All I wanted were a few stamps and a place to mail my postcards. Nada, zip, invisible at least.
“I know there is a post office in town somewhere.” “How do you mail things or do you get mail?” “Someone comes by.” How enviously casual it all is. Boca del Rio, Veracruz.
I mentioned here I was going abroad for the first time, deep into Mexico. My niece’s husband, Rafael (Rafa), is from there, and we were invited to go along for his niece’s quinceañera. I must say, not really knowing the language (they have some differences in words and nuances anyway), it was so sublime to be immersed completely and intimately with the culture. I felt honored.
Let me get some things straight: I am not into cities, I am not into heat or humidity, and I’m not exactly into seafood. Well, that is what Veracruz is all about, so I figured I’d better get over it. I did. It is on the coast, which was a saving grace for me. Didn’t make it cooler, just … closer to home.
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After my first gasp for air off the airplane, my loving but high-strung family kicked into gear. Technical things went wrong, feelings flared. Yep, National Lampoon. Once the airport fiascos were resolved, the trip went smoothly. Given it was midnight, I couldn’t get ice to soothe my injured leg, but rest assured I could get a small bucket from the restaurant in the morning for 10 pesos. Cheap. Just a cultural adjustment. One of many!
Lovely rooms at the Hotel Mocambo. Once in a rental car, we headed to Rafa’s home where he’d grown up. His family built it by hand and have added as they’ve adopted family members, a dog, a rooster…”
Yeah, they just want to help everybody so they make it work!” I could understand his love for this place. My sister and I sat down and fell right into rhythm. They were incredibly generous and inviting.
“My mother prefers to cook outside here (no wonder — it’s about 110 in the kitchen!), so a lot of the stuff is out here.” Indeed, there was the most scrumptious pot of pezole cooking over an open fire! Family from the Yucatán and elsewhere were in town for the big party. Drinking cerveza, chowing down, learning about their way of life (via my niece and her husband interpreting and me guessing some) — it was all so fascinating.
Rafa’s mom likes colorful decoration like me and has painted the concrete walls outside various colors as they become available and hung many fun things around. The house is comfortably appointed. They use buckets of water to flush just like I do here. All well and good. But — and this would freak you out — the city turns off their water all day!
“I think the city just wants to figure out how to make us pay more. … I don’t know. They just live with it,” Rafa shrugs.
They have water tanks that hook up to the city system and when the water is turned back on (never at the same time exactly, but after dark), you need these, as that’s when you collect it. During the day, they may dip into them for washing or other chores and needs. Otherwise, they wait until it comes on or before it goes off (again, never at the same time exactly) to bathe. Could you do that? Mind you, they are on a river and the ocean. Don’t ask me.
My sister and I went into Veracruz to explore whenever we could. She, being more accustomed to the American tourist areas of Mexico, I think was jaded. My nephew-in-law assured me that people here (where Mexicans vacation) are far more helpful than other areas. If we’d listened to that wisdom, we’d have avoided a parking ticket and tire lock. I knew I should have trusted my instinct, even if I didn’t know the language! Ah, lessons learned, cultures learned.
I enjoyed my time thoroughly, but am glad to get home. This is what I came away with: Help each other, make do (“We fix everything until it can’t be fixed anymore.”), don’t worry, enjoy, don’t waste anything, be courteous and respectful, do your best to be resourceful (I did not see people begging; rather, they had baskets of candy or lottery tickets, etc. trying to sell them to get by), love life. Sitting on a corner at a family member’s fish store and market, drinking cool drinks, watching the day go by … yeah, I could get that one.
Of course the system is broken and there are plenty of people in need. Our country isn’t much different. Yes, they have a ways to go in the area of regulation (there is none as far as building goes: If you have space, you can build something, no worries!), health management, environmental preservation and all. But, the people as a whole, in this area anyway, were helpful, polite (except behind the wheel of a car!) and nice.
The quinceañera, by the way, was amazing! Much pageantry, food, beverage, dancing. Everybody dances there. I was in heaven!
I felt like perhaps this was what it was like in days 50 to 80 years ago: men having shoes shined, women with their hair up to go into town, dancing in the town square, sultry days. … Viva la Mexico! Gracias, por el hermoso tiempo!