It's snowing. It's been snowing here for three days now. As I sit in my squeaky rocking chair in the big-windowed alcove where I blog, I can see only black, white and gray outside the window. Black branches rimmed with thick lines of white. A gray squirrel puffed up and huddled in a treetop. The wind scoops the powdery snow off the roof of our neighbor's house and scatters it in small explosions in the air.
In a little while, I will have to go and shovel. Again.
But before I do, maybe we need another little getaway. Somewhere warm, this time. How about Mexico?
Playing Chinese checkers
with the Mexican military
The first time Joey and I went to Mexico--we have been there twice--I was astounded by the commerce. By the people who mobbed us on the sidewalk, trying to sell us baskets and pottery; by the children who followed us, plaintively trying to sell us Chiclets; by their thin, tired mothers, who sat on blankets surrounded by silver jewelry; by the middle-aged men who took our arms and guided us across the street, unasked, and then wanted money for it; by the photographers who took our picture as we read on the beach and then got angry when we did not want to buy the images.
Yes, we were in Acapulco. I am really not sure what I had expected. It was 1989; I'd never considered going to Mexico before; I'd never been anywhere warm. It was a spur-of-the-moment, let's get away from Duluth in endless winter, Sun Country is having a sale, kind of trip. I guess I had not expected anything, really, except warmth and sunshine.
We stayed at the Hotel Tortuga. Our room had a balcony that overlooked a narrow dirt path that led to a tin-roofed shack and a yard with chickens and a donkey. I liked to hang over the balcony and stare into the yard and wonder who lived there; occasionally, you'd see a small child dart by, but mostly it was very quiet except for the roosters.
The dirt path was bordered on the far side with a high wooden fence. Vendors from the main street walked down the path and stood in front of the wall with great regularity. Once, when I was out on the balcony, snooping on them, one of them turned and waved.
Later, I met him on the street. He was selling baskets. I did not recognize him, but he remembered me. With hand gestures, laughter and smiles, he indicated that he had seen me earlier, on the balcony. This was embarrassing, because I had only just realized why they all kept visiting the wall -- the vendors had to pee somewhere.
His baskets were decorated with giant straw flowers and fol-de-rol, and I tried to walk away, but he stopped me. He dug around for awhile on his cart and came up with an absolutely plain straw basket, beautifully and tightly woven. I smiled broadly and bought it. And vowed to stay off my balcony for the rest of the trip. (A note on the craftsmanship: That basket is almost 20 years old, and it is still in good shape.)
For three days, Joey and I hung out on the tourist beach by our hotel, reading in the sun, buying sweet blue and red drinks from a cart, admiring the aquamarine sea, wondering if we would ever dare to try parasailing (we wouldn't).
But the guide book indicated another beach, a local beach. A quieter beach. And so on our third or fourth day, off we went.
This beach was, indeed, far less touristy. Mexican families lounged in beach chairs. Small children ran and shrieked in the sand. There were juice carts here, too, but nobody took our picture, and nobody asked us for money.
We decided to take a glass-bottomed boat tour of the lagoon. We packed into the turquoise boat with dozens of Mexican families and it chugged out into the impossibly blue-green water, headed for a small island.
A man poled next to us in a small flat-bottomed boat, loaded with souvenirs. Joey and I laughed.
The island was small and rocky. Most of the families spread their towels out on the rocks and opened up their lunch baskets. Joey and I decided to take a walk. We followed a path over the rocks and to the top of the hill, where we came across a small cinderblock building, and young men. Young men with guns.
We smiled back. We were afraid not to.
They looked very young. Two had machine guns slung over their shoulders, and two wore pistols strapped to their hip. They spoke a bit of English. We spoke a bit of Spanish. They wanted to know where our husbands were. Back at the hotel, we said. Napping. (From what we knew of husbands--which we didn't have--that seemed plausible.)
We chatted for awhile. They had heard of Minnesota. They knew it was cold. How were we liking Mexico?
After a while, one of the men went into the building and came out with a Chinese checkers set. Ah. A true common language!
We played game after game. Each of them wanted a chance to play with each of us. The sun beat down. We were hot and laughing. We were playing Chinese checkers with young men with machine guns. We assume they were National Guard, or possibly the local police, but the details of who they were and why they were armed were never made clear.
When it was time to go, we stood up and made our goodbyes. The men were polite--except for one. He tried to detain us. He wanted to meet us later. No, no, we said. Our husbands...
He followed us down the path, over the rocks, to the beach. He tried to stop us from getting in the boat. But there were many people around, and even though he had a gun, we weren't afraid. Adios! we said. Gracias para Chinese checkers!
And we got back in the boat and headed for the mainland.
The rest of the trip was a blur of touristy events: We went to Festiva night at the hotel, where men in embroidered pants played guitars and sang. Someone plopped giant velvet sombreros on our heads and took our picture; that one, we bought, if only to destroy the evidence. We went to a bullfight. We went to watch the cliff divers. We took a cab to a nearby village that was famous for its sunsets, and lounged in woven hammocks and drank Coronas.
And every now and then, we looked at each other with amazement and said, Did we really play checkers with five men with guns?
A note on the photos: The top photo I took on Saturday morning in our park.
All the others are from that trip; most were taken by Joey. You can see the Peeing Wall behind me in the balcony picture, and if you look hard you can see the little house at the top of the steep path, and you can see the donkey.