It’s a smooth trip out this time (except for Chile’s forgetting the key to the gate of the road to the Vena. David and I spend some time waiting with the stuff for his return, and I have time to get acquainted with the local cows who provide the milk for Norm’s yogurt.)
And Juan Carlos is able to land right where we want to—east of Las Villitas in front of Chile and MaryAnn’s old place.
I am already setting up my tent by the time two cops get to us. They carry more arms between them than all six last week—both with pistols and one with a riot rifle slung across his back. This week’s captain has a friendlier demeanor than last week’s Comandante Fox. Violet tells him we’re here to clean the beach and that we’re going to pitch our tents “in that direction”—flinging her arm toward Los Colorados. He’s agreeable, and I feel some letdown. I was hoping for more resistance—a bundling of us back to Las Villitas, for instance. I’ve come armed with copies of the three pages of the Mexican federal law pertaining to the use of beaches that apply to the zona federal,, the 20 meters above high tide that are public domain. I’m afraid we’ve blown it by getting in under the auspices of Salvador and Cande.
We start cleaning up the remains of Chile and MaryAnn’s destroyed palapa. Only cement remains. The floor is thick with ash and grit from the fire. Chile sweeps with vigor, a demented househusband in a cleaning frenzy.
photo courtesy of MaryAnn
One of the few artifacts that remain of their life here is a sign that reads Casa Privada, propped incongruously against the low wall of the foundation.
David is already out on garbage-duty, dragging a trash bag down the beach. I get another and go out into the hot sun protected by Steve’s UV resistant shirt and a sunhat gifted me by Deborah Duda years ago that I tie to me head with the cord that wrapped my tent. I look like Gabby Hayes cross-dressing. As I trail my bag, bending again and again to retrieve plastic bottle caps, scraps of yellowed Styrofoam, and plastic cups weathered into brittle flakes, I feel despondent. If anything I feel sadder than I did last time on first seeing the beach.
When we rustle up a picnic lunch, resting in Chile and MaryAnn’s reassembled shade structure, Chile says, “It’s too quiet. People should be coming by to visit.”
My low spirits are due this time not to the shock of my initial visit but because of my frustration. “What we need now is other people doing what we’re doing. We need another independent boatload of campers to show up.”
MaryAnn points out that yesterday at my birthday party at Chely’s in Melaque, she tried to get Mario or Kees to come along. “I almost had Mario convinced to get Blond John to bring him over in his skiff and drop him off to camp,” says MaryAnn, “but we can’t get our own crew to come.”
It’s true. After thinking about it, Hugh has stayed back at Camp Dobie. He is too conflicted about being here under the protection of Salvador and Cande’s friendship. Opinion has been divided right from the first about going into the beach when everybody can’t come.
Before we leave this time I talk with Dobie and Hugh who are seated at the outdoor table covered with cheerful yellow oil cloth in a fruit pattern. “I just want to affirm,” I say, “remind us, that we all want the same thing. And we are each following our own consciences. I understand why you’re not going, and I respect that. And I hope we will all respect each other’s choices and continue to affirm what unites us, our purpose—the road and beach open.”
Dobie responds, “It was hard for me last time you went, but I’ve worked through it.” And we have a hug—a good one.
But what we need is for some of the Mexican lot owners who have been denied access to their property on this end of the beach to take the initiative, load up a rented boat with camping gear and assert their ownership.
Where are they?
They aren’t the disenfranchised locals, beat down by police brutality—terrorized during the initial desalojo and the following night when drunk police shot up the town—pepper sprayed when they attempted to take the road to the beach. Like Norm says, “Terrorism works.” They’re scared.
But what about the Guadalajarans who have used this beach for family vacations for generations? Chile and MaryAnn’s landlords are a very wealthy family from Tonala. Why aren’t they showing up?
After lunch I stroll with my notebook down to Bob and Bette’s to write and find Chile stringing up an ancient and battered hammaca in the solid shade of the three-sided plank building. When Chile leaves, threatening to take a dip in the ocean, I climb into a hammock for the first time since I arrived in Mexico over forty days ago. My body immediately remembers the comfort of suspension in webbed cloth and goes comatose. The combo of the hammock and the ceaseless sea’s crashing works their magic spell on me. Frigate birds wheel and glide with their usual utter elegance. To me they are the Super Models of the avian world—angular and aloof. I am absorbed by the luxury of this precious moment in this timeless place.
Meanwhile, news this week hasn’t been good. Conejo’s wife, who owned the first hotel built on the beach, has not been allowed to go in to the beach with the surveyor to check the lines of her claim. She wants reimbursement, at the very least, for her hotel. The spokesman for Inmobiliaria Rodenas says there was no hotel there! And, indeed, not even the rubble remains, all quietly dumped in the swamp or hauled out at night in the dark. Fortunately, Dobie can provide photographs.
Meanwhile, here at the beach, the grunts are still burning. As I walk west I repeat my rosary of lost palapas: Mario’s, Saddhu’s, Greg and Kamari’s (still extant), my place, Vi & Norm’s. The fence around Vi and Norm’s, which was still here last week, is completely gone. Fires still smolder in both our adjoining campsites. I snap photos of two vultures sitting on posts of what was once one of the prettiest palapas on the beach and—a telltale gas can set in a wheelbarrow!
The next morning the ocean has a rumpled look, as if it slept as poorly as I did. The water feels warm on my feet. I love being here, on this beloved beach, I love our sense of community, of purpose, but I hate the distant empty spaces of the destroyed restaurants. And Alejandra’s store has been preempted by a village turncoat, who sells junk food and cigarettes to the cops and claims to have been there 20 years. (The building isn’t more than five or six years old.)
I am feeling ambivalent, now, about what our presence here accomplishes. On the plus side, we are able to witness and document the on-going destruction. Also, just being here is a statement that this part of the beach is beyond Rodenas’ claim, thought the cops still patrol and control it. And, on a purely energetic level, we are another opening, another breech in their iron-clamped stranglehold on this public beach. This is only valuable if you believe in the fine art of “wedgery,” to coin a word— the gradual wedging of an opening to make it bigger.
And, I remind myself, MaryAnn’s videos, posted after our first camping trip, won our cause a $200 donation, and my article is being read Sunday at a Unitarian church—perhaps that will bring us some more money.
For Chile and MaryAnne, this is a homecoming to the garden they have cultivated for seventeen years. They planted their first palm tree here in ’93 and have replanted some palms three times, replacing those wiped out in the ’97 tsunami and other storms.
But there’s one other positive, concrete reason for being here: beach cleanup! For years the early arrivals of our foreign community cleaned the beach of the summer season’s accumulation of garbage. Before the sun gets too high I trek back down to the bag I started yesterday. Scanning for trash reminds me of searching for peyote with our Huichole friends on pilgrimage: you have to train the eye to see it. Oh, there are the big obvious objects—plastic bottles ubiquitous to beaches the world over—the occasional torn flip-flop or sandal.
But I’m watching for the colorful bits of plastic on their way to becoming miniscule as sand particles. (I envision, one day, entire rainbow beaches of plastic sand.) Then I come upon a perfectly good little round green plastic bowl. I won’t trash this useful item. I am reminded of my partner Steve, dead these eleven years, who was notorious for scavenging the Tenacatita dump, a smelly trash heap of burning plastic and lurking vultures.
“ Look,” he’d exclaim, returning to camp. “I found a perfectly good crate. And here’s a chair,” he’d say, pointing to a twisted iron-sculpture trailing plastic linguini. “Just needs a little work,” he’d add nervously as I eyed him suspiciously, wondering what other treasures he’s about to sneak into our camp.
Soon I find myself putting small scraps of plastic into the handy green pot. I’ve got this idea of making a mosaic that spells our Tenacatita in colorful garbage. And, that would be a good use for loose bottle caps too, I think with enthusiasm. We can auction it in our spring silent auction fund-raiser.
Hmm, I ponder, as I wedge a very small particle of yellow plastic between thumb and forefinger. Perhaps the perfect strangers who publicly labeled me as OCD in comments on Churpa’s article about growing up with a fanatic re-cycler and non-consumer were right?
When I return to camp, Vi recounts a story Cande has told her. When her family visited over Semana Santa last spring, one of the children reported seeing a “small horse” down in the tennis courts. Come to see it was a black panther, who somehow had gotten trapped inside the green chain link fencing, and, hearing her cubs mewling below in the mangrove, was hurling herself over and over against the entrapping metal. Six feet of cat, three—body—three—tail, she eventually managed to find a way out under the fence and hasn’t been seen since.
Vi and I consider the qualities of the panther and why the militant American group chose it as their emblem. They are black, wild and free, beautiful, powerful and dangerous. The fierce black panther trapped by the fence is a fitting symbol for the untamed beauty of this beach, now restrained and imprisoned by the corporate fence. Where is the power that will set it free?
She and Norm have also gleaned an interesting piece of information from Salvador.
“Chile y Roberto tienen suerte, porque sus lotes estan fuera del predio.” (Chile and Bob are lucky, because their lots are outside the claim.) Inmobiliaria Rodenas has retracted their claim, he has been told, and the police will no longer be patrolling this end of the beach. Actually, they aren’t quite sure where the line is (!), but they are only claiming the beach up to Las Villitas. (Just half the beach. My, how their 42 hectares have grown! The line I’ve seen on a document crosses the beach road somewhere before El Paraiso.) Still, it is a retraction—a good sign—if it is true. You wouldn’t believe the rumors we’ve heard.
Today a young couple in a dinghy lands down at the marina. The cops are on them in a flash.
“What are you doing here?”
“We came for the restaurants.” (They later tell MaryAnn their guidebook says this beach has the best restaurants for miles around.)
“Well, can’t we come in?”
“Do you want us to call and get permission?”
Well, sure they do. And they’re in!
Things have changed quite a bit since Dia del Campo, the first wedge in the landings by sea department.
In the afternoon as I lie in Vi and Norm’s brand new pink and white Yucatan hammock (that they’ve had for thirty years but never found time to lie in). I realize I’m not enjoying myself. I feel anxious. Whatever happens to this beach, it will never be the same. Even if the ejido wins completely—and that I doubt—this will never be the same beach. What’s gone is gone. I am often uncomfortable with change, even knowing that it is the only constant.
Despite Salvador’s statement that Rodenas is no longer laying claim to this end of the beach, I have no doubt whatsoever that if a boatload of local Mexican desalojados landed on the “free” part of the beach, the cops would run them out—forcibly.It's racism--against their own people.
But where are all our gringo friends? Why aren’t they here doing what we’re doing? I know many haven’t come because of the economic crunch up north. But what about all our friends in La Manzanilla? Perhaps they've just become enamored of their creature comforts? Or maybe it's just flojera (laziness)?I know many are afraid of losing their investments, afraid what they do might be seen as political action, forbidden to foreigners by Mexican law. They didn’t even show for Dia del Campo. But this isn't about politics--it's about corporate crime.
We’re agreed that the next step in “wedgery” is for Chile and MaryAnn to come out and live in their space, extending their occupation. That’s all we can do without the help of others. And they will invite their landlords to come—by boat, of course—and camp for a weekend. If only we could get a couple of locals to come too. We need Mexicans asserting their right to be here. We can’t do it for them. We can only wedge the door open.
Saturday morning the six of us do a garbage sweep of “our” end of the beach. In three hours we fill 21 trash bags, including one entire bag of shoes and flip-flops.
In the afternoon I do some bobbing in the light swells in front of camp. There’s been a gentle attempt at a southerly blow, and the color of the water is changing. Afterwards there’s an expedition to Playa Mora. I’m reluctant to go. I still haven’t been down to the restaurants. After the cavity that was Los Pericos comes the foundation of Oscar and Emma’s house. I recognize Abe and Ernie’s by the flowers, guess at the location of Gail and John’s place and see that Domingo and Maria’s modest little house is completely gone.
After that, the blankness is disorienting. I guess where Socorro’s restaurant was, and after that I have to ask for help. Is this Lola’s or is that?
“They left the bar at Chely’s but took down the kitchen, and they left Lola’s kitchen but took down her bar,” explains Chile.
The illogic of what has been destroyed and what left is puzzling. All that remains of Fiesta Mexicana is a sign: Estacionamiento. Puerquillo’s is non-existent, all that cement—evaporated.
We pass the Riscal where the cops are entertaining their families for the weekend. Then we pick our way around the rocks to Playa Mora.
I’ve never seen this beach empty before. We cross over to the ocean side and walk that beach to the big tree at what was Sandy’s, so long ago. I think of all the chicken roasts there on the long spits.
Chile and I start collecting sand in bottles for the spring silent auction fund-raiser. He and Norm collect dead coral on the bay side for the bottles.
We take the road back up over the hill. Yesterday MaryAnn saw the cops hauling away the back gate to Oscar and Emma’s trailer park. Now it blocks the road to Playa Mora but the sidewalk is still open.
We continue collecting sand—at Puerquillo’s, Chely’s, Cato’s, Chito’s, Fiesta Mexicana, Mosca’s. And then in front of the campsites—another litany—Vi & Norm’s, Tina’s, Kamari and Gregg’s, Saddhus, Mario’s and finally Chile and MaryAnn’s. We’re home, and it’s time to start dinner. I later collect sand from in front of Churpa and Rich and Abigail's palapa and Bob and Bette's house.
The morning of our departure the three women have dreamed in the night. MaryAnn has dreamed of coarse and abusive Mel Gibson, the aggressive energy of the self-absorbed. We draw parallels between his criminal behavior against his wife and Villain Lobos’ crimes against this beach and its inhabitants. Vi has dreamed of rocking the most beautiful baby in a cradle, our cherishing love for this most beautiful beach. And I dreamed I was up in a tree—a very large tree in the mangroves. I reached up above me to stroke a furry pelt and feeling it stir, looked up to see two black panthers, one mature and the other a juvenile. I saw their strength and power and quickly lowered my eyes, being very still, to not arouse them.
But, I think, as we leave the beach in our panga—the aroused power and ire of the black panthers of Tenacatita is exactly what we need. Where are our panthers?
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