The Legend of Playa Zapote.

It is not every day that I get up before dawn to help the fishermen push their lanchas into the ocean, but I never regret it when I do. They cannot fish without good weather, not too much wind, so these mornings are necessarily still or nearly so. Nowadays for some reason they are coming later, around 6.00am, just before the huge red ball of the sun climbs out of the sea. After the boats are gone the sun I debate what to do, mostly rationalizing why I don’t really need to go for a run this morning (my knee is acting up, I’m not really so fat, I went for a run yesterday, there’s a terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side, etc. etc). I stand there on the beach with Changa running circles around me, little waves lap gently at the shore, the beach and ocean fade in the distance in a light mist, all extremely beautiful and tranquil, peaceful and delightful.
Until the first basshole comes driving along the beach, his ego audible long before he can be seen. Sigh.
If I do run I go barefoot and splash along in the shallowest tips of the waves where they climb the sand which feels cool and pleasant on my feet whilst the rest of me lurches along feeling awful. Changa comes along at my side except where she has to sidle off and make her submissive entreaties to other dogs to gain permission to pass their parts of the beach. Eventually she’ll meet one who won’t let her pass so I have to leave her, but I’ll find her waiting in the same spot for me on my way back. These dogs are so much more rounded and whole than our pets in Europe and the States, having had a full, free, highly social, varied and stimulating upbringing. I see ours as well-meaning but stunted by comparison, though better fed. They are no more vicious than the Mexican people, though they pretend to be sometimes. Just bend over as if you were picking up a stone and they all run away.
Capitan does not run with me, he is quite old or at least he was: he was poisoned yesterday and is no more. Old Raymundo is very upset. In Mexico this is a good way to deal with excess dogs; just kill a lot of them. In this case someone had a bitch in heat and simply put food laced with strychnine out around the house. So many dogs die this way.

You may be wondering what happened to Rocky, the dog I shared my life with here last time and took back to the States. Although he adapted marvelously the cold and even worked hauling sleds through the snow along my long driveway he just wasn’t happy living out in the forest in Upstate NY without all the stimulation of other dogs, children, chickens, horses and lots of homes to visit. Eventually I had to find him a new home where he has all of the above, on a farm way up in northern Vermont. Giving him up was about the hardest thing I have ever done and I still miss him terribly, every day though it has been a year now. Never thought I’d feel so strongly over a dog… now I see them as individuals, personalities. Not people of course but certainly persons.

After the run I may spend an hour pulling in nets on the beach with the locals. The nets, a half-kilometer long, are laid out by the boats out in an arc with lines from both ends running back to the beach. Twenty or thirty of us pull on these two lines, bringing them together to circle the net, laughing all the time with dogs and kids playing around us and running between our legs. Then the ends of the net appear (slowly, for the net resists very strongly) and for a long time nothing happens except the finding of occasional bits of seaweed, crabs and the odd fish entangled in the mesh, as the netting piles up on the sand. Out to sea the arc of net-floats grows shorter and closer, and it is a good sign if we see pelicans and other seabirds plunging in to the circle. Things get more exciting, lots of shouting, children run into the water to put their weight on the lower boltrope so the net stays close to the sand and fewer fish can escape beneath. Finally the last of the net comes in as a sort of pool surrounded by people with hundreds of flashing shapes thrashing sandy spray into the air; we all heave it up onto the beach. Typically the catch consists of 100-400 pounds of fish, mostly rather small but with a few in the 5 pound range, it is amazing to look at this mass of silvery vigor. A couple of years ago 20 tons of sardines were caught this way in one pull, but these stories are rare. If there are enough fish in the net then everyone who pulled gets a small share, the rest go to the owners of the net and boat that set it.

Three norte windstorms in 20 days, long power cuts, endless hours on my back in the dentist’s chair, not very spectacular progress on the boat. I finally got the deck glassed in (the third time I have done this job on this boat) yesterday after many days of work. The power cuts are particularly disrupting. Normally I doubt I get 80 volts due to the length of the dodgy cable that brings power to the house, but this is enough to make my tools wheeze into life and I can’t do much without them. If I have power I work all day after the net-pulling is over breaking only for swimming or to make some food on the ancient one-ring cooker I have borrowed. I rarely do anything after dark but go to my sandy and anty sleeping mat. (And that’s not all, two nights ago I found a land crab in my bed, try that for an awakening experience. And yes I do consider “anty” to be a legitimate adjective). The other night I was invited “to drink atole de coco” (a thick sweet drink made of rice, coconut milk and sugar of which the locals knowI am fond) in El Zapote so I rumbled the car along the long dirt road wondering if the two bottles of tequila under my seat were going to roll together and start chinking and raise the eyebrows of the Evangelists I was carrying. Nobody said anything about an interminable religious service that had to be sat through in order to get to the atole. This was held half in and half out of a garden shed full of the usual assortment of machetes and burro tack under a single bare lightbulb with a succession of speakers going on and on about something or other. The married women all wore loose-knitted headscarfs for the hair of woman is an abomination unto the Lord. Actually if you look at Christian and other religious mysogeny it would appear that all of woman is an abomination unto the Lord. Occasionally everyone would stand and say a cacophany of prayers, a great wailing and crying with tears gushing and deranged shouts of “Gracias al Senor”, such a sad display of scraping and groveling as I have never seen. Then it would quiet down and with a good deal of nose-blowing they’d all sit down again. Finally they sang a song and though they can’t match the Welsh for technical skill they did an admirable job of it and it was joyous and sweet and moving. Then at last the atole which was well worth the wait. I came away from the evening with a whole bunch of new aquaintances and another sewing machine to repair. Some of these people have bizarre names like “Hadniel” and “Deusbady”.

This “I am not worthy” theme which is clearly a big element of religious services here plays right into the hands of the scumbag elites who rule this country and milk these poor people mercilessly. (This is in my opinion yet another crime against folk for which Christianity should answer, along with teaching myths and lies as if they were facts, repressing sexuality and scientific understanding and threatening that if ol’ schizophrenic loving God doesn’t get his ass kissed you’ll be tortured for eternity). People, it is 2011, high time to dump all religion in the garbage can of quaint historical notions. That includes you too, New-Agers, who keep telling me that you are “spiritual but not religious” then espouse beliefs which are clearly religious. What on earth do you think the word means?

The ricos are stealing the beach. Every time you look around they have bought another piece of waterfront property and are busy building yet another mansion completely surrounded by a 12-foot wall. Now the tide goes all the way up and laps along the base of the front wall: nothing has been left of the original landscape or greenery, no place even to park a fishing lancha. Within a few years there will be nothing left at all, just continuous wall for 3 miles of beach. Government for the few, by the few. Behind their walls they have parties all night long, the bass thundering through what is left of the village, pushed away from the ocean. I despise these people. They are fat and ugly with piggy eyes.

One day I looked up from my loathed fiberglass sanding (it always leaves one itching terribly) to find a thin guy with bad teeth standing there. He carried a boogie box and had obvious Rastafarian influences. He asked me if I minded if he crossed through the land from the beach to the road; I said it did not me molesta -bother me (Though if it did I am sure the Catholic Church would cover it up. They get their morality from God you know). Then by subtle signs, for he seemed reluctant to speak more than he had to, he indicated that he knew where my old friend Mary-Jane might reside. Perhaps I might like him to to try to make contact with Mary-Jane for me? Well I have a couple of boat design problems I think might be solved with the help of Mary-Jane so he went off with a little of my cash promising to return later. Rather to my surprise he did actually return, very drunk and without Mary-Jane or most of the money. Since I hadn’t thought he’d return at all I actually counted this turn of events as something to his credit, and gave him another try the next day, with exactly the same result. He is obviously a very dodgy geezer of a type instantly recognizable to anyone who has been traveling in Central or South America or who has lived in London, in fact he told me that he is somewhat ostracized and if I need him I can just go to Las Barrancas (the next village a mile down the beach) and ask for Julio “El Criminal”. A distinguished appellation indeed. He is almost always drunk when he shows up and wants me to put tequila in his soda bottle but sometimes bears gifts such as a little fried fish and some tortillas, or a conical lump of very dark molasses sugar, so I credit him with at least some humanity and have so far allowed him to visit but not drunk Julio, no more of that please, for he gets very “impertinente” and waves his knife about whilst telling me tales of feuds of which I can make little sense. A little patience and kindness, I decided, costs me nothing and he could use a little kindness though the patience part may not last much longer. He never did find with Mary-Jane.
I suspect that Julio was casing my house that first day I met him. Thievery is a huge problem here; most of the time I cannot leave the house unattended without fear. I must load everything I really don’t want to lose (mostly tools, cameras, the computer) into the car and take it with me. This is extremely irritating. I can’t even go for a run unless the fishermen are around (I trust them completely). Thieves here are known unfondly as ratas. The fishermen here would benefit greatly from access to some of those big “D” type bicycle locks which would lock their precious outboard motors in place without having to drill big holes in the boat. Can anyone help?

In other news, I have completely failed to repair the dodgy alternator bracket in my landlord’s “car”, for what hath been done by a Mexican mechanic cannot be undone. I am tired of messing with it. The “car” itself is an ancient hulking Jeep Wagoneer that would be more at home in Cuba; Raymundo Junior amusingly calls it La Relicia, “The Relic”.
The other day a large metal-roofed palapa (normally a palm-thatched shade open-sided hut) with twenty legs under it came erratically along the beach. It had been donated somehow and it was Andres’ idea to move it to a new spot where it could be used to shade net-repairing work. It was enormously heavy for just ten guys, I made it eleven but being a foot taller than the rest of the guys on my side I had to walk with my knees bent. We teetered along all of us laughing so hard we nearly lost control of the thing several times. Mercifully we were flanked by women carrying sticks and they’d dart in and prop the thing up when we could take no more. The 300 yards seemed like miles but never was hard work so much fun!
All that work sawing beams for my house in NY State came in handy when we had to cut down a dead palm tree in front of my house here. Chinto borrowed a chainsaw and we ripped it into eight long posts for building a garage. Building wood is in very short supply here and what can be found is rarely straight. Mexicans are extremely adept at building structures out of lumber so bent (I’m talking pieces with 30-degree kinks and worse) it would not be considered for any use but firewood in the States. The reason for the lack of straight wood, or much wood at all, is that trees only grow tall and straight when grown close together as in forests, but there is very little real forest around: all the land has been grubbed over and cultivated for crops and livestock for centuries and trees around here seem only to grow at the edges of fields. But you should see this countryside, still retaining a wild and unkempt feel, cattle and gorgeous horses grazing beneath spreading shade trees, lush meadows with winding streams bordered by rushes, endless miles of unknown narrow dirt tracks like tunnels under their borders of overhanging trees, peopled only occasionally by parties of singing and smiling people carrying their machetes and digging implements home from a day’s work. I would exaggerate if I could but the truth is I lack the words to do such beauty even its just due nor can a camera capture the feeling. I remember dewy mornings in the hills of Wales with a dawn chorus of birds, a time when I left the freeway in eastern Texas and fumbled my way into a dark field and woke up on the ground in paradise, a canyon in Arizona where a clear stream flows from pool to pool over the rocks and under the leaves, and this Mexican campo is right up there with those, as is the beach at Playa Zapote in the morning mist.

There was a snake in the well which failed to climb out on the long sticks I put down there for the purpose but Chinto snared it out and we let it go: I was surprised he didn’t try to kill it, Mexicans rarely miss a chance to kill a harmless animal but I guess he knows me better by now. The sticks did give the frogs a chance to escape; they have probably been down there for years, always living in fear of those sporadic but cataclysmic events known amongst them as “The Coming of the Great Bucket”. Now they are out in the world and it must be a revelation to them.
The well itself is a pretty good one, distant from any septic tanks, stone-lined and 4 or 5 meters deep, 3 or 4 meters to the surface of the water which is clear and cool though not cold. There are a lot of almond and mango leaves at the bottom along with the rest of the ecosystem; like everyone else I buy drinking water in 20-liter returnable garafones though I am tempted to drink from the well. I have had many fevers in Mexico but never a stomach upset. Probably because I have long lived like a dog.

My belt sander has become very popular since it was discovered to be a fine tool for sharpening machetes.

I am still very happy and comfortable here, for which I give full credit to the wonderful people of Mexico.

I’m sorry pictures are taking way too long today.

The Legend of Playa Zapote, according to one smiling fellow here, is me!


4 thoughts on “The Legend of Playa Zapote.

  1. beautiful my friend. little miss binah rosalie can not wait to meet her uncle chris. very well written indeed, i will be in states from around may through end of july, so maybe you can fly up to houston, or perhaps you will be back in vermont. sounds like you have a stress fracture, be careful. love ali

  2. as always your trials and tribulations highly entertain me…. If you’d like help with D- locks for the locals: Need an Address??? Have some other stuff I’d like to send.

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