February 9, 2015
Journey of the lotus: All the Fine Princes
In any kind of journey, people are all important. Even if I am rowing myself solo across the Atlantic, there is some one other person or persons to whom I am related, to whom I wish to return and who I would wish to thank for supporting me. Two of these three criteria fit me and so this small piece honors the Princes who have showed up for me as I have taken this kind of solo roll across a continent to another. Even if they do not remember, this is my remembrance of gratitude for what they did in service.
It seems that at every turn, in every place there was a smiling face and a helpful gesture. I asked Pemex station men if I could park in behind in the truck parking only to be waved through with their kind of welcoming, knowing I would be just fine thank you to sleep through the night in their lot.
There was a gardener with small, full, green lush piece of ground, a middle aged grey haired wiry guy who came out of his garden gate to offer me ‘ok to park’ after I had seen his sign: food for birds. I figured he might be compassionate to critters and old ladies in vans seeking a sleep at the golden scarlet end of day.
There was a bartender who quite lovingly and masterfully constructed a truly marvelous traditional margarita for a Christmas Eve celebration. His finesse with limes was memorable.
There was a young guy sitting at the counter of a country restaurant somewhere in the hills past Tepic. He had three tall bar stools to re-string with colored plastic cord and he was quick: I watched him finish one and another while I ate a meal there. Being a skilled craftsperson myself, I am always appreciative of other kinds of skill, artistry and mastery.
In El Salvador, in the small border town of Puente Arce, I saw two not so young men who I am certain went through the assorted mayhem of the Sandanista regime and the American ‘occupation’ thereafter that were the part of the warrior back bone of their village, instrumental in their survival and now of their slow but sure recovery.
There is a mighty and timeless honor among the men of the Red Lodge and I am thankful to witness it.
There was a handsome patrician Spanish Patron whose house I slept outside of in Santa Ana. He kept horses and his man, as he passed me sitting in the van, probably called the older man to come to talk to me. I was waiting for him and we quickly negotiated one night and touched fingers as our mutual salute to honor. I understood and he knew it.
Some moments of human contact last forever in memory as this one will in mine.
There was one young smiling MacDonald’s employee who gave something more than the usual service. Yes, there was wifi around the corner and he brought the tray of coffee with sugar and cream on board – and another one of his smashing smiles.
Somewhere along the road, I had picked up a nail in the front left tire. It was soft and slowly losing air. Not good. Must find a fix. I had asked the young man in the bank where I should go and as I cruised the streets, I found the Goodyear dealership. I rolled in through the gate to be greeted by a dark, short smiling guy who indicated the bay where I should park the van. As I watched him rummage in his tool box for an even bigger socket, I unlocked my door and pulled out the 1 1/8 lug wrench I had pursued before I left and handed it to him. “How many people bring their own wrench?” Even though he did not understand English, he understood the joke! We laughed and he did the repair: 100 pesos, about $4.50! I’m rolling.
One morning there was a definite moment to refill the jugs with clean water. As I drove the highland area where I was, I came upon the sign: agua artesian. Shortly, I saw a new building constructed of rough lumber still golden in newness. Pulling into the open space in front, Gregory came out onto the veranda to greet me. Seems he brews and distills mezcal, the pure original tequila liquor in four different classes: today, yesterday, a couple years ago and four years ago. Along with telling me about his family of 4 children, his wife, and his property with the artesian well, he has a world business of those people who come past his place.
By the time I had crossed Mexico to the border of Guatemala, I had entered into a whole new ball game found especially in Central America, specifically the borders at Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua where the law for white tourists is interpreted a little differently than the law for fluent local Spanish people and truckers. As I rolled near to the boundary, Victor Manuel Lopez Mendes presented himself to be my benefactor to guide me through the craters and assorted hazards of the crossing. It took two days: first day the van went to the inside parking lot for the day and the entry immigration stamped my passport.
Parking on the street outside the lot but not through the border during the night, I watched the life of the townspeople from the local restaurant owner and his wife serving people and later eating their own meal. I watch people next to me take blankets out of their packs and bed down on the steps of the restaurant establishment at the door of which I was also sleeping in my van. I watched the young men cruising, I noted the older guys with handfuls of currency and power at their exchange business. I watched the much too young men (all are grandchildren!) in army camo and automatic guns across their shoulders pounding in big steel toed boots trying to look casual on a stroll through the town.
At night, in the eerie lights of the town under the pale mystery of the second quarter gibbous moon, the whole scene changed from the tawdry, gritty shabbiness of the day time into a stage setting for a magical mystery play until it was empty of every human leaving only the shadowy other worldly spirits roaming the street.
Next day Victor showed up once again and we completed everything: vehicle permit, immigration and customs. I paid him a fee a little steep for my budget but, under the circumstances, acceptable for the magnificent integrity he showed to me.
George Uno became the epitome of the son of the High King when he came forward to greet me once I had passed from Guatemala into the zone of El Salvador. I had already been turned back by a beautiful young woman, an utterly arbitrary gesture that just did not compute properly in the larger scheme of what I was going for. Her ‘no’ was simply not the right answer.
George, he reported later, recognized me immediately and began a successful crossing negotiation that included a proper immigration stamp on my passport given by the same young woman, a vehicle permit and a customs inspection of all my household. Passed and permitted. Thank you very much.
Sometimes during my travel, it is important to take a meal that I have not prepared for myself in the van. Usually I treat myself to what I cannot normally find in aborrates: fishes. In one small town, I noted a restaurant with a veranda at the highway’s edge with a kitchen just inside under the sloping roof. I pulled into a small spot and came out to a table where I sat. A tall, totally handsome, skinny young husband, came out and in rapid Spanish asked me what it was I wanted to eat.
It’s not that I actually understood, but what else would I be asking for? I knew: mariscos. He showed me a small fish and after I nodded he went to work producing a delicious complete meal with salad, rice, beans and tortillas, and the small mariscos tenderly cooked in corn batter. While he cooked, I played hide and seek with his very young boy, held the baby for a minute while smiling appreciatively with his young wife. While I ate, I invited his mother, a skilled embroidery artist who had done the cloths on the tables, to visit with me and we smiled together in admiration of our mutual sewing skills.
Meals like this are more satisfying than simply the food. What a blessing!
There were some reluctant princes. In one highland area through a long stretch between Pemex stations, it became necessary to find about 5 gallons of gas to get me through. A burly kid in front of amercado had what I wanted. He did not make himself completely clear at the outset what he wanted and so after he siphoned the gas, there were a few minutes of stress until he realized that I was not interested in cheating him. I already knew that he was asking about the price of an extra gallon for the 5 that went into my tank. Muy Gracias.
The trip out of Acapulco was a three time pass past the exit to Highway 200 leading southward to Pinotepa Nacional. I was very confused because the center of town was blocked at one point at what was the usual exit place and had to be navigated around.
That took the special attention of a gentleman in a Walmart mall, a travel advisor named Armando and his crew of two young women and two men. Our encounter yielded specific directions for me and a renewal of six hearts that the human family of which we are each and every one a part, is indeed well and thriving in a mall in Acapulco.
It shows me again that the life of the Spirit is eternal and immediately with us.
Then there were the very last moments in Mexico at the border town of Tapachula. I had negotiated the night before to park at a Pemex station that was permitted by a young security man in a crisp white shirt.
Waking in the morning, I determined that it would be prudent to check the oil and water properly, the transmission fluids and the overall state of the engine. Driving slowly over to the diesel pumps, there was a man about 50 who presented himself. I asked him to open the hood and take care of business. He obliged, charmingly and diligently, with the proper 2 quarts and a half of oil, and a couple gallons of water in the rad. The tranny was ok. I had checked the day before to be told I was fine but something said to check again. I gave this guy a good tip as he showed me to the gas pumps on the other side.
Here, as I rolled in, were four young guys just hanging around and they always will. With smiles, laughter and a little kidding, these four musketeers immediately pumped a fill of gas, washed with hoses and cleaned my windshield as we all laughed, I took pictures and we just quite thoroughly enjoyed the jokes that are really very close to the surfaces of the human heart. What a send off from Mexico!
In natural tribal societies, Grandmother knows the children and she is their advocate. In Manzanillo, I was turning around and around in the barrio areas seeking the road 200 south out of town. Although I knew I was close, I was not quite turning the chambers of the lock of the roads to the right opening. I stopped at a curb beside an ‘alto’ sign, waiting for the signal for the next move when who rolls alongside in a nifty black and white police motorcycle, a really cute young guy who had a bouquet of flowers stashed across the handlebars of the bike obviously for his girl?
“Por favor!” I call out. He takes off his helmet as he reaches for the map in my hand. Looking at it for just a minute, he says, clearly: ‘Follow me!” He replaces his helmet, revs the cycle and off he goes with me in pursuit up and down a couple streets, across the rail track and finally down a nearly empty road to a wide three way entry with one of those green highway signs over one of them: Highway 200. He was so sweet a young man, I got out my camera not to miss this opportunity and what does he do: a little jig on the cycle as I snap his picture. What a guy! What a lucky girl!
As I left the renewal project of Ixtapac on the dry windy highlands near the southern border, I had to turn around and around until I found just the right entrance to the cuota highway and what turned out to be about the best road of them all in Mexico. The booth was manned by a very sweet, sober looking mature man, a little portly as we used to say in Victoria, with grey curling hair at his temples and a grey mustache.
Now, in places where I know my English and their Spanish are not exactly understood, the universal language of smiles, laughter and hand gestures always works. In a few seconds, we understood each other perfectly as he charmingly waved me onward after paying a 30 peso toll.
In many places, it was needed and wanted to find the right road. I had cruised around the town of Hidalgo Union through the town square with the church on one side and the mercado opposite, around and about the grid of dirt streets some of them trenched and torn up, until I came upon an open faced young man with his baby son on his shoulders. He indicated that I return to the cuota road and make a right turn south. It was once again a sweet moment of connection with the earnest and compassionate parenthood of the human family. Another day to grow up all over again!
The Princes each and every one made a difference on the day we greeted each other. Their service came easily and naturally from the center of the humanity within them. Imagine gratitude! Imagine the delight, the utter charm as well as great gales of laughter! We can trust this anywhere and at any time. How sweet is this?