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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year in Mazatlan

I've been living in Mazatlan for about two months now. It's a steamy port city at the entrance to the Sea of Cortez, directly east from the tip of the Baja peninsula. From high places in any part of the city, you can always see water on three sides, as its curving half-moon bay is pinned by two deep harbors, where two rivers make their way down from the Sierra Madres to the east. In the shelter of the islands at the north end of the bay, where the beaches are broadest and the swimming is best, glitzy hotels and high-rise condos elbow for space with nightclubs, jewelry stores, and american chain restaurants. La Zona Dorada, "The Golden Zone". No one ever found El Dorado, but the Mexicans seem happy enough with this place. Walk the streets or the sands around there looking remotely like a tourist, and you will be assaulted with offers for taxis, timeshares, diamonds, city tours, cowboy hats, parasailing... all in various approximations of English. I get this almost every day.
At the south end of the bay, the old city pours over three hills, and runs up against the ocean on two sides, and the harbor. Here, the crumbling old spanish buildings, with their graceful high windows and ceilings and ornate ironwork, are hidden on narrow streets among more utilitarian cinderblock houses. Some, nearest the beach, the theater and the two old cathedrals have been well cared for, and are beautifully painted and surrounded with trees. Others, especially near the gritty riot of stores and street vendors surrounding the market, are covered in graffiti and falling in on themselves. Between the two main parts of the city, a boardwalk along the water. And a maze of cinderblock buildings with unevenly paved streets around the southern harbor, giving way to more ramshackle buildings and dirt roads in the outlying parts of town.

My apartment is in the old center, perched on one of the hills above the market. From the terrace on the roof, you can see most of the city. To the east the Pacifico beer factory, hulking cruise ships in the harbor. The old town, cathedral, and a glimpse of the lighthouse to the west, three islands in the bay and La Zona Dorada to the north. Three airy rooms and a small balcony of white walls and red tile on the top floor, all mine for $150 dollars a month. I have been enjoying having space all to myself for the first time in my life. The sink nearly fell off the wall last week, I've only managed to furnish it with an air mattress, a mat, and two plastic lawn chairs, and every once in a while, the lock jams my door closed and I have to dangle shoelaces or pens through a crack in the door panel until I can pull the catch open from outside... but that said, I love it. It's always full of light and fresh sea air. And I've never lived anywhere so peaceful.
Every morning, I wake up and do some yoga watching the sunrise from the east facing window in my room, then throw on some clothes, lock all three locks on my door, and drop down the stairs and the steep hill I live on to the market. All the busses stop at the market. Vendors are just opening that time of morning, so its too early for the delicious street tacos and fresh coconuts, and you have to dodge puddles of filthy wash water, and men carrying buckets of vegetables and pigs heads into the market building. But the juice stand on the corner of the market opens early, so I'll grab an orange juice or a liquado for breakfast, and then hop on the bus to La Zona Dorada to go to work. Recently, I've been biking there down the boardwalk on the clunker bike Silvestre lent me, or picking up tourists at the cruise ship docks as well.
My work is with an ecotourism company in the heart of tourist-land. The building has fake mayan sculptures, an artificial waterfall, and a climbing wall in front. It was the climbing wall that made me poke my head in and ask if they needed guides when I first walked by. And three days later I was working there... belaying kids up the climbing wall, sending people down the zip line to the beach, and more recently translating all kinds of things for their website and guiding kayak tours on the islands as well. It's been fun, if not exactly what I expected. I've been spending more of my time trying to keep them organized doing the most basic things, recently, instead of developing new programs. But I'm learning a lot about how business works, in the process. And after work, I am free to swim and watch the sun go down. I've been doing a lot of reading, and I still drop in for dinner with Silvestre's family. He's been teaching me how to drive his motorcycle, and I've been teaching him English. My other good friend in Mazatlan, Issac, just sold the supermarket he ran near my work, so I can no longer drop in on him at any hour... but we've gotten out fishing by the cliffs of the lighthouse a few afternoons, and I think that might be worth the trade.


Anonymous Ross Donaldson said...

Glad to hear you're doing well down there! Sorry to hear you like it so much -- Mazatlan is even farther away than Portland! (I kid. But seriously -- that's really far away.)

Drop me a line sometime, and take care of yourself!

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