Spanish Study and Guided Travel in Mexico

spanish teacher in Yelapa and Sayulita, Mexico observes the culture

Politics and Pests in Paradise – July 2006

Politics and Pests in Paradise

If you’re expecting my regular uppish blog about life in this paradise, I’m afraid you’re in for a surprise. I try to avoid mixing politics and teaching, but this is an exception, since I …. I guess I’m political! (which in Spanish means polite – I don’t know that politicians are).

Also I’ve written about scary biting critters and awful heat, all of which are truly manageable.

As I sat on my patio with an ocean view tonight, listening to the glorious insect sounds, smelling my night flowering jasmine bush, watching the beautiful fire flies (I’d forgotten how excited I was to see them as a child), and catching any stray puff of wind, I realize just how good it really is here. There’s always something to adjust to in any environment, and the first week is always mostly joy to be back and a bit of a trial. Read on for the details.

Mexican National Elections July 2, 2006

I arrived back in Puerto Vallarta on July 5th. Most important was to find out the results of the presidential election, which had occurred 3 days earlier. I walked the streets, read the headlines. It was a race too close to call for the serious contenders, the very left-wing Partido Revolucionario Democrático, led by Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, leading a coalition – Por el Bien de Todos – For the Good of All, and the PAN conservatives led by Felipe Calderon. The old guard PRI Partido Revolucionario Institucional who trade marked and institutionalized corruption were a not so distant 3rd. I asked the people. Who do you want to win? Obrador “he’s for the poor people, like us” said one small corner store owner. The taxi driver, – Calderon, he’s for the working people -. A newspaper stand owner, -PAN, a growing economy is good for everybody -. Yelapa voted PRI, hard to believe! Mascota, a little village in the mountains 100 kms from here, voted Green Party.

The tallies daily changed in favor of one or the other. The election results would be determined only when all the polls were counted. Obrador was winning onWed p.m. the 5th with 400,000 votes. On Thursday at 5 p.m. Calderon won with 200,000 votes . Obrador claimed fraud and is taking it to the courts. Calderon’s very close win is based on votes in the conservative last-counted northern and western , mostly industrialized areas, modeled on their northern neighbour. He offered to include Obador in his cabinet, knowing he’d never join.

The newly elected leftist government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela was among the early callers, claiming PAN estaba – al servicio de la oligarquía y del imperialismo – “was at the service of the oligarchy and imperialism” and with the further criticism that no government should be able to win an election based on 0.6% difference in the vote. Calderon diverges from the stance of former PAN president Vicente Fox in that he promises to maintain constructive relations with Cuba and Venezuela. Calderon further promises to invest in programs in Mexico to help avoid migration to the United States.

Just a couple of notes on the accomplishments of the previous 6 year term of the PAN from the July 8th newspaper “Publico”. The price of the tortilla, the staple of the Mexican diet, in some places the only food eaten daily with a little salsa, rose 80% in 6 years compared to the 5.38% inflation rate. The first plane that arrived back from the United States with 68 migrantes under the voluntary repatriation program for Mexicans without citizenship documents, were told who won the election. All stated that after a rest they would try again to enter the U.S.

A Party Primer

A fascinating primer on Mexican politics, by Andres Oppenheimer “Bordering on Chaos” relates horrific stories of government mis-spending by PRI, the non-stop ruling party since the revolution until 2000. He’s a Pullitzer prize winning journalist for his account of the Iran-Contra Affair, and the Mexico correspondent for the Miami Herald. In one chapter, he tracks the history of the mistreatment of the Indians in the state of Chiapas that lead to the Chiapas Revolution of January 1st, 1994. It’s one of the richest states in Mexico in resources with the poorest people.

Rather than real solutions to the problems be put in place, money was given to political friends by various governors to mollify the people – an $11 million second airport so far out of the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez as to be virtually useless, a state of the art hospital situated in a jungle community at a cost of several millions, for a community of few people. Shortly after opening, with great political pomp, its staff basically vacated it due to lack of use. There’s a multi-million dollar theatre built in San Cristobal with all the best of modern technology for 100,000 of mostly indigenous people who could never afford a ticket.

The Hard Lessons Learned at Home

Here in Mexico the stories are legendary. I lived and worked 20 years ago in Patzcuaro and Morelia, Michoacan. The highway to Mexico city hadn’t been completed (a 2 lane paved highway) in over ten years of generous government contracts to their families and friends. Twenty years later, not much has changed despite what the campaign ads claimed – Méjico ya cambió -“ Mexico now has changed”.

In Yelapa, in spring of 2005 they built a new dock on the north side of the bay to replace the one destroyed by the hurricane of October 26, 2003. It’s a lovely new dock. However, the dock is at least a meter too high. It’s NEVER used except in unusually high tides – twice this last 6 months. Mexicans don’t seem to be indignant at all. They’re used to generous contracts for political friends and useless projects.

Over the 17 years I’ve been visiting Yelapa, I’ve seen the “Water Project” worked on, with sporadic bursts of spending. It consists of 6” plastic pipe laid down in a shallow trench from the village to the first river crossing about 3 or 4 kms upriver, to where a pump house has been built. These pipes have been replaced 3 times now. You can still see vestiges of the old pipe used by the locals to make corrals or feeding troughs.

In the village where the pipes are above ground and solid steel, sections where they’ve rusted have been replaced. The whole above ground portion has been painted bright blue. Each 5 gallon pail of the paint costs $200US. About 1.5 kms of electricity cable run from the last house upriver to the pump house (approximately 25 poles carried by man and horse-power from the beach). A reservoir 8 meters in diameter, several meters high, has been built uphill from this pumphouse to receive and store the river water. It was completed last spring, a year ago. None were connected to any of the houses to this system along the way. Not a drop of water has flowed through the system. I think the pipe would be a great children’s art project for the Casa de Imaginacion – to paint flowers and animals on the bright blue pipeline.

A comical, political satire on Mexican politics by the brilliant Mexican director Luis Estrada, “El Ley de Herodes” or The Law of Herod recounts the story of a small time PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – the ruling party by every imaginable ploy for 74 years) politician, who is appointed the mayor of a small town. There’s no money left in the budget due to all previous corrupt mayors. He’s told to interpret the constitution to be able to impose taxes, fines and fees. Originally a kind-hearted honest man, he becomes a political monster in the span of less than one short movie year.

Viva la Revolución!

Apathy is the anathema for change. In Mexico they expect corruption. – Hay un dicho – There’s a saying — un politico pobre es un pobre politico –. “A poor [no money] politician is a poor politician!”

Fidel Castro triumphantly stated – “Yesterday we were a handful of men; today, we are an entire people conquering the future”. Marcos, spokesman for the EZLN, Zapatista National Liberation Army that fought for indigenous rights in Chiapas, claimed that in the case of Mexico’s modern day revolutionaries…“Yesterday we were an entire people conquering the future; today, we are a handful of men.”

Some days it’s hard to start a revolution. I keep haranguing the Americans I know not to join the diaspora of Americans fleeing their country to Canada and Mexico and the rest of the world in fear of persecution for their views on democracy. Start a revolution! The feedback amounts to a mediocre “oh” and a few “you’re crazy. We’re too comfortable.”

Back to Reality – Hot and No Rain

Upon my arrival in Mexico July 5th, I phoned my students in Yelapa, who had been left in the charming hands of Mimi, my summer teacher, restaurateur of Mimi’s Café Bazzar, and mother of four. Alan from Kansas immediately announced it was very hot with no wind, and 100% humidity. “If it was 100% it would be raining.” I chirped encouragingly. That’s what was needed. Rain. Only one storm or “tormenta” had occurred in almost 8.5 months. The afternoon showers and overnight storms with spectacular lightning displays, usual for this time of year, had NOT begun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the shower we had in Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately it had NOT occurred in Yelapa. Yelapa was drying up. The good news was the Water Project was amounting to more than dollars spent. Workers were digging trenches to lay water lines to each house to connect the upriver reservoir constructed almost 1 1/2 years earlier. This “support the rich” project spending dollars politically was almost a happening.  The pipes are in. I asked my friend Ramon Díaz, "Do you think we’ll have water?" and he said –
– Nunca –  Never.  It was his corral that started the popular blue water pipe fence fashion years ago.

Miette the cat was panting – jadeando – and I wished I could. I was front, back, top and bottom – soaked through all my clothes from sweat. I thought about a shower, then realized I’d be soaked again by the time I reached my class. We needed rain. There was thunder in the hills, clouds piled up, then blew away.

Saturday 6:00 a.m.July 8th Reprieve

It’s almost always the first thing people say “no llueve todavía” It’s still not raining. Hard to imagine that since early October only one night of rain has fallen. This should be a sand-swept dessert. It is anything but, remarkably. The trees are verdant green and blooming. Their roots must be stretched to earth’s other side, or they have evolved to maximize use of moisture in the air. The air is heavy with moisture but mostly still. Perspiration runs off a body like rain water. The air is expectant with the promise of rain.

Last night it sounded like a lot of rain fell, with lightning and the noise of thunder. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. I checked my rain-meter – a brown plastic tub sitting on my patio – a rejected idea for a warm water bath that could never happen given the size of the water heaters here. Only 9 mm fell in truth, but it felt like the floodgates from the skies had opened.

Saturday July 8th, 5 p.m. –Shopping in Puerto Vallarta was horrible due to the incredible heat. It even felt hot in the air conditioned buildings. I guess my body was not cooling fast enough. The Yelapa 4 p.m. boat departed on time for Mexico, 15 minutes late. Rita in the seat ahead put on a coral pink raincoat, and I peered into the distant gray. It was raining ahead. I had hundreds of dollars of books and papers as cargo. Fortunately I had packed a garbage bag. I donned my survival garb, and wrapped it around the books as well, and bore down for the horizontal rain we drove straight into. Most of the youngsters lay on the bottom of the boat. I felt like abandoning decorum and sliding down amongst them. I clutched my garbage bag around my head, surely less noble in appearance than I hoped.

The seas were calm but we sliced through a lot of water for 30 minutes, meant only for the stoic. As I trudged up the hill, wet but for a change, cool, I was cheered by the thought that I didn’t have to water the plants and we could talk daily now about other things! I measured my bathtub water meter – 55 mm, most of it (46 mm or about 1.75 inches) in a short downpour. IT RAINED!!! Thanks for all your prayers. Now try concentrating on my current Lottery ticket!

Enter – the Insects

The cat, Extra, who lived on my balcony, returned home screaming for food. Despite daily feedings left for her, she was skinnier than I could imagine a living cat. She would only eat Tuna, not the kibble that was left for her all summer. I went to get another flavour of dry cat food I’d stored in the storeroom. Turkey and vegetables, something perhaps more delightful to her palette. As I carried it kitchenward, I felt the first sting – an invasion of ants was living INSIDE the cat food bag. Although all taped up, these tiniest of ants, fire ants, had laid claim to the whole 3 kg bag. Having saved the bag in the first place, only to be found in one store in Vallarta, I wasn’t about to give it up. How to salvage it? I pulled out the red handled strainer with holes that probably would permit these tiny ants to pass through. Success- Exito! – I strained and stored the food in the largest of yogurt containers in the fridge, and crushed or drowned the ants.

If that seemed less than yogic of me, I was about to receive my karmic due. I was preparing to tuck in and up to the loft or “topanco” I went. As I prepared the bed, I realized the mosquito net had not been tied down for who knew how long. A blanket was thinly spread over the mattress. Miette, the cat, stretched across the middle of the it, very cranky from the heat, and hissing her dissatisfaction as I moved her off the blanket. At the same time as heeding her warning and avoiding her claws, I kept my eyes open, wondering where I’d be if I was a scorpion. Sure enough, a small yellow one was waving its barbed poisonous tail menacingly as I lifted the blanket. It was situated about where I’d have laid my head, if I’d been too exchausted to think and check carefully. These are the most toxic of the three scorpions known for the area. I chose “ A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving for my weapon, and slid the scorpion inside and pressed hard.

This in fact was the 2nd scorpion of the day. The other favorite hiding spot for them in my house is on the bathroom fabric curtain dividing it from the kitchen. This one was a BIG yellow one. I chased it with a broom handle and big stone until we connected. I lay the specimen out for new students to witness. Coincidentally its old suit, a perfect replica of skin, lay beside it. The armies of red ants didn’t leave it alone for very long.

To allay the fears of my readers, scorpions are NOT that commonly witnessed. The fact that I’d seen 2 in one afternoon is testimony to the fact that no one had lived in the house for months. They had moved in, and not far enough out of the way for my liking. The one in the bed has unnerved me sufficiently to send me to my computer, rather than to enjoy that relaxed, welcomed and deserved sleep I’d planned. The curtain will be changed to plastic and the mosquito net will always remain properly in place.

I didn’t have a fire ant problem last summer. However, Irma and Angel probably sprayed and I haven’t let them near the place with pesticides, even the one friendly to plants that Angel offered me. Tonight after picking up a chicken bone off the floor, and receiving many nasty bites from these little horrors, I’ve decided to see Angel first thing tomorrow about that can of nasty chemicals.

Insects Rule 

Other insects are also fully present in the summers. Any light or flame draws multitudes. Only the mentally afflicted dare wear a Petzl head lamp. Some of the beetles are so large that when they collide with you, not an infrequent occurrence near any light source, it genuinely causes pain and definitely shock. Many beetles remain stranded on their backs on the floor. Here’s where those fearless tiny red ants and their unstoppable columns come in useful. The smallest insect down is immediately surrounded and devoured. The bad news is it’s impossible to put down a plate of cat food for more than a minute. Everything has its place in the jungle. Except perhaps we humans.

World Cup Soccer Finals – July 9, 2006

Football mania is on the rise. The big headliner FIFA World Cup Football (soccer) Final is Sunday at noon. Italy and France. Who would miss it? The vote from Lalo, Octavio and Jorge at the dock in PV was for Italy. Ana Rosa’s family with whom I watched the first half were all for France. For the 2nd half, Merriane from Montreal, Quebec and I headed to the billiard hall with the huge TV screen. Never a woman inside, so we broke convention.

They couldn’t have been sweeter – offering chairs, and even putting a curtain on the bathroom, previously unnecessary. They all seemed fans of Italy, I found out as I let out a “whoopee” at some French moment of glory. It was all but glorious to see France lose after 2 overtime periods and a 5 penalty kick shoot out. Especially not glorious to see Zidane, their captain, resort to a vindictive head butt of a player in retaliation for a yet to be determined oral offence, and then kicked off the field. Even Guanajuatan David’s dog was recruited in Italy’s cheering section – paws clapping after each brilliant move.

The Kinder Grad

As mentioned in previous entries, they celebrate just about everything here in Mexico. The kindergarten students had a huge graduation celebration. In Canada I worked as a teaching assistant in a K to 3 one room school house, and we would get most often the regular few moms who weren’t working come to activities and a rare dad. This event was very well attended by just about anyone who was a parent of any school aged child AND the others interested in seeing such cuteness!! Check the pics! There were lots of photo ops and they were decked out in beautiful graduating class whites.

The most amazing thing is how well behaved Mexican children are. There was no screaming, fighting, crying or chasing each other around. Imagine 25 kids, aged 5-6 years sitting without parents at a table patiently waiting at least 20 minutes for food, with 3 beautifully iced cakes sitting on the tables in front of them. No little fingers in the icing. At one point they let out a chant of – Pollo, pollo, pollo – “chicken, chicken, chicken” knowing they all were waiting for Jaime’s famous barbecued pollo from his restaurant Pollo Bollo (chicken bun? – makes no sense, but rhymes). I’m always amazed at Mexican patience. At 6 they’ve already developed it. I might have it mastered at 60!

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