridge. They lost the roof to their office building/store too and we watched as the workers sat atop scaffolding, raising beams and weaving together palm fronds to repair the palapa.
The most vivid picture of clear destruction, though, was Hotel Ganzo. It lies on the shore across the harbor from the marina office. Every window was blown out. Inside, through the open holes in the walls, you could see cables hanging from the ceilings. There were roofs caved in and cement walkways torn apart. I couldn't help but think of the movie “The Titanic.” Remember the dinner before the ship hit the iceberg? Everyone was regal in formal dress and smiling happily as they enjoyed a wonderful meal with great company while sailing to Europe. Then, later, all was chaos as the ship was sinking. Then quiet.
Last year, Jay, Don and I walked over to explore the hotel on a Sunday morning. We opened the huge wooden doors they use as an entrance and found ourselves swept up in a whirlwind of festive activity. Smiling faces floated through the room while music played in the background. Sunday brunch was in full swing. Over in the corner sat a large table with a wedding party, eating heartily and sharing conversations. At a table for two sat lovers, quietly holding hands and sipping mimosas. A granddaughter helped her grandmother to the buffet. The hotel was alive then.
Now, as Jay and I walk the perimeter, no one walks the halls, nor is there any laughter seeping through the open windows. There is only silence. And this causes me to wonder. Where have all the people gone and what has become of their employees?
We talk to the taxicab drivers and waiters and the owner of a clothing boutique, La Paloma. (Great summer clothes by the way. Check out her website, www.lapalomaonline.online.) Kari gives us a thin smile as we say hello and ask how she is doing since the hurricane.
“Honestly?” She wants to know. The edge in her voice hints to the fact that she believes we don't really want to know the truth. “We're fine. Things have been repaired.” She sighs. “But, frankly, I am tired of answering the same questions. I know you mean well.” She is backpedaling now, “But the truth is, we are struggling. We will be lucky if we make it through the year.”
So much devastation. Our artist friend, Metin Bereketli, lost many of his original pieces; a personal tragedy that cost him thousands of dollars. And so many people have lost their jobs. Hotel after hotel has been completely destroyed. It will take months, maybe even years, before they are all up and running. If each hotel employs five hundred workers, think how many people are suffering. And without the hotels, there are no tourists. Tourism is their livelihood. And so the suffering trickles down affecting each and every one of the Mexican citizens of this community. It is a sad situation.
On Saturday we went to the Organic Farmer's Market, a highlight of our visit last year. Only this year there were very few vegetable stands. We realize the farms have taken a hit from Odile too. We walk around and stop for empanadas and juice. Bobbi and Don try a tostada. Bobbi finds a necklace to purchase. We buy some homemade sauces and jams and we listen to local artists play music in the park.
I stop by a stand where an American (there are several ex-pats living here) is displaying his artwork; framed photographs of Mexican faces. He captures the heart and soul of these people. You can see it in their eyes, in the wrinkles that crease their sun-worn skin. It is a hard life these people live, even in the best of circumstances.
The American shows me his latest work he calls Odile. He recycles the wood from the destruction of Odile to create frames for his photographs. I ask how the hurricane affected him.
“My house survived. But then I was robbed. They took all my camera equipment.” He says, understandably bitter. He walks away to commiserate with some of his neighbors.
A pretty, young Mexican girl comes up to Jay and me and, in perfect English, asks, “May I take a photo of you?” She wears a tee shirt with the word “UNSTOPPABLE” printed on the back. She and some other college students are working for the Ministry of Tourism. They go around to restaurants and tourist attractions photographing people enjoying Mexico. They ask for positive comments. They are working diligently to repair the Mexican reputation the looters have so carelessly destroyed.
One taxi driver told us that when someone asked what they could do to help, what agency or charity could they give money to to help, he said, “Please don't. It will never get to us anyway. The government takes it before it gets to us.”
The people of Baja need our help, but they need it in way of tourism.
As Jay and I continue to walk around the the hotel and its surrounding area, I notice how so much of the structures seemed undermined, with deep holes in the mud showing pipes sticking out in all directions. It occurs to me – this physical manifestation of the building undermined also represents the undermining of the economy of the people of Baja.
Last year, I wrote, “This is where I fall in love with Mexico.” Right here in San Jose del Cabo. I still feel that way. It is a beautiful town full of culture and art and lovely people. Everyone has been warm and genuinely kind.
I'm not their spokesperson. I am just another tourist. But I love it here and I say, “Come visit. You will fall in love with San Jose del Cabo too.”
(As of this writing, there are at least four hotels open for business.)