Friday, March 23, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Five: Last Day

This is part five, the final chapter in a series of guest posts from the charming Samantha Bennett...see previous posts here...

Last day. My flight does not leave until 7 tonight. A pall hangs in the air, the day, speckled with goodbyes. A final trip into town where I purchase a silver gecko keychain, so each time I leave and enter my home and car I will touch something to remind me of my time here. I write this from the beach, my last few hours here in the sand. I am hyper aware of all the ‘lasts’- last lunch with Mumsy, last swim in the Spanish surf. My heart is already in knots, thinking of saying goodbye to Mum. This has been our first holiday alone together, and we have discovered we are good room-mates, and compadres. Our energies and preferences are similar enough that we weave around and through each other with ease. She sits near me now, reading in our palapa, and I miss her already. Christ. I am such a sap today. I walk to the shore to have a final saunter through the shallows. I go years without my beloved Sea, so I murmur endearments to her, which costs me a suspicious glance from a tourist matron waddling by. I resist the impulse to roll my eyes back into my head and gibber at her.

Right. Time now for goodbyes. I take a deep breath and prepare to run the farewell gauntlet, Mumsy at my side. Out of the condo and down the path we reach Anita-Tata. Candy Kay and Mads say soft, sweet things into my ear as we embrace. Anita gives me last minute hand luggage advice and a hard hug. Then it’s past the pool-side crew, Tequila Bob at the helm, as always, everyone waving and calling out to me, and then the courtyard and the waiting taxi. Angus and Helen Mirren are there and we hug too. I am sad not to be able to say goodbye to Jayme – lovely James- and Cathy, but suddenly they appear, out of breath, grinning, delicious, and right into my waiting arms. At last I turn to my Mother. Mom. Mum. Mumsy. We both fight tears and hold tight. No one is harder to say goodbye to than her. We whisper to each other and pull apart at last. I am so glad to be leaving her in this place surrounded by her adored sun and surf, and the love and protection of so many stalwart friends. Long have I yearned to be in the company of a group of gals a little farther along the road than me, and my wish has come true. These ladies are strong, brave, compassionate, silly and wise. I stare out the back of the cab at Mum as it drives me off. She is grinning through her tears and holding her beer bottle aloft in salute. Thank you, Mum. For making this truly magical fortnight possible. For taking such joy in seeing me happy. For the wonder that is you. Te amo!

Huge thanks to Samantha for allowing me to share her story. I'm honoured to be her friend and to have such a talented person in my life. All the best Sammy, come back to Mexico soon, but closer to Cancun, ok?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Four: Ixtapa Island and further ex-pats

This is part four of a series of guest posts from the marvelous Samantha Bennett....see previous posts here

Sammy and the Sea

Never turn your back on the sea. It will tumble you like dice. Up becomes down. All control is torn from you in one wet reeling moment. Outstanding.

Whole fish experience

Madeline’s kids arrive today. Fresh blood! Mads has been skipping about all morning in anticipation, and when they arrive I can see why. Twinkley, handsome Michael and his pretty wife, Michelle. Mad’s daughter Cathy and her wife, Audrey. Everyone friendly, happy. We group troop to Maxim’s for supper and I make the dubious choice of ordering a whole red snapper, which arrives, of course, with head and tail, one dead eye staring glassily up at me from the plate. I stare back silently until Jayme offers to de-bone the thing for me. I can’t get it into her hands fast enough, and watch with fascinated horror as she neatly chops off the head, slits its belly open, and removes its entire rib cage and spinal cord. I pretend to be pleased when she hands its torn remains back to me, but those horrible women, Cathy and Audrey, sitting across from me, are giggling at my expression and snapping shots of my queasy face with Mum’s camera. Vile girls. And they seemed so nice. Later, we three go for a late night dip in the pool, and I contemplate quietly drowning them both, but jailhouse grey is not my colour, and alas, they are both charming.

 Henna tattoo on the beach

Ixtapa island! Reached by little boats which putt-putt us the 10 minutes across the waves. Today the swells by the docks at both ends are big enough that it takes two brown and brawny men to try and hold the boat to the dock, while another to help us in. The boat is swaying and dipping, suddenly moving 3 feet away from the dock as someone is about to step in, then slamming against the stone, nearly crushing our legs. We all make it, even Candy Kay, aged 87, although her niece, Cathy, helping her, says she could feel her heart, jackrabbit fast. There is never a complaint or a gasp from this gal. She follows instructions and stays safe. I find out later she is petrified of water. She is Queen of The Troopers, that Kay, adventuring right along with the rest of us, cracking crude jokes about mice, and somehow remaining a thorough little lady. On the island, which is lovely of course, we all decide to get henna tattoos. I choose a gecko. Mum and Mads get hummingbirds dipping into lilies. Cathy gets a dolphin, and Kay? Kay wants to know what sort of tattoo will get her into the army base on a day pass. The amused local says he can give her a big letter K, and she settles for this, although she grumbles it won’t be much good without her phone number under it. We all have the best time.

New friends

On my last night we end up back at Che Mangiano. Patti and I dance all night and she invites me to see the ‘real Ixtapa.’ Mum is naturally anxious at this development but Cathy convinces her I will be fine, then tells me to never leave my drink un-attended. Sound advice. I get a lot of advice from all these dames. All of it sound. Affectionate. I have had a bounty of Mums these last two weeks , and rather than it being annoying, it has made me feel warm and happy. When I am left alone on the dance floor, I turn to Patti who pulls me into her arms, yelling ‘Girl, you are all mine now! Time to re-load. Come on.’We pile into the SUV belonging to band-mate Ralph, along with bass player Roberto and Patti’s beau, Mango Dave. We drive 10 minutes to Planet Beer, a big doughnut of tavernas and juke joints. Cars slowly cruise. Gaggles of girls in  tiny skirts saunter the boardwalk. Hot rods blare music from mounted speakers. I smell beer, exhaust, frying tortillas. It is a deafening cacophony. Patti says this is where the locals come after work, after putting the tourists to bed. We grab beers, and wander, stopping outside an open-air restaurant blaring 70’s funk, and dance on the sidewalk. They drop me off outside my gates, and Patti and I hug goodbye with promises to email, facebook, and assorted other missives of the millennium. Tomorrow is my last day.

(to be continued....Meeting Mexico the Final Chapter)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Three: Zihua and Barra de Potosi

This is part three of a series of guest posts from my beautiful friend Samantha Bennett.... see previous posts here

Sweet Sammy and the beach dogs

The town of Zihuatanejo has been a fishing village for many decades. Everyone calls it Zihua ( Zeewa). Resorts and high rises tried to move in but were unsuccessful. Locals said no, and they said no firmly. The town hunkers down around a lovely bay filled with ships and boats of all sizes. Hills rise up on three sides, and ramshackle houses cluster everywhere. Little open-air stalls rub elbows with the pricier boutiques that can afford a glass front and door. Everyone talks to us as we walk by: “Hola Senorita! Good price for you today. Almost free!” The shops bulge with bright cotton dresses, jewellery of silver, obsidian, shells and wood. Carvings too of dolphins, turtles, swordfish, whale. Lean dogs slink around the moving cars and wander the streets, some of them clearly sick with mange, fleas, and a host of other afflictions. The Mothers look particularly exhausted and my chest and stomach cramp with sadness. I stop frequently to pet them, and the lean cats too. I do see some well-fed animals, usually with an ex pat. Patti tells me the police and locals often bring animals to the homes of the ex pats, knowing they will take them. Her friend has 7 dogs and 4 cats and Patti herself has 3 dogs. If I lived here, my home would fill up with animals over-night, while I would end up on the beach sleeping on a tea towel.

Barra de Potosi

Anita is shepherding a group of people, including Mumsy and I, to a far-flung beach called Barra de Potosi. We take a couple buses and then find ourselves in the back of a tarp-roofed truck, rumbling along pitted roads to the sea. The countryside is dry and wild, with rudimentary fences of sun-bleached wood and cacti twice as tall as me. Goats and cows graze and stare. We come to a dusty cluster of stores, and beyond the beach-side restaurants and a stunning beach, wide and calm. Long tables under thatched roofs await us and Fernando the proprietor of La Condesa greets Anita as an old friend. Two thin dogs, both girls, rise from the sand, timidly, hopefully wagging their tails. I go and sit with them and they shove their soft noses into my armpits and lap. So many dogs with no names. I bet they have names for each other. Secret names we will never know. We order beer. We order shots of tequila and creamy shrimp nestled in avocado halves. Many people are feeding the dogs from the table, and even tho they are obviously very hungry, they always take the food gently. I meet Anita’s friend Dee. She is a broad, in the best sense of the word, and her silver hair is slicked at the sides and straight up into a pompadour. She is loud and shiny, and we take to each other at once. Mumsy and I go for a beach walk and the shore side is sparsely populated with little bungalow motels and quaint b and b’s. Not a high-rise in sight. Back under the thatched palapa our table is strewn with beach jewels, presided over by a girl named Yadira. Anita has known her since she was 14, and 5 years later she has a husband and two children. Anita can never remember her name so calls her Velveeta, which Yadira accepts with grave courtesy. I buy bracelets for my Montreal posse. We all buy jewels. I can’t haggle with her. I know they expect it, and everyone else is doing it, but they are so poor, and those few extra dollars might make a big difference. I pay the price she asks, and hand over the bill. I glance away, and when I look back I see her quietly make the sign of the cross, and, eyes closed, kiss the bill quickly before stuffing it into her tattered bag.

Fishermen and birds

Birds here are numerous and varied, with names like the Great-tailed Grackle, the Kiskadee, the Vermillion Flycatcher. Ibis, both grey and white, Egrets both Great and Snowy. There is a primordial quality to the pelican, iguana, gecko and the dreaded crocs. Every day and all day the pelicans dive for fish 100 feet out from our beach. Straight down and at the last minute their wings fold and they splash clumsily into the waves. Rather than the dangly pouch I am accustomed to seeing in pictures, their beaks are long and sharp. It is not until they catch the fish and are floating in the water with a full mouth does the pouch descend, only to disappear as soon as they begin to dive again. Frigate birds wheel higher still and the herons daintily pick their way along the shore.

Every night my dreams are bountiful- long sagas, faces not seen for years. I hang out with Anna Paquin. I sing and dance, occasionally rescue strangers. They are Save the Day dreams.

(to be continued....Meeting Mexico Part 4)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part Two: Ixtapa

This is part two of a series of guest posts from my wonderful friend Samantha Bennett, recounting her tales of her recent first visit to Mexico. Click here for part one.


Ixtapa once consisted entirely of coconuts, miles and miles of plantation acreage. In the 1970’s developers moved in and hotels sprang up along the beautiful beach. We leave the compound and walk to the town along manicured boulevards and pretty sidewalks inlaid with shell and stone. It is very clean, very neat, until we reach a sort of flea market, dozens of little stalls crammed together. I feel like I am in Mexico again when I enter here. It is dirty, smelly, hot and raucous, stuffed with jewels, bright clothes, ceramics, key chains, bags, hats. You name it and it is probably available to you. After 30 minutes of this I am claustrophobic and dart back out to the open air with Mumsy, and we continue our stroll past their version of 7 eleven, Oxxo, past Scruples, the big grocery store, and end up on the pretty side-walk patio of Salsa, where we order 2 for 1 margaritas and kick back. We are talking about Mum’s breast cancer a decade before, subsequent lumpectomy, and clean bill of health.

Me: If it was me, I would want to see the cancerous lump once it was excised.

Her: Oh, I did ask to see it. It looked like a lump of hamburger.

Me: Wow. Raw or cooked?

Her: Raw of course. Who on earth would want to cook it?

We settle easily into a routine, with days alternating between beach and adventures outside the complex, and nights alternating between dinners out and staying in. I love the evenings in with Mumsy. We cook, we set the table, complete with candles, and feast. The produce is incredible, as is the various fish. Conversation is free-flowing and intimate, with the strains of Duke Ellington wafting from my laptop. Then we each grab a book and slip into our beds for a long read, punctuated with chat. Mum tells me an exchange she had on the beach with Lady Kay, 87 years young.

Mum: (gazing skyward) I don’t recognise those birds up there. (pointing to some aimlessly circling)

Kay (speaking with authority) Fakawi

Mum: Fakawi?

Kay: Yes. Where the fuck are we?

A waterway winds through our condo complex, tangled and swampy, rising and falling with the tides. Crocodiles slide along the surface, scaly barges. Their slow watchful-ness is highly discomfiting. The white, pretty birds, Ibis, wade near the shore and keep a close eye on them. Last night we heard an awful screaming as a crocodile caught one and dragged it under. They can jump ten feet into the air. They can run faster than me. They make my blood run as cold as their own. The golf course is on either side of this canal, and in the mornings, at low tide, the Mexican caddies wade in to retrieve the balls. There are more than a few hands with fingers missing.

Before leaving Montreal I contacted friend Kelly, a Canuck now living in Cancun, and she put me in touch with a Canuck in Zihuatanejo, Patti. We have had a few tentative email exchanges and tonight the ladies and I are going to the Ixtapa Marina and Che Mangiano, a roof-top Italian restaurant, where Patti is singing back-up with a band. It is a lovely place but the big logo of Che Guevera in a jaunty Italian fedora would have the dead rebel spinning in his grave. I am nervous awaiting Patti. Never before have I cold-called a stranger and arranged a meeting. Too many variables. The options for lame-ness are endless. She could be stupid or bitchy. She may be one of those chicks who chatter endlessly about nothing. What if she is devoid of a sense of humour? Where will we be then, huh? Huh?? It occurs to me suddenly that I have never even seen a picture of her, so how the Hell am I going to recognise her? My eyes dart wildly around the restaurant. A girl has just walked in with a beachy blonde tangle of hair, looking a lot like Elizabeth Shue. She moves slowly through the crowd, smiling and chatting. I know somehow that this is Patti and I am up out of my seat and striding toward her. She turns just as I reach her, smiles up at me, and says ‘You must be Sama-‘ before I envelope her in a hug that nearly knocks her over. She is so clearly not a dud, and I am filled with relief. We grab the nearest table, and slip easily into one another’s vibe until she takes the stage to sing with the rest of the band. Mumsy, her friends and I are all up and dancing. My sandals are kicked off. The music is great. Candy Kay grabs a tambourine from one of the musicians and bangs it against her hip. At the end of the night, she and I are the last two left standing.

On the other side of the barbed wire fence running the length of the path to the beach is a jungle vacant lot and the concrete crumble of what was once a small two-story house, ruins now, with half the walls standing and a portion of the second floor sectioned off and roofed with the sun-faded greens and reds of an enormous old Mexican flag. A man lives here. I never see him, but Mum tells me of his roars and bellows which sometimes ring out in the night. I stand on my side of the fence, in front of the manicured golf course, peering through, feeling the disparity. Feeling fortunate.

(to be continued.....) Meeting Mexico Part Three

Monday, March 19, 2012

Meeting Mexico Part One.-- Ex-pat elders

A fabulous friend of mine recently visited Mexico for the first time. She sent me the journal of her experience and I loved it so much that I asked if I could share it on my blog as a guest post. This is the first in the five-part series "Meeting Mexico", by the wonderfully talented and beautiful Samantha Bennett. I hope you enjoy! 

Kristina and Yutaka drop me off at the Montreal airport and I sit now at the gate, alone and too early, watching the French sun rise. I feel open and calm, a gal of the millennium with my laptop and Israeli flats, my swish coat of soft green folded demurely on my lap. On my lips, the new Mac red, Runaway, and my fingernails, usually jagged and grubby, now filed and smooth. I may be a grown-up. 

First Glimpse of the Sea at Sunset in Zihuatanejo 

 Mum is there at the Zihuatanejo airport, brown, slim and smiling bigly. As always my heart gives a great lurch at seeing her. It is mid-evening and the air is full of steamy sea salt and fragrant fauna. In the backseat of the cab, we sit close and gaze out at the little fishing town by night, and then we are through it and beyond to Ixtapa and our condo complex, Real de Palmas. Gates. Security guard. On the other side the paths are set with stone and shell, and wind through the condos. We are beyond the lovely round pool, through the palm trees, and I can hear the surf! Our little hacienda is perfect, with two wide single beds, and a glorious view of sea and sky. We chat, we sip cocktails, and wander bedward. I can’t quite believe I am here.
My first Mexican morn dawns bright. Mum, of course, has everything down to strict routine.
Her: We make tea now, and take it back to bed. We then have some moments of silence, the only sounds being sipping and farting.
Me: Sounds like a pub: Ye Olde Sip and Fart. I shall do my morning exercises now.

Her: Good Lord.

Me: I have a lot of energy in the morning, and also I’m excited!

Her: Yes. Well, I am not accustomed to talking this much at this time of day.

Mumsy and Sam lunching on the beach

It is a holiday in Mexico today so beach full of local families, air strafed with happy gabble of Spanish. I see Mayan traces on features, and they smile shyly. The sing song refrain of Buenos Dias is everywhere. Mum and I stride miles along the beach, ankle deep in foamy surf, sand hard-packed. Leggy sand-pipers dance in and out of the water. We exchange morning greets with just about everyone. Benevolence abounds. Most of these people, after a life-time of work, are now enjoying retirement. They have that happy certainty of well-deserved rest, and they sink into it utterly. Soon I shall meet Mumsy’s posse of friends, Canadians, Yanks, Brits, known from home or met here years ago. I will be spending the next two weeks with people in their 70’s and 80’s exclusively. I picture lots of talk about grand-kids, perhaps some gentle knitting. I caution myself for the umpteenth time, to curb my sailor on shore-leave mouth. These are the Elders, and are deserving of respect.

Mumsy, Miss Madeline and Lady Kay (and Jose Cuervo)

It is dusk and we are invited for drinks at a near-by condo. We approach from the grass and I get my first glimpse of Miss Madeline and Lady Kay, sisters in their mid to late 80’s. They raise their drinks to us, and we join them on the terrace. Madeline wears a bright yellow shirt with collar up, open over her swimsuit and gold jewellery round throat, wrists, even an anklet. Her hair is short and stylish. Kay clearly digs pink. Bright pink. Pink skirt. Pink shirt. Brightly striped pink flats and pink lipstick. She is also be-decked in jewels. Anita appears in the doorway and greets me with a voice like sand and whiskey. She is small with lean, brown limbs and silver wings of hair swinging against her cheeks. She exudes effortless cool. Her friend, Jayme comes through another door that leads onto the terrace, exclaiming how pretty I look. Her eyes are a huge, lovely blue. I feel a bit nervous surrounded by all these strangers, but Mum catches my eye and smiles at me. I wonder when the pictures of grand-kids are going to appear and try to look polite and attentive. Jayme sidles up beside me.
Jayme: May I show you my tattoo?

Me: Uhh…ok
Jayme: (hiking up her skirt and baring a thigh)
Me: Umm..I don’t see a tattoo.

Jayme: Oh, it must be on the other side. (hitching up the other side and showing me)

Me: Err…nothing on this side either

Jayme: (leaning in close and speaking solemnly) I guess my pussy must have ate it.

Everyone laughs merrily, and before I can recover from the shock, Anita lets rip with the loudest fart I have ever heard. More giggles and a repeat of the farting. I cry out: “Are we barbarians?!” before I realize it is an electric whoopee cushion, with Mads, giggling, at the controls. Reeling from this surprising development, I am aware of Lady Kay placing something on my lap. It is a calendar and each page has different people on it, and a button at the bottom, which I am ordered to press. A different fart sound for each month. I am treated to the wet, prolonged fart of a group of firemen, the tinny squeak of a cluster of cheerleaders, and ten more variations on a theme. I laugh weakly and reach for the tequila bottle, stereotypes dashed and splintered in shards around my feet. I need a drink.

(to be continued.....) Meeting Mexico Part Two

D is for Dengue, Depression and Dread

I'm currently sitting in my Cancun apartment, staving off the Covid 19 panic and using all my Jungle Kelly powers to maintain my cal...