The first thing I saw this morning when I awakened was one of the dippers. I think it was the big dipper, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, it was amazing to awaken in the dark, thinking minutes between falling asleep and awakening had passed to discover per my handy indiglo watch I had slept soundly for seven hours. It was five am on our departure day in Mexico.
The morning was dark with a clear sky and the Big Dipper was inviting me to ladle stars. For the first time in many days there wasn’t any wind or clouds or rain in the early morning. Awakening to a constellation just outside my window was one of the most delicious gifts I’ve been given these last two weeks. The good news/bad news of the day.
We hadn’t enjoyed the most stellar weather in Mexico this year but at least we weren’t buried under 30 inches of snow like the east coast or bracing ourselves for sub zero temperatures. We had rain almost every day we were here and while my skin isn’t as burnished as some years, the gardens, mangrove and jungle around us appear quenched and lush.
The other night we took the collectivo (local bus) to the Colonia for dinner. We passed through the mangrove and the sun was setting. I had never seen a sun set over the mangrove. The sun cast an orange and red glow on the marsh’s surface the trees were black spots along the shoreline. As we drove along the road through the mangrove, I remembered our caretaker’s description of the officials from Cancun trying to convince the local PTB the mangrove was “dead” and therefore the only thing left to do was fill it in and build a big resort. How proud he was to tell us the townspeople brought their own biologists in to ascertain what they all knew was true: nothing was wrong with the mangrove, it was simply dry and suffering from drought. The people did not want to sacrifice their way of life for a chance at greater economic opportunity. Fancy that. Feeling as if you have enough.
A few days ago, we took a tour away from the coast and into the interior. Twenty-five kilometers later and it’s as if the huge Mega resort and Disco Bongo Bongo cease to exist. The villages are small and simple. Some would call them “ramshackle” “mean” “pathetic” or “dirty”. If you peek inside of the cinderblock houses they usually appear empty because the hammocks are tucked up and out of site: the structures are used for sleeping and work takes place outside in the light.
These villages aren’t old colonial villages and towns with most were founded well after the 1910 revolution. The Mexican government has started listening to the indigenous people and have protected some of the land in the this part of the country. They have also entrusted the care of the land to the people. To say they live simply is an understatement.
Their day to day living makes the average middle class American camping trip look like a four star hotel experience. Dirt floors, dark windowless palapas, hammocks. I’m not sure if they had running water or not but pumping water from the ground isn’t difficult when the water table is close to the surface. At first glimpse most would call these people “dirty”.
Their clothing was faded and only the man wore shoes. His wife does embroidery and sewing to sell while he helps the biologists observe the plants and animals in the reserve. Their children appeared well fed and happy. No one was whining about who’s turn it was on the x box. In fact no one was whining. A few years ago, I certainly would have referred to them as dirty or backward or ignorant out of my own ignorance. But fortunately, I have moved out of my pampered existence and realize it’s all about what’s in your head not outside of your head.
Our day trip included a traditional Mayan lunch with a family near a village and it was perhaps one of the best meals I had this vacation all without the benefit of a Viking stove or Henk`l knives or electricity. An Anthony Bourdain moment. Tony would have loved this meal: chicken seasoned with the achiote seed ground into a paste and flavored with orange juice along with traditional rice, beans and tortillas. The smallest children were home with the women and dressed in their best traditional dresses. They were friendly and quiet experts at making their own fun.
The little girls had created a mortar and pestle and were grinding a leaf, mimicking their mother and grandmother’s way. The little boy was running about and would come back to them for a few seconds and then run away again. I wish I knew what they were saying to one another as they were chattering with one another the whole time. (Someday I’m going to speak Spanish well enough to eavesdrop on small children at play and the cab drivers.) Before we left their home, the little boy presented me with a small blossom and a shy good bye. It would seem I have a fan in Mexico.
More importantly than a romantic conquest, I learned a lesson. These people do not seem paralyzed by what they lack. Before Sunday, I would have referred to them as living in poverty. When truthfully they were not essentially impoverished. They appeared healthy and happy, just as happy as the people I saw strolling down the beach these past two weeks. (Probably happier than many) The same People who strolled to an airport after paying about 5000 pesos to sit on an airplane so they could spend another 20000 pesos for a hotel room with cement bed, a restaurant serving ridiculously terrible food and a bar with even crappier booze. An amount of money comparable to a CEO bonus.
Please know I am not condescending to these people and cooing over them and gushing about how terribly sweet the natives are or bless their indigenous hearts in all their Indian simplicity. In fact, quite the opposite, I’m kicking myself in the ass for requiring so much to “live”. Nor am I naive enough to think many who live in the small villages don’t hanker for a fancy life elsewhere. Hell, we have a perceived problem at our border with folks who think it’s all that and a bag of chips in El Norte.
It is human nature to want what someone else has, however some of us–me–get more carried away with this than others. So I need to remember the simple gifts, like awakening to the Big Dipper turned upside down showering stars all over the Eastern sky, a little boy giving me a small blossom, or the achioto red of a mangrove at dusk.