Words by David Westlake / Photo by Darcy Stein
January provided a beautiful opportunity for us to travel to Mexico. We spent the time leading up to this journey deciding where in Mexico we wanted to explore. We’re not exactly the resort types and enjoy finding our own way. We decided on a little known fishing village named Papanoa for our first week of travel. It was perfect; away from tourist destinations yet still resting on a long sandy coastline. There we found a local “boutique” hotel, then began to dream. But, something else happened during that period. People began to question us. Have you been there before? Aren’t you nervous? Is it safe? Isn’t Mexico dangerous? Don’t they kill Americans? We smiled when asked, tried to reassure people and even went into long litanies about how wonderful our experiences in Mexico have been. Still, more questions and concerns came at us.
Finally, there we were picking up our rental car, figuring out a stick clutch again, converting kilometers to miles and then it hit. The fear! The suspicion and anxiety planted with every one of those questions. It started to rise as we made our way down Mexico Highway 200 towards our destination. Then, a military truck drove by with a huge mounted machine gun on the bed. The landscape changed, my inner gesture turned and my mind became clouded with all the perceptions of Mexico I have learned and heard growing up. What was a beautiful road of rolling green hills, palm trees and ocean vistas became a land of suspicion. Every person I saw along the road or in the little villages we passed now seemed shady, ready to rob, abduct and then hand me over to the drug cartels. Then, a federale police truck rolled by. Surely, they would turn around and force us to give a fat bribe. We would give them everything we had and then be stuck in Mexico. Now, here I was driving myself and my wife into the heart of darkness. The inner dialogue continued. Luckily, the manual transmission combined with mad speed bumps helped pull my awareness back into the moment so I could see what was really in front of me. It was actually a pure joy to be driving through Mexico.
We arrived at the hotel sugared up on rocks overlooking the ocean. Truly, what we had imagined until we entered the grounds. People everywhere, families, men, women and children, even dogs all resting around the private pool. The unpleasant stories came back. Were these people looking at us? Were they wondering how much money we have? Do they have drugs? Still, I kept smiling as we made our way to our room. Although somewhat earthy it was a beautiful space with gifts on the bed and cards written in broken English awaiting us. After some moments of setting up the room the way we liked it, we rested a little while and my mind relaxed, smoothed over by ocean sounds. Later, we went downstairs to explore the area and find something to eat. Since it was late evening now and everything was closed we decided to eat at the hotel and found a table with a view.
All the folks who had been poolside earlier now made their way into the eating area. They pushed the tables together, politely asked for our extra chairs and then all sat down. Were they different or was it that my perspective had changed? Now I observed a sweet family on vacation together, children, young parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Children played, small dogs sitting on laps and people warmly speaking to each other, occasionally laughing at some story. Funny how our inner perceptions, beliefs, and ideas about life alter how we actually see and feel towards the world, most of all the people.
I smiled to myself then to Darcy. I should know this! Every week, we drive through barbed wire, cross over magnetic door thresholds and pass behind bars to meet with people who have heavy words hung around their identities. Prisoner, Inmate, Patient, Resident, Client and so on, so many words describing them, numbing awareness and clouding perspective with the dehumanizing definitions behind each term. Nevertheless, every week we see through such veils and find something very different. Thanks Mexico for the friendly reminder… even on vacation.