An American in Cuba - Part Two
28 December 2019 | Havana, Cuba
Terri Potts - Chattaway
I came to Cuba with little knowledge of its history or politics. I was just a baby during The Bay of Pigs. My body still retains the memory of the collective tension felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the fact that I was only four years old at the time. I lived in Miami in the seventies and attended a high school predominately populated with Cuban-American students whose parents and grandparents were survivors of the “Great Revolution.” Yet I cannot remember any formal education regarding our neighbor, Cuba. It is with this lack of knowledge I came to learn more about this country that lies just ninety nautical miles south of Florida.
I gathered information from tour books and Google resources. We visited museums while in Havana which definitely had a specific point of view. We spoke to the locals, some of whom were very candid about their lives. And I heard from Orlando, s/v Cuba Libre, (See comments on Part One.) who has a very disturbing personal account of what happened to his family and their home after the revolution.
I believe Cuba to be a very different place now that it was then. But I only saw the surface. I did not see behind the curtain that I am sure still survives to this day, albeit slightly different. What follows then is simply my impression of Cuba as I experienced it.
We arrived at Jose Marti International Airport from Mexico. Immigration and Customs went smoothly for us. We met up with Amy, Marco and Mateo only to find out their Customs experience didn’t go so well. Before leaving the states, Amy had gathered an entire suitcase of music donations as a gift to the Conservatory of Music, including two violins. For roughly an hour they were shuffled between line after line until finally they were allowed to pass with their gifts. By that time, poor Mateo had had enough. Their travel started in San Diego with an overnight flight to Ft. Lauderdale where they had a long layover before flying to Havana. Once together, we exchanged our Euros (They don’t accept American dollars.) for CUCs and hailed a local cab.
Since we were five with many pieces of luggage, we were pointed to a van. A very, very, very old van. It looked as if it had traveled many miles and carried many people. Oh, what stories it might tell if only it could talk. Two sat up front, three in the middle, and I sat in the way back in a jumper seat amongst the luggage stuffed around me. The luggage ran high around my left side and behind me. Between that and those in front of me, I had only a view out the right-side window.
As I watched the view fly by my window, I noticed a car drive up next to us. It was a 1950s Chevy. Green with black trim. It had rounded curves. It was full-bodied and sexier than the sleek cars of the present. At least, in my opinion. Inside were six people. Three in front. Three in back.
The driver looked to be in his early thirties. He had a handsome face with days-old stubble. He wore sunglass and looked like we might find him on the cover of GQ. Next to him sat a woman. She appeared to be tall with a long torso. Her hair was black and ran straight down her back. To her right sat another gentleman. My view of him and the other three was somewhat blocked but I couldn’t help wondering who they were to each other and where they were going. There seemed to be no conversation between them. All looked forward. They passed us by.
Sitting at a light, the green Chevy with rounded curves and black trim stopped next to us. The driver looked at us as curiously as I was watching them. Two groups of strangers connected by only a moment in time.
Our Airbnb was located in Habana Vieja (old town). It was a four-bedroom “house.” It really was just four bedrooms with a small entry-way. There were two bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs. All four had bathrooms. The entry-way had a small couch and one chair serving as a living room. At the back-end of the entry-way was an alcove that had a small refrigerator stocked with soda, beer, wine and water. If one looked up, you would find no roof per se, just an opening. It was a ventilation air-shaft. The floors and stairs were marble (so much marble in Havana). The stairs had an iron-rod railing and curved up to the second level. The house was very clean but at times, there was a distinct odor of recycled water. The mattresses could have been better. Amy and Marco’s mattress was extremely hard and ours literally swallowed us up, making it difficult to exit and led to an aching back.
Our Airbnb was located and run by the hotel next door. We were told that it was owned by a family not the government. It was a work in progress. As the days went by, we saw that it had much potential. All the houses on the street were narrow and tall. In fact, we were invited to have breakfast on the roof of the hotel. We walked up the marble stairs. “Seventy stairs.” Our host told us proudly as we huffed and puffed our way up.
Our hosts, Diamond and Andy and their staff, were great. Friendly and extremely helpful.
The house – like all the houses in old town – sat right up against the street. The neighborhood was full of life with men hanging out on the corner and women sitting on the curb of their house or watching from their windows up above. Every once in a while, a local vendor would pass by selling bread or fruit. You would hear them calling out. They were either pushing a cart by hand or pulling a cart via bicycle. Laundry hung from second and third-story clothes lines. An immense number of feral cats and dogs roamed the streets looking for food and a safe place to sleep. We noticed someone feeding them as they left a pail full of water and a pig’s head (Yes, a pig’s head!) under a tree.
Many of the houses were also their place of business. I am not sure how this worked. How much of what they earned went to the government. There were lots of artists. Good artists. Some trinket shops. Some had little cafes in their homes. On the corner of our street was a meat market. It was only opened certain days and when it was, people lined up for their share. They showed their booklets and the proprietor would check off the box that said how much meat they were allowed with a date and signature. A ration booklet of sorts, distributed by the government. They were allotted so much food a month. We were told it only lasted a week.
We started our first day with breakfast on the roof. The view showed a clear picture of the decay of a once thriving city. Some buildings had some cosmetic repair but most were slowly crumbling into dust. The paint had long ago faded away replaced with a black grunge. Metal fences that wrapped their porches were covered with rust. Wires dangled, precariously, from rooftops. These are the buildings that house many of the poorer Cubans. The ones who rely on their stipends to get them through the month.
Those buildings that stood repaired and in glory were government owned and run such as the Museo de la Revolucion and the Catedral de San Cristobal, a beautiful church with a Baroque façade now considered a national monument.
In the distance we could see remnants of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a sixteenth century castle/fort that once surrounded the city to protect it from pirates.
We were served fruit, eggs, ham and buns. This seemed to be a traditional breakfast. Soon, the sun was burning our skin and creating beads of sweat dripping down our skin. We carefully maneuvered down the seventy marble steps and outside onto the street. Waiting for us was our 1955 Chevy Bel Air. Oh, she was pretty. Purple with white interior. A convertible. We would have much more sun on our skin as the day passed.
Over the next week – when we weren’t working with the musicians – we toured much of Havana and a little bit outside of the city. Much of the city’s pride seems to be in celebrating their heroes; Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. There are others too.
The Museum of the Revolution painted a very specific scenario of their history, as you might expect. There was nothing of the atrocities that Orlando shared, of course. (Historical records are sometimes written by those who have a very selective memory.) But there was much about our country and the horrors the CIA bestowed on the Cuban people. Batista and the United States government/Mafia were no angels during the previous regime either. Our blended histories have a very complicated – and I dare say, ugly - story.
The Cuban people we met and interacted with were warm and friendly, and as I mentioned above, sometimes quite candid in their answers to our questions. One of our drivers explained how he studied to be a mechanical engineer. “My education was ‘free,’” he said. “But then I had to work for the government for free for two years.”
“How did you eat?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “My parents. My friends. My girlfriend. Then, when I got a job as a mechanical engineer, I was paid forty dollars a month from the government. Forty dollars!”
It was impossible for him to live on forty dollars a month. He went to his father who had an old, American car and decided to be a tour guide and taxi driver.
“See that sticker on the windshield?” He asked me. “In order to drive this car, I must first pay the government seven hundred dollars a month. Just for the right to work."
We visited all the tourist haunts; Hemingway’s house and many of the bars he frequented. We stopped at Floridita one day for Daquiris. They were really good and we happened on some great live music. Everywhere was music. So much joy in their music.
One of our excursions took us to the scenic Valle de Vinales. As we drove out of the city, there were fewer and fewer cars. Transportation was either by foot, bus, or many drove carriages with horses at the helm. Every once in a while, we would see a small community of homes or a farm. A man was plowing using two oxen. Other men were cutting the grass with machetes. Back-breaking work.
The valley, itself, was beautiful. The mogotes were like little mountains covered with lush foliage. Hidden amongst them were caves with winding paths we could walk through. One had a river running through it and we hopped on a boat for the last bit of our tour. Sort of like Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Only this was the real thing.
The red earth was rich and a perfect planting ground for tobacco and sugar cane. We visited a tobacco farm. Chickens roamed the grounds while our host taught us to role a cigar.
Another day, we visited Santa Maria, a popular beach because, after all, it is a Caribbean island.
As you can see, Cuba is a fascinating island. So much to see and to learn. I know many of us glamorize its past with the stories of Hemingway, the clubs, the cars and the riches. But one must remember who and what was behind all that. During that era many Cubans suffered from poverty and a lack of education. With the revolution, I think it was the Cuban peoples’ hope that things would get better. You can judge for yourself how that worked out.
It is at the invitation of our Cuban friends, the Arango family, that we went. And what we found is that we are all of one family, the human race. We crossed cultures and found new friends. I am so grateful for the chance to get to know and learn about our neighbors.
An American in Cuba - Part One
21 December 2019 | Havana, Cuba
Terri Potts - Chattaway
I was told it would be different and amazing. I was told it would take me back in time. I saw photographs. I heard stories. I knew what to expect. Or, so I thought. But imagining something is quite different than truly experiencing it.
It is not that I am a novice at traveling. When I was a little girl, my father took our family to live in Bangkok during the Vietnam War. We were there for nearly a year while I attended fourth grade in the Catholic school, Raum Rudi. On the way to Thailand, we spent time in both Tokyo and Hong Kong. I have visited the Czech Republic and Poland, Wales and London, Canada and the British Virgin Islands. I have lived and traveled in Mexico for the last six winters. So, yes, I've experienced culture shock, especially living in Asia which is so very different than our country. Still, Cuba is unique in its culture and politics and reminds me of a place the rest of the world left a long time ago.
What makes our Cuba experience so vastly different from any other travels? That is the question I am wrestling with. It isn't simply that it is a throwback to the culture of the 1950s. Maybe staying in an Airbnb in La Habana Vieja (old town) amongst the locals - and not in a fashionable hotel on the beach - gave us a genuine feel for the every-day Cuban and how she/he lives. Maybe it was that we were personally invited to Cuba by the Arango family and welcomed into their home adding a very personal connection to this country. Maybe I come from a certain perspective because I am older now. Or, maybe it is because I am witnessing, what I believe, our country to be on the precipice of great change. (By "great" I don't necessarily mean good.) With that in mind, it was inevitable that I would compare and contrast our countries' histories and politics. Whatever the reason - and I would venture to surmise that it is a combination of all those reasons - our visit to Cuba has been an education and a blessing.
The road to Cuba started several years back when Jay's daughter, Amy, (who is a music teacher at Canyon Crest Academy High School in San Diego) was at a club one night where she heard an Afro-Cuban jazz band, Los Hermanos Arango. She got to talking with them as they shared a common passion for music. The Brothers Arango said it had always been their dream to play with an orchestra to which Amy replied, "Oh, my dad can do that."
Over the past two years, Jay has taken eight of the Arango's original songs and written orchestral music to accompany them. "Hardest shit I've ever done in my life!" He said.
Combining jazz with orchestra is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which jazz is free-flowing and often spontaneous, whereas orchestral music is measured and certain. In addition to that, there is a language barrier. Only one of the brothers speaks English. Only Amy speaks fluent Spanish. Thus, Amy became our translator, along with a little help from Google.
The first concert was held in November of 2018 at Canyon Crest Academy with Amy's orchestra, Los Hermanos Arango and Amy conducting. Jay sat proudly in the audience. It went well.
Los Hermanos Arango is mainly a family affair. In America it is comprised of Feliciano on bass, Eugenio on percussion, Ignacio on guitar and Christina (their sister) on vocals. Julio Valdes, originally from Panama and now working as a professor at San Diego State University, steps in on keyboards as Feliciano's son, Fernando, - who usually plays keyboards - is unable to get a visa to the U.S.
In Cuba, we learned the band has a whole litany of musicians; Fernando, the keyboard player, as I mentioned above and Ignacio's daughter, Elizabeth, on vocals. I believe Christina's daughter, Yulia, sometimes sings vocals too. There was trumpet, sax and several more percussion players. In other words, it is quite bigger than the five who perform in the states.
This collaboration between Amy, Jay and Los Hermanos Arango was very special in that it not only brought two very different cultures together through music, but also two families.
Two beater cars drove up to our Airbnb in La Habana Vieja. We couldn't miss them because neither one of them had mufflers. Eugenio and his friend were in one and Francisco and Fernando were in the other. They exited the cars and gave us a warm welcome. Hugs and smiles all around. They were there to pick us up as they had invited us to their home for lunch and to talk music.
We drove through the streets of Havana to their neighborhood of Guanabacoa. Guanabacoa is known for its Afro-Cuban heritage and its Indian name means "land of many waters" although I did not see the many springs that are written about in tour books. What we did see is Colonial buildings and the every-day life of the people as they populated the streets in numbers. The muffler (or lack of) roared and Jay joked about the "caro musica" while I held on as we traversed bumps with no shocks. Buses passed, sending fumes our way. Emission regulations doesn't seem to be a priority in Cuba.
There are a surprising number of cars for a country that neither manufactures nor imports automobiles. I am not sure how it works. I know they are expensive. One of our drivers during our visit pointed out a Kia. Ninety thousand dollars he told us. An SUV could cost upwards of $150,000. Even an old 91' Russian car could cost $45,000. I asked who owned the expensive cars. "The government, musicians and entertainers." He said. He went on to explain that you could tell a government car or taxi by the blue marking on the license plate. From that point on, I noticed an abundance of blue markings.
But I digress. Back to the Arango family.
We arrived on a quiet street crowded with houses. The buildings were old, much of the paint was chipped and showing its age. But the street and yards were free of litter. The Arango family came out to greet us with more hugs and smiles. They welcomed us into their home.
Theirs was a modest house. We entered into a small living room decorated with red couches and chairs. The living room opened into a long, narrow hallway with doors leading off to the bedrooms. The doors were closed. The hallway led to a kitchen area with the bathroom at the end. The house was neat and tidy.
We exited out the back door to an enclosed cement patio with iron rod tables and chairs painted white. This would serve as our dining area. Some greenery with bright flowers draped the walls. A staircase led to a second-floor apartment where Eugenio lived with his wife. Downstairs, on the side of the house was what looked like a garage. It had yet another kitchen we were told. Two dogs sat behind the iron-rod door looking longingly at us.
Our hosts began by offering us refreshments; beer, soda, and a shot of rum, of course. The conversation was mixed between Spanish and English with Amy and Ignacio translating. Jay, Marco and I tried what little Spanish we knew. When all else failed, smiles worked wonders. The mood was festive.
The ladies served up delicious local quisine. All homemade, of course. We had pork, rice and beans, potatoes, salad, and my favorite, plantains. The wine came out at lunch, as well as the music. Mateo and I braved the dance floor and even got a few dance lessons from the girls. Much laughter was had by all.
Two days later, the beater cars arrived again. This time they were taking us to El Conservatorio Provincial de Musica GuillermoTomas. It is here we were introduced to the orchestra and Maestra Samira Fernandez. What professionals! The orchestra was top notch and comprised of musicians of all ages. And Samira! Wow! That lady knows her stuff. She had the orchestra practiced and ready to play Jay's orchestrations with Los Hermanos Arango.
And then there was Amy. How she got up there and conducted both groups, seamlessly combining the two styles - and in another language - is beyond me. In Amy's introduction she shared how honored she was to be part of this very special collaboration. Tears came to her eyes and her voice wavered - and the students clapped in response. They felt her genuine love. This was what was so special about our trip. The joining of two very different cultures through music. Like the saying goes, music truly is "the universal language."
Two days later, the beater cars showed up again. This time we were going back to the school for another rehearsal which was to be recorded. In addition, Los Hermanos Arango, Jay, Amy, and Samira were interviewed for a local television show. As we left that day, Amy handed the baton back to Samira and congratulated her and her orchestra on a job well done.
Los Hermanos Arango will continue to work with the Conservatory of Music and this project. Meanwhile, Jay and Amy are working to bring Los Hermanos Arango back to the United States for a tour through some of our colleges, to work with their orchestras.
It has been a labor of love for both Jay and Amy. For me, for all of us who were present for this experience, it was a most unexpected gift.
Note: More photos on FB.
Rhythms of the Day
01 April 2019
Photo by Casey Cartwright
Soon, Jay and I will be leaving Mexico for the season and although I am looking forward to going home, there is much here I will miss.
Sitting in the cockpit, having tea, I watch as the marina comes alive. Jay is below listening to the morning net on VHF radio. This is how we cruisers communicate. Every morning at 8:30 on channel 22A Monday - Saturday, the Cruiser's Net is broadcast. Local information is shared. Lost and found items are retrieved. Weather reports are given. Mariner's reports are given. Announcements are made of upcoming events. It is an essential part of our daily life and here in the bay it keeps us informed.
Today it is still. Clouds hover above. The water is like glass and is dark gray from the reflection of the sky. The birds' chatter is unusually subdued. Little beads of sweat break through my skin. It is not yet nine o'clock. A breath of air makes its way to our boat. It is of some comfort, but not much.
I love to watch the birds from the deck of our boat. The little birds are present in the morning. They have a sweet song and fly from mast to mast. Many hang out in the trees. Some are a bright yellow with black wings. Others are a dull white and not much larger than a hummingbird.
Yesterday, while enjoying my morning ritual of tea in the cockpit, a Mourning Dove came to visit. She sat on our awning just two feet away and sang out in that haunting tune so unique to her. I have always been struck by the cry of the Mourning Dove. It instantly takes my thoughts inward, causing me to pause and ponder the mysteries that surround me at the moment.
The workers begin to arrive. These are the ones who come from modest homes and travel long distances to work on the yachts owned by the affluent. You will see no hint of envy from them. Nor do they find cleaning boats demeaning. To the contrary, they wear their uniforms with pride and go about their day with a smile on their faces.
Our favorite worker is Bentura. "Buenos dios, Senor, Senora." He greets us. He speaks almost no English and I am sorry to say I know little Spanish. Nevertheless, the intension is understood; friendship. Eventually, Bentura will serenade us as he goes about his work. Bentura has a lovely, high tenor voice that carries across the water. He is quite good and brightens our day.
Paradise Village Marina is probably the best marina we have ever encountered, either in Mexico or the United States. It is clean and safe and offers many amenities. Because of this, many arrive and never leave. The result is a neighborhood of sorts and we have a wonderful community here. Neighbors walking by stop and say hello. Some stay for a while. Others wave and keep on going.
Mornings are also time for chores. Today is laundry day for me. Jay is dealing with some boat issues. As usual.
The mid-day sun is quite hot. The iguanas slither down from the trees to sun themselves. They need the heat. Us humans look for shade. Some find it under trees. Others in the water whether it be the pool or ocean. Some find air conditioning and others duck inside their boats. There is something to say for siestas.
Breaktime for the workers is also a time to fish. They bring out their nets, casting them into the sea, hoping to catch their dinner. This will make their wives very happy.
Lunch and siestas aside, it is time for more chores. I must confess. This is when I slip away to visit the pool. The heat wears on me, but with one dip in the cool water, I feel renewed. Jay usually joins me, but not until late afternoon.
At dusk you will find us in the cockpit again. This time with a glass of wine. The sun has gone behind the buildings and the wind has arrived. We take a deep breath, grateful for the break in the heat. The current seems to be strong today and so the boat sways back and forth against the dock. Some don't like the movement. I would ask them, "Then, why are you on a boat?"
The Pelicans and Magnificent Frigate birds perform their evening show. It is their supper time and we watch as the Pelicans dive down to catch a fish. The Frigate birds soar above, looking for prey they can steal. Yesterday, I saw a Frigate bird steal a big fish from another frigate bird only to drop it. A Pelican swooped in and won the prize. Later, the Pelicans will nest high in the trees of the mangroves. At times we have seen hundreds roosting there. I do not know where the Frigate birds sleep.
Night falls as the moon rises over the mountains. It is nearly full. The sky is crystal clear. We watch as the cruisers, all showered and dressed, begin their walk to dinner. There are many nice restaurants within walking distance.
One of our favorites is Chao where we eat brick-oven pizza and beet salad under the stars. If we are lucky, our favorite duo - playing violin and accordion - will be there. Another favorite is Barcelona Tapas. It is perched high on a hill overlooking the city and bay. It is a perfect venue for watching the sunset. But the best is after the sun goes down and the lights come on all across the horizon. Beautiful. Great food and excellent service too.
Jay and I are staying in tonight. We have invited Casey and will barbeque. A few glasses of wine, a good meal, some friendly conversation and it will be time to say goodnight.
These are our rhythms of the day here in Mexico. So much to be missed.
19 March 2019
Photo by Casey Cartwright
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines breath as 1: the act or power of breathing 2 : a slight breeze 3 : inflated or exhaled in breathing 4 : spoken sound 5: SPIRIT
I was lying flat on my stomach on the back of the boat. The sun was hot on my skin and the wind blew my hair, hitting my face. I kept pulling strands of it out of my eyes and tried to get comfortable. Finally, I lie resting as the boat glided across Banderas Bay. Once again, we were on a day sail with friends and had just finished lunch. Our chatter had quieted down as we were full and, along with the lull of the boat, felt sleepy. Just then, a whale breached at the back of the boat.
“Whoa!” came from those who witnessed it. And just as I heard their cry, I felt her breath ripple across the back of my blouse and a few sprinkles on my arms. I sprung up and ran to the stern rail. “No! No! I missed her!”
“No, you didn’t.” Cynthia said. “Look. There on the water, the slick on the water.”
I did see the glass slick and underneath it, a shadow of her large form. She breached two more times as we watched her slowly move away. One more time and then she dove down, leaving her tail for last as if to wave goodbye.
“I felt her breath!” I said, excitedly. I was moved, literally touched by her spirit. At least that is what I felt.
These massive yet gentle creatures are dying. We are killing the whales. It is the sad truth. Whales communicate, and sometimes navigate, by their songs. It is highly suspected that our noise pollution – caused by sonar, drilling and commercial shipping – is confusing them, often leading them astray. Beached whales are found to have pounds of plastic in their stomachs. Plastic. The bane of our existence.
Take a look around you. It is not just the plastic bags in the store, or water bottles, or the straws we put in our soda glass. Plastic is everywhere. It holds our shampoos, our liquid soaps, our toothpaste. We have plastic bowls, plastic utensils, plastic glasses, plastic Tupperware. We have plastic wrapping up our plastic containers. I always thought I was doing a good deed by cutting up the plastic that holds our six-packs. Now, as I cut it up, I think to myself, the fish won’t get caught in this, they will just ingest it. It is not only whales but our dolphins and fish who are being killed by pollution. Oh. And then there is the human population who eats the fish who has eaten the plastic. It’s a sad state of affairs. I suppose the best we can do is to become educated and try to be mindful of our footprint on this planet.
For I, for one, love the whales, the dolphins, our wildlife. I never get tired of seeing dolphins approach our boat. Every whale sighting has become something of a spiritual visitation for me. Especially this time. I felt her breath. Her SPIRIT.
The whales are a peaceful species who deserve the right to have their home in the ocean as much as we deserve the right to have our home on land. Please think of that the next time you pick up a piece of plastic.
The Fisherman and His Wife
28 February 2019 | Paradise Village Marina
In the wee hours, before the sun rises, I make my way across the marina by foot. I spot a small rowboat anchored in the fairway with one solo light beaming from a pole mid-ship. The fisherman leans back against the transom. He is but a silhouette on the water.
On one side of the boat leans a fishing rod. In his hand he holds a single line with a lure attached to the end. He pulls in his catch by hand. Sometimes, he stands and gathers his net just so. With one graceful move, he tosses the net out into the sea. It opens up in a beautiful display, like a large, woven doily. He watches as it sinks beneath the water. He waits. The fisherman is nothing if not patient.
Night after night, he spends on his boat, drifting gently under the light of the moon, dreaming. Of what, I do not know. As dawn comes up over the mountains, the commercial fishermen gather around his boat to purchase today’s bait. This will be used for today’s local charters. The fisherman collects his fees and disappears into the daylight.
I imagine he takes his boat and pulls it up onto the beach, tucking it into the mangroves in one of the nearby canals. He gets into his beat-up pick-up truck. It doesn’t start. But, like I said, the fisherman is patient. On the third try it turns over. He backs out and heads home.
The fisherman’s house lies along a dirt road. His neighborhood is full of dirt roads. Dogs, cats, chickens and sometimes horses, wander the streets. He arrives at his dwelling. It is a tiny cement structure painted pink; his wife’s favorite color. It has two small windows with no screens or glass, only metal bars. There is a front porch with two folding chairs. The front door is open and the fisherman can smell the scent of corn tortillas and carnitas wafting through the warm, humid air. He likes that smell and looks forward to his meal.
He enters a modest home. It is one room with an alcove for the kitchen and another they use as a bedroom. It holds only a mattress and is separated from the main room with a cloth attached to the ceiling. There is a bath with limited plumbing. On the roof of their house are two large black containers. These hold water and heat up with the sun. This is the source of their hot water, for showers and for dishes. The main room is adorned with pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Jesus, a crucifix, and candles. There is a worn throw rug on the floor and blankets mask the holes in the couch. On one side of the room, near the alcove that holds the kitchen, is a Formica table with four chairs. The fisherman sits down.
The fisherman’s wife is in the kitchen. She is always in the kitchen. Except when she is outside on the porch gossiping with her sister. She tries to serve him coffee. Instead, he pops open a cerveza that he carried in with his cooler. Few words are spoken. The fisherman and his wife live simply.
Two young children run in from outside. “Hola Abuela! Buenos Dias Abuelo!” The children live down the street with their parents who have left for work. Their jobs are a long way from home and they must leave early to catch the bus. Each morning and afternoon the children come to their grandparents until their parents come home from work.
The little girl wants to know how many fish her Abuelo caught. “Suficiente.” (Enough.) He says. The older boy wants to know when he can go with his Abuelo fishing. “Pronto.” (Soon) The fisherman replies. Abuela tells the children to sit and eat their breakfast for soon it will be time for school. There is much chatter between them while the fisherman sits quietly, eating his breakfast and sipping his beer.
The children go off to school. The fisherman lies his tired bones on the soft mattress and falls into a deep slumber. The fisherman’s wife washes the dishes and then brings her coffee and pan dulce (sweet bread) outside and sits on the chair. Her sister arrives and they chat about the latest news of the neighborhood.
Later, the fisherman’s wife goes in to watch her soap opera. Her eyes fall heavy and for a few minutes, she sleeps. The children come home from school and their Abuela goes back into the kitchen to feed them snacks. The fisherman wakes up. The children’s parents arrive back from work. Dinner is served. The two chairs from outside are added to the kitchen table. They bow their heads and say a prayer of thanksgiving. They may not have much, but they have each other.
The sun sets. The fisherman’s wife packs his cooler and sends him off into the evening. He steps into his truck and on the third try he backs out and heads for the sea. All the while he sings a Mexican folk song. He smiles. He is content.This is his way of life.
Note: This story is a composite drawn from the many places we have visited and people whom we have met while here in Mexico.
Cruising on the Side
21 February 2019 | Punta de Mita
Everyone, no matter how far they cruise, find themselves marina bound at one time or another. It could be because of mechanical issues, family matters or health. Whatever the reason, it happens to all of us whether we are in Mexico, Fiji, or sail the US. This year it is our turn. We have a short season due to work commitments and Jay is healing from hand surgery. So, other than our day sails (with a little help from our friends) we are staying put. That doesn't mean we can't explore.
I think Jay sensed I was feeling a bit restless and secretly made a plan to take me away for Valentine's Day. He wanted to surprise me, but when it came down to two options - Marina Vallarta (downtown) or Punta de Mita (out of town), he asked my opinion. I chose the latter. I wanted to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and we had only been to Punta de Mita once before and only for lunch.
Punta de Mita is on the northwest point of the bay. It is a very small village with a few high-end hotels situated on the point. With help from Talia (a Marriott executive) Jay found the Hotel W and booked an ocean view room with our family discount.
Jay thought we might get a driver to take us there, but I disagreed. "No. We don't need a driver. We'll take the bus. Getting there is part of the adventure." I said with a smile.
The first bus was actually what the Mexicans call a "combi." It is a van. Some are new but most are old and rickety. They can have holes in the seats, no air conditioning and stuff as many people in as possible. Once, I counted 17 of us in one van. Most have no shocks. And Mexicans love their topes (speed bumps).
Evidently, Mexicans don't follow traffic rules, especially stop signs. To force the drivers to at least slow down, they put in topes. Imagine this. We go slow over the speed bump, then the driver hits the gas hard. We speed up as fast as we can but only go about 100 yards before another speed bump. He hits the brakes. This goes on for miles. Sometimes the sliding door doesn't fasten and it opens and closes with each speed bump and acceleration. It's crazy!
For 12 pesos each, we take the first "combi" to Walmart. All commercial travel seems to revolve around Walmarts. There is a Walmart stop if you are traveling north and there is a Walmart stop if you are traveling south. We went to the Walmart north to make our next connection. This time we catch the bus and for 20 pesos each, it will take us all the way to Punta de Mita. (Figure 20 pesos to the dollar.)
The buses aren't much better. (The local ones. The buses that take you from city to city are quite nice.) They are old with no shocks either. There is always a crack in the windshield. A rosary hangs from the rear-view mirror. If you are lucky, there is air conditioning and curtains on the window to protect you from the heat of the sun. Otherwise, the windows are open and you long for those few times there are no topes and the driver can speed up sending fresh air through the bus.
As we made the last turn toward Punta de Mita, we found ourselves on a winding road with jungle on either side. There are few places to stop so the driver hits the gas pedal. Jay and I mention we are glad we had a light breakfast as we twist and turn. We hold on. Our driver drives in the center of the road, going uphill on a two-lane highway. Another bus comes around over the hill. I shut my eyes and pray. "OMG!" I said. "Did you see that?" We laugh, nervously.
We pass the W to the left. We decided to go into town first and have lunch at Si Senor, a very nice Mexican restaurant that is right on the beach. We go another five miles, or so, and get off the bus and walk into town. It is basically, two streets.
Our lunch was wonderful. They made fresh guacamole and salsa at our table. Jay had a mahi mahi dish with adobo chili sauce and I had a traditional vegetarian plate with an enchilada, a tostada and a chili relleno. We decide to take a cab to the W. 500 pesos later we asked ourselves why. 500 pesos! To go about five miles! "I read that everything is expensive in Punta de Mita." Jay told me. Ouch.
So, instead of arriving by bus at a five-star resort, we arrived by cab. However, we were in shorts and flip-flops with only a backpack. We walked through the entrance at the top of the hill where we were ushered into a golf cart. "Your luggage?" the porter asked. I turned my back to him, "This is it." He looked a bit bewildered, then shrugged and got in. We drove down a narrow road, part cobblestone, part asphalt, toward the beach. More curves and more jungle. There was no hint of what lie ahead.
It was one of those breath-taking entrances. The lobby led into what they called "the living room." (A mere extension of the lobby.) Stairs led to the bottom floor where there was a bar in the center of the room. The entire room was open on either side. A view of the jungle could be seen where we had just arrived and a view of the pool with tall palm trees separating it from the beach was the view as we walked in. The décor is what we called contemporary Mexican with bright colors and exquisite artifacts. Even the lights that hung from the ceiling were works of art. We were welcomed with a special tequila cocktail and then taken by golf cart to our room. It was an unusual entrance, but everything about this hotel was unusual.
The hotel is divided into three parts; the ocean-front suites, a three-story building that was hidden in the jungle - we didn't even know it was there until we stumbled upon it while walking along a foot path - and single-story rooms set back against the hill. Everything about this hotel seemed to be designed to be in harmony with nature.
Ours was one of the single-story dwellings. The front door led us into an outdoor porch. It had a brightly colored basket chair hanging from the ceiling and a painting on the wall of Freida Kahlo with a skateboard. I wondered what she would have thought about such a whimsical portrayal of herself. From this, we entered through a sliding-glass door to our room. It was in keeping with the hotel theme and was decorated in turquoise and yellow and a mix of bright colors everywhere. There was another portrait of Freida, this one with a surfboard. Next to her was a painting of Diego Rivera. He was holding a skateboard. The back porch had a second bed and was designed to be completely private with a view of a lake. The room was described as "ocean-view," but was really more like a lake view. It didn't matter to us. The man-made lake was beautiful with the jungle off to one side and the ocean on the other. We had a peak of the ocean and could hear the surf crashing on the shore. The bathtub also had a large window overlooking the lake. Overall, the room was light and airy and fun.
Later, we explored the grounds. We found two pools, three Jacuzzis, several restaurants, and a long, white beach that was so empty, it felt like our own private beach. We also found the Chevcheria. It is a ceviche bar made out of a Chevy truck. So cool. The ceviche chef enjoyed showing off his skills and prepared us one of his specialty dishes while we sat memorized by the ocean view.
Two days of total relaxation and we were ready for the bus ride back to Nuevo Vallarta. With our flip-flops, shorts and back-packs, we took the golf cart up the hill and caught the next bus into town. From first class to third class in a matter of minutes. It can be that way here in Mexico.
Jay and I usually don't make much out of Valentine's Day, but he instinctively knew I needed a change of scenery. I really love visiting new places and hanging out at the W in Punta de Mita was incredibly romantic... Even if we did commute via chicken bus and combi!
Note: More photos in the photo gallery.