Monday, May 11, 2015

Stationary in a Seaside Mexican Surf Village

Drinking vodka straight, just felt a little too Slavic. I splashed in Midori to change the color and throw a blanket over the bitter taste of chemical potatoes. Then it was too sweet, so I crushed in a lime. Life is a balancing act. And so began my new chapter, and life in Sayulita, Mexico. One dominated by surfing and drinking, yet going to school 5 days a week. Sweet and sour was the drink that I celebrated with when I parked my rig for the next 3 months in a stranger’s driveway.
My 5' 10" Mini Simmons

True to my promise after bidding bon voyage to Dan and Ashley of S/V Coyote fame (they made it safely across the largest expanse of saltwater on the planet and are now in the Marquesas Islands) I drove the few miles to La Cruz.
I stayed a week and watched the carnival roll into town to help the locals celebrate Semana Santa. These gypsies in the jalopy that I parked next to in the plaza lifted the manhole in the sidewalk, disappeared into the sewer below and reemerged with a live electrical cable that they spliced into, and voila, they had power. I watched another man climb a telephone pole and do the same trick. It was ingenious, but dangerous. I guess the cops look the other way so their kids can enjoy the merry-go–round.


A friend invited me to dinner just 20 minutes away at another beach town. The minute I drove into Sayulita I knew I would be leaving La Cruz as soon as possible. There are places around the globe that are immediate magnets for expats. Examples include Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, Da Nang in Vietnam, to name just 3. But if you look a little closer; Pai just north of Chang Mai, Limbongan just east of Bali, and Hoi An near Danang All beat their neighbors easily. Why? They have infrastructure without being ruined by resort or big city mentality. They’ve achieved the critical mass of foreign visitors, that it takes to attract investment to build further infrastructure; to attract more westerners. This eventually cycles into an unattractive ruination of the place, but if you can catch it after they bring in an espresso machine and get out before the “all inclusive” is built, it’s a traveler’s sanctuary. Compare Zihuatanejo to Ixtapa. They are so close they share the same airport but once the 30 foot building rule is deleted from the law books the town gets ruined by the corporate resorts. But until then – they are wonderful because I can get reuben sandwiches and there are white chicks traveling there without boyfriends. My friend and classmate Jan, who has been coming here for 10 years says Sayulita is going to be ruined soon. He knows this because this is the first year he’s seen women walking with baby strollers. An ominous portend of doom. “Too much infrastructure and the clientele changes”. But this year – I rejoice.

I took the bus to Sayulita from La Cruz and spent 4 hours searching for a place to park Elsie. I could have gone to the rv park but I dislike rv parks and this one cost $28 per night. My requirements are pretty simple: flat, shady, affordable, and within walking distance to the sea. I came up empty handed. My new friend Ricardo who owns a restaurant offered to call his friend and help me find a place. Cristobal drove me all around and introduced me to different people until I found a family that for only 500 pesos a week ($33, or $4.75 per night) would allow me to park on their property.
Included in my low price rent was water, sewage hook up and most importantly; electricity. For the first week their 20 amp breaker would pop when I turned on my air conditioning if theirs was already running. I paid to upgrade their electrical panel and gave them some extra money to offset their electric bill increase and now I have unlimited air con. Life quality soaring. I know my European friends will mock this. Smirk all you want. You’re a Luddite and I also unapologetically enjoy ice cubes.

Until I can proficiently speak Spanish I am relegated to speaking only with English speakers. That one fact will brand me an eternal tourist for my entire 3 year journey. That can’t happen. One of the pillars that I stood my reasoning on for choosing this trip is the following: Nowhere else in the world can one cover so much land with only one language. Mexico, Central America, and all of South America (except Brazil and the Guyanas) speak Spanish. That’s 380 million people. The truth is, you can’t really penetrate a culture unless you speak the language. I currently speak Tarzan Spanish, and I no longer find that acceptable. I want real meaningful conversations in Spanish, and I will have it. I have enrolled myself in the language course here in Sayulita. 5 days a week I report to class and most weeks I do private lessons with my teacher Erika after our classes are over.  My world is now overrun with direct and indirect object pronouns which are incredibly difficult. The reflexive pronouns and imperfect tenses scramble my brains, and the “la and “el” guessing game is a spirit breaker.  One morning I caught myself thinking: "I didn't drink last night & I ate a good breakfast this morning so I have no reason to believe it is ever going to get easier." I get so frustrated with Spanish that I want to go in search of a Spaniard & punch him in the face. Then I realize I should really go in search of a Brit and punch him in the face for not doing a better job of dominating the new world. I believe I have earned my USA tattoo with those last 2 sentences.
I’ve constructed the dialogue that I believe occurred during the formalizing of the Spanish language. I will now translate it into English for you:

“No! That’s too easy. Let’s make them work for it. What if we assign genders to each word at random so they have to memorize one more thing?”
“Oh that’s good. I like that. And we can also add accent marks to change the meanings. At first glance it will look like a word you know but the barely visible dash that we can hide in the dot of the letter “i” can change it.”
“That is devious. I love it! Let’s also have 6 different ways to say each verb and let’s make some regular and some irregular conjugations so that just when they think they see a pattern we can dash their hope.”
“Perfect. You are good at this Don Francisco. Maybe we should also make some unpronounceable words like: “caminabamos”, or “estacionamiento”, or “arriesgarse”, or “desperdiciar”, or my current favorite: “tortilleria”
“Yes! That is smart. I think we have done good work here today. My final thought is to also add one more layer of difficulty by making a familiar & a formal version of the language based on with whom one is speaking”
“Brilliant. That should inspire the will to quit!”

Tortillas are so important in this culture that I walk past 3 tortillerias every day. In the morning I get up before the sun to go exercise or surf and they are the only places that are open. “Time to make the tortillas”. Is it the perfect food? It’s a wrapper, it’s a chip, it’s heavy in calories, it’s delicious. It’s the tortilla. It’s the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Never forsake the tortilla.

It’s nice to build a routine. I surf every day. I’ll do dawn patrol at daybreak for a week and then switch to sunset the next week. It's the only way to beat the crowds. During my morning surfs, I tuck 200 pesos in my leash pocket and spend it at breakfast while soaking wet just after I get out of the water. Lifestyle. The sea is my hair stylist. I never wash the salt out. Debutants in New York City are paying top dollar for salt additives to make their hair fuller. Mines free and I wear it all day. 

The mornings are cool until about 10. You can be in full sun until then. If you hide in the shade you can extend that till 11. I get out of class at 13:00 and it’s scorching. I quickly seek relief in the air conditioning of my rig. I call it “Mandatory Siesta”. I set it to the warmest setting and it gets so cold I have to put a hoody on or get under the covers. I’ll nap, read, write, watch a movie or study Spanish. These hot climate people have it figured out. Why fight it? Once the shadows get a little longer and the day begins to cool I venture back out. My afternoons usually look something like this: More surfing, chores, a Spanish intercambio with the jewelry sales force and a nice meal with some cold beers. The sun doesn’t set until 8:30. I’m usually in bed by 11 ready to fight Spanish again the next day. She has bloodied me and blackened my eyes but I can see that the rounds are slowly turning in my favor. I will persevere.  

Spanish is a bitch but I will own her. Reuben sandos good. Baby strollers bad. Sweet and sour is the flavor of life. Balance your act, and drink it in.


Bobby (Freedom Machine) Friedman
P.S. / I’ll be back in California for 2 weddings from May 28th to June 16th


Anonymous said...

you are missed big kid…thank you for sharing your travels, thoughts and feelings.
grateful and inspired, I am.

Peter Dangerfield said...

Thanks Bobby, once again I enjoy your post and pics. Good luck with Spanish I tried it in high school and only remember the sware words! Best. Pete

Anonymous said...

Hey Rob! Vickie Easton here ... an old friend of your mom's who lives in Leucadia. Love your blogs! Just wanted to mention that I found it quite interesting that your first 2 maxims for "living The Dream" are 1.) Don't get married, and 2.) Don't Reproduce! I have had those same two maxims since I was 12 years old, and they have served me well. My dreams are definitely not the same as yours, but my life is awesome and full.
Also, an old client of mine used to have a house in Sayulita, he sold it, but I think his sister still has a place down there. They loved it there.
Take care, and keep on keepin on!

Anonymous said...

I wonder which is harder - Spanish or Japanese?

The other day, we had a Mother's Day party. I asked Ryder, "wasn't that fun? Having the whole family here?" He says, "the whole family wasn't there." I was like, "yeah, they were. Who wasn't here?"

"Cousin Bob."

Talk to you soon, Brina

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