Deligthtful weather for a few days now. Cool, sunny, a light breeze blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the worst local bassholes have recently moved away or died (I prefer the latter and horribly too) so there is relative peace.
I’m in an internet cafe in Veracruz. The motorcycle is in the workshop around the corner, being doctored by the Maestro himself; Carlos, and his son, Carlos. I must be patient. Time enough for a spot of blogging; this may be the start of an addiction. I must say that this WordPress outfit is a star.
Where was I, in Veracruz, ten months ago? I’d found food, then I was back on the sweltering street working my way back through the sidewalk chaos, the street vendors, food stalls and smells, to my hotel for some sleep. I am not so different from a dog, with food in my belly, I’m content. Time for a kip.
The ceiling fan worked but it was still hot. I slept on and off until evening, then emerged onto the street again, clutching the camera. Things were bustling; The annual Veracruz carnival was a week away and over a million people were expected; many had arrived early. Soon, I was told by the hotel clerk, it would be impossible to get a room. I hoped to be long gone by then.
But to where? I knew that in order to build a boat and be in a position to test and adjust it, I wanted a spot on or near a beach. Having no idea of the coastal geography, my plan was to buy a used motorcycle and explore. I thought that a motorcycle would be fast, cheap, convenient, useful, and fun, and so it turned out to be. Eventually.
I could say that my philosophy vis-s-vis getting to know the area was based on the sensible idea that it would be easier to learn about it once in the vicinity. I could say that I prefer to fly blind. I could say that I find the thrill of discovery more intense on the ground than in a library in Vermont. The truth is though, I had been just too untogether and obsessed with the work I was doing in the States (sawing wood into pieces and arranging them in a pile) to have gotten around to doing any preparatory research at all, beyond discovering the fact that a specie of bamboo suited to my purposes was grown commercially in the State of Veracruz. That’s all I knew. I needed a bike.
Then… an idea. Lonely Planet! Or some similar travellers’ guide. Why hadn’t I brought one along? Was I a complete idiot? Where could I find one here? Information!
A bookstore here wouldn’t have one. Why would anyone here need a travel guide in English? I needed to find a traveller who was carrying one. But here’s the thing. There were no gringos. I thought this very strange. Everyone has heard of Veracruz, surely there’d be loads of foreigners about. Not at all. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any. And it is not as if they are hard to spot. Veracruz may actually be a tourist destination, but not for foreigners. There had to be a few though.
I wandered around. Eventually I came across Martina in a internet cafe. Tall, attractive, friendly, Austrian, I dare say she was forever fending off unsubtle approaches from Mexican machos, doubtless she thought my own request for a look at her guidebook if she happened to have one to be along the same lines, which it wasn’t; I had other things on my mind for a change. Yes, she had a Lonely Planet, I could borrow it and return it to her at such-and-such a cafe at eight o’clock.
When alone in a strange city in the night, rendezvousing with a stranger on an unusual mission, things can take on a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. I wondered if I should employ tradecraft, wear a false moustache and those things that make your cheeks puff out.
The book was helpful only in that it showed that there really was no place around that was anything like what I thought I wanted ie. somewhere quiet, on the beach but not too far from the big city or a bamboo forest, and with a few alcoholic ex-patriots or travellers around for occasional company. Nothing like that. A bit about Veracruz, a bit about Jalapa., not too much else. Mostly there were just great blank areas on the map with no information at all and for the first time I began to get a sense of how absolutely vast the country is, how hidden are most of it’s places and processes from the casual visitor, how deeply mysterious.
I met Martina at the cafe, had a beer. To my disappointment there were no assassination attempts, no drop-offs of microdots. Martina had been teaching English in Mexico City, and travelling many months around the country. We wandered the streets, through the Zocalo, the main square with it’s flagstone and trees, the trunks painted white, full of screechy birds. The cathedral loomed warmly on one side. All very colonial and tasteful. Passing a cafe, Martina spotted Miguel Lara Rodriquez, who she knew somehow, sitting at a table drinking with friends and surrounded by mariachis. We went over.
Señor Rodriguez was a rich man, owner of a construction firm. He said he would never work again. He had hired the mariachis to play music for his table exclusively the entire evening. He would not let us pay for our drinks. He was short and wide and I don’t mean to be unkind when I say he bore no small resemblance to an enormous toad. We drank, Martina translated a lot of conversation for my benefit, which could only have been tiresome for her. Every few seconds a street vendor would approach to try to sell us something, watches, peanuts, carved spoons, magnet toys. The mariachis crowded around us, squeezed between our backs and the other tables, played loud and well. Several other groups of mariachis circulated around other tables nearby, the result being an earsplittling cacophony, not unpleasant but it made conversation even harder. They were all very good, Veracruz is a big mariachi town. Miguel sang, as did his team who were also his employees. Miguel presented Martina with his cd, ”Miquel Lara Rodriquez Sings” or something like that.
Miguel was certainly a caballero (a horseman, ie. a gentleman). He made every effort to make us comfortable and provide for us and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite the slight bruising of my egalitarian feelings over the business of the mariachis standing about as a sort of group human cd player. Miguel was interested in my project and declared that he owned a disused restaurant in Anton Lizardo which I might find suitable as a construction venue. He would send someone to collect me in the morning and take me out there.
A couple of hours passed and finally Martina and I excused ourselves and we went our separate ways. I found a churros (thick strings of vegan dough deep fried in vegetable oil then rolled in large-grain sugar, it’s pretty good) as I ambled about in search of food, bemused by the many prostitutes who called to me. Many of them were great hulking shemales which surprised me but I had yet to learn that despite Mexico’s religiosity the place is quite free and easy about this sort of thing.
The next morning a water truck containing two of the men from the night before showed up almost on time at the appointed place. Miguel was true to his word. We blasted off at at least warp factor nine towards Anton Lizardo, the g-forces distorting our features. This speed was no mean feat for a vehicle loaded with so many 20-litre bottles. We made a few deliveries along the way, stopped again so that I could admire a sand quarry owned by Miguel. At one point Enrique pointed at Eduardo, said ”He’s gay” and giggled.
This was so childish that it was funny, and no isolated incident either. It has happened over and over again to the point of absolute predictability. Whenever I am amongst a group of men, the watermelon farmers, the fishermen, the guys who are fixing my bike, sooner or later one of them will point to another, say ”He’s gay” and giggle. I have learned to say ”Well, obviously”, which has them rolling in the aisles every time. It’s not that they give a damn if someone is gay or not (Carlos, son of Carlos El Maestro of the bike repair shop, really is gay), they just enjoy the banter, as men do.
I think that the bike may be ready now so I must go. The next thrilling installment will begin where I left off, hurtling towards Anton Lizardo with two guys in a water truck, at least one of whom may or may not be gay.