Chris Grill: -That’ll be me
billbong: -A branch of a river flowing away from the main stream but leading to no other body of water; a blind or dead-end channel.
Quixotic: -Resembling or befitting Don Quixote.
-Extravagently chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical or impracticable.
-Impulsive and often rashly unpredicable.
Synonyms: romantic, starry-eyed, unrealistic, utopian, visionary, capricious, dreamy, fanciful, idealistic, imaginary, impracticable, impractical.
It is something of a surprise to me to find myself launching a blog. A year ago I would have rated the chances of this occurring as zero or thereabouts. Hell, I can’t even type. But the world is full of surprises and occasionally one finds oneself to be one of them.
This is only happening because of my abject failure to keep up with my correspondence while on this odyssey in Mexico and beyond. I have tried valiantly. For a jobless gringo in Mexico I have remarkably little free time. I like to think that there are friends and family who are a bit worried about me and since I cannot write to everyone personally…well, now you can at least find out how I am getting along.
This blog will end when this project does, at this point there is no telling when that will be.
I am not exactly on holiday although it may appear that way. I have a project, originally conceived thus: to build a small and somewhat peculiar boat and sail it southwards along the Atlantic coast of Central America, maybe beyond. I painfully aware that it is unrealistic and foolhardy. Ask me why I want to do this. Go on, ask me. Well, sometimes I forget, or realize I never really knew in the first place. Escapism? Boredom? Those, yes, but I still wonder. Then I go into somewhere like Wal-Mart and it becomes clear; I know why. I’ll come back to this I expect.
Should have, could have. I have been here for almost ten months, in the fishing village of Playa Zapote (playa is beach. Zapote is a fruit that looks like a baseball and is a bit like a kiwi inside, so it’s something like ”Kiwi Beach”. The next village along is called Mata de Uva so that means ”Grape Bush” and oddly this is the first time in all these months that I have noticed this apparent local obsession with fruit. Well, you can’t have too much fruit. If I was naming the place after it’s prime characteristic I would call it ”Sand”) just south of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast. The time to start a blog would have been way back in January; now I must catch up and tell you all that has transpired in that time, and this may be haphazard. I type slowly, am inherently disorganized and irregular in all my habits, and have limited time online. So I apologize if I jump back and forth at random as things occur to me. I’ll try not to use lines that I have already used in letters to loved ones but if that happens…well sorry. You are still special.
I’ll get some photos up eventually, as soon as I’ve learned how to do it. I’ve been telling my Mum that for years. Sorry Mum. Ah. I just learned how. You have no idea how savvy that makes me feel.
I am perhaps a month a way from launch. It takes endless hours to build a boat. I mean, endless. I work from dawn until dusk, every day that I don’t have to go to Veracruz or am not lying in bed burning with fever and reading a ragged Michael Crighton book which is all I could get hold of in English. My Spanish is still muy peor. When it gets dark I stagger -boatbuilding also takes a lot of energy – into my grim hovel, eat, lurch outside again to throw a bucket of water over my head, then either dress and head to the town of Anton Lizardo, 8kms distant (this is going to be a metric blog folks. Oh OK it’s about 5 miles), or I try to do some more work indoors under erratic lighting, or saw horribly away at my fiddle for a bit before falling into bed where I invariably have a ghastly, sweaty, sleepless night, my mind buzzing, scratching at the various insect bites I was honored to receive in the daytime and the new ones I am getting in bed. Today was no different except that we are in the midst of yet another norte, an appallingly strong and gusty wind form the north for which this part of the coast is famed. Even Cortes, who had cahones like watermelons, feared these winds. As I hammer my battered and corroded Chinese Italika motorcycle into the wind it tries to tear off my helmet, going side-on (a beam reach as sailors would say) I have to lean the whole bike way into the wind, but the gusting makes me look like I´ve just downed a bottle of Jose Cuervo. But that’s ok; even if there were any police who ever did anything, drunk-driving is mandatory in Mexico. In Anton Lizardo, rippling skeins of sand from the beach ghost along the streets, drifting into piles beneath walls, wearing away my chain and sprockets, scouring my helmet visor into a blur . This wind literally strips paint. It would scour the tiles off the space shuttle. Why, you think, is he going on and on about a bit of wind? It’s not a bit of wind. It has to be experienced to be believed. Even in here, in the always-noisy internet cafe in always-noisy Mexico, the howling is so loud it almost drowns out the computer games and general cacophany around me. Almost. Nothing on Earth is louder than Mexicans.
The one blessing about a norte is that it grounds the mosquitos, though the ones which have made it indoors are still active. Even here in the cafe, they sucking me dry. I am going to try hard not to rant on the subject of mosquitos.
I thought it might take me 3 or 4 months here to build a boat if I was lucky, then I could go sailing. Have you ever been sailing? It’s you, the boat bouncing and you bouncing with it, the interplay of wind and water and sail and rudder, spray on your face, the peace, the challenge of getting from A to B or just plain staying upright taxing you mentally and physically but it’s not work, it’s…for me it is feeling alive. like I don’t feel when I’m driving or shopping or watching tv or fixing the car or doing any of a thousand things with which we idiots have burdened ourselves. There are other ways to get the feeling, but this for me is one of the very best. Ten months here and every day I look out at the blue ocean which here is always perfect for sailing except during rain or the nortes, and I crave to get out there, but still I must be patient. Even if none of the rest of this project works I’ll be damned if I’ll go back to the States before I go sailing.
So I arrived here in late January, almost ten months ago. Stepped off the ‘plane in Veracruz with that very familiar feeling inside, the empty-stomach-nervousness I usually get when I’m hitchhiking, about to be dropped off on some road a thousand miles from anyone I know, no idea if or when I’ll get another ride, or where or when or if I’ll sleep that night. I think babies in the womb get that feeling when the contractions start. My Spanish was even more truly awful then than it is now, so I dragged my enormously heavy and somewhat disreputable-looking bags outside the small but modern airport and found a taxi, but the driver pointed me back inside where I found a desk over which I forked about $16 US for a ticket which let me take a taxi the short ride into Veracruz. This is one of those monopolies so common in Mexico; someone by fair means or foul (reckon I can guess which) gets the exclusive right to run transport from the airport, so there is no bus, everyone must be ripped off by an individual taxi, and fatwad Gonzales laughs all the way to the bank. No complaints from me about a slow ride, the thing went like a rocket, the guy was nuts, but he got me there. One thinks that with all the chaos and aggression on the roads here there would be a million accidents a day, but it is not so. Very fast, very skilled. We shot through a long commercial district with my peering out the window trying to discern lumber yards in the blur of the businesses going by…I had some trouble with the Doppler shift… Soon dropped me at the Hotel Amparo in Downtown Veracruz; a nice bald Gringo named Willy had loaned me his laptop to look up Veracruz hotels in the small hours on the shiny floor of the gargantuan Mexico City airport, where I’d felt small but at the same time conspicuous as I tried a bit of surruptitious filming with my camcorder, concealing it from the hordes of military and security personnel that patrolled every square inch – no – centimeter or the place. Terrorists, just forget it ok? Willy was building a school or some kind of edifice out of the goodness of his heart for indians in the mountains in the north. Decent guy.
Room, bed, ceiling fan, top floor looking out over the rooftops. US $17 per night, most acceptable. I dumped my things, what a relief, then plunged out into the street with only my precious camcorder in a bag and my cash and passports strapped top my ankle, held tight by a sock, it’s toe cut off, pulled up over all. I was hungry.
I’d been worrying about the camcorder. It had cost, as the Brits say,”an arm and a leg” and I didn’t want to lose it to muggers. When I hit the street, I was holding it concealed in a pillow case in a vice-like grip. But in a few seconds my fears completely evaporated. The atmosphere was wholly unthreatening. This was my first experience of Mexico apart from Nogales on the Arizona border, which is a frontier town and therefore unrepresentative. I believe that despite my hunger and fatigue, I broke into a big smile.
The centro of Veracruz was mostly four or five-story buildings, colonial architecture but nothing pretentious, a few pillars here and there, shoe stores, the traffic not too fumey, well policed and clean. Air conditioner oulets drip water on your head here and there. Lots of red-and-white taxis. I took no pictures at the time but it was a lot like this, without the balloons.
This was taken a week or so later during carnival time.
I chose a direction and kept at it, worked my way away from the centre and into a more down-to-earth market area, bustling with commerce. The feeling of being right at home persisted, even increased. Nobody stared, nobody pushed. Every smile received a smile. I had the feeling I was really going to like these people.
That was ten months ago. I’ll leave the retrospective there for the time being. As things turned out, I did like these people, most of them, and I still do.
This photo was taken at Carnival time a week or two after my arrival. It is included as gratuitous crumpet to spice things up.
Watch this space for the next exciting episode.