Semana Santa in a Remote Mexican Fishing Village

(part 2 of 2, continued from previous post here )

First you have to realize that Puerto Lobos is not your typical Mexican coastal beach town, with palapas and cabanas, mar y sol, margaritas, 004mojitos and chicas in bikinis.  Oh sure, there’s a beach… miles of it, in fact.  And there are plenty of structures there, too.  Some people actually live there; others visit on holidays from the big city.  And there are even a few chicas playing there, also, most of them under six years old.  After that age they have to go to school, all in the same tiny schoolhouse, with one infinitely adjustable teacher.

You see, this is old Mexico, the one that time almost forgot.  No, they don’t wear huipiles and quexquemitls, the indumentaria autoctona of the native Amerindians.  No, this is just dirt-poor Mexico of the near-past, an almost vanishing species, now that the country is rapidly developing and joining the ranks of modern nations, 50th wealthiest last time I checked (yes, I really checked).  Seri Indians live not far down the road, true, but they’re something else again, and some bad-ass hijos de putas by rep.  They’d have to be to survive as die-hard full-bloods in this day and age of cheap temptations and expensive tastes.

But they don’t come here; that’s another world.  No, these are mostly poor fishermen and oyster shuckers with a few drug runners thrown in to spice up the mix.  And there are even a few Americans here, mostly Arizonans, with vacation cribs and holiday hangouts, ambitions mostly checked safely at the door.  This is pretty much a dead-end road… but at least it’s paved now.  That only happened two years ago.  Electricity is coming in little by little.  That’s too bad in a way; before007 that the government gave out free solar panels.  There’s even a cell-phone tower now.  Civilization is creeping in.

But all considerations of the beach village as a thing in and of itself are pretty much put on hold when semana santa (Holy Week, i.e. Good Friday, Easter, etc.) rolls around.  That’s when the hordes roll in—mostly city people, or should I say, citified people, mostly from Caborca—and they pretty much take over the town.  The favorite activity seems to be the systematic desecration and destruction of the landscape, particularly of the local estuary, supposedly protected by the government, but… what government?  City cops from Caborca and state cops from Hermosillo come in just for the week, and they’ve been known to nap.

Meanwhile ATV’s and jeeps and pickups specially outfitted for the occasion wait patiently for the tide waters to recede, then one by one try their luck with the muck, spinning and sliding and slinging dirt by the backhoe-full, the more the better by local custom, the better to sling upon the audience, some of the more adventurous standing purposefully too close to the action.  It’s a recipe for disaster.  Somebody could get hurt.

The native birds are amazing, though.  As long as there is any water still standing, they’ll try to stand their ground, on spindly reverse-jointed legs, that speak of some remote lineage that includes flamingos.  When the water finally recedes totally, they can no longer compete with gumbo mud tires and double Holley 4-barrel carburetors.  And I thought carburetors were extinct.  Not in Mexico.  Volkswagen Beetles were produced in Mexico until 2004.  They cruised the capital as taxis until… three months ago.  Welcome to Mexico.

We locals—yes, now I’m a local—don’t think much of the holiday proceedings.  Otherwise it’s a pretty chill spot on a pretty turbed-out globe.  The 019holidays just bring in the worst of the outside world and stick it right in the locals’ face.  Even the drug dealers don’t mess with the locals.  You don’t poop in your parking spot.  In addition to the twenty or so species of birds, there are also a healthy family of local dolphins, and the occasional whale that’s taken a wrong turn at the cape and entered the Sea of Cortez instead of heading up the coast.  Sometimes they don’t make it, and wash up on the beach.  Apparently this is the second-most extreme rise-and-fall of tide levels in the world, also.  It’s like a living breathing organism.

About the time I caught myself disgustedly thinking of the festivities, “I’d shut it down,” that’s exactly what the cops did, momentarily at least, routing traffic back down the beach—the actual beach, mind you—and away from the estuary.  I don’t think for a moment that they’re concerned about the birds, of course.  They’re probably more concerned about someone getting killed, like one of the eight-year-olds cutting up on brand-new ATV’s or one of the drunks blocking the driveway to where I’m staying.  It’s not getting any better.

Still, for a local, I guess it’s nice to have some street food for a change, like county-fair food in Mexico—elotes, tacos, and churros straight from the deep-fry pan.  Don’t forget the huaraches.  They look just like the ones I’m wearing, and I could use some new ones.  It’s not so good for a vegetarian, though, real meat smells, pungent and wafting, hard to resist.  At times it seems like a Grateful Dead show gone horribly wrong.  Other times it seems like some giant anthropological experiment.  Still other times it seems like the Mexican equivalent of the Neshoba County Fair back home where I was born in rural Mississippi (as if there were an urban Mississippi), in some parallel universe that I’ve been privileged to witness.023

All good things must come to an end, of course, so when I get an offer straight through to Arizona, I go for it.  I might miss a day or so of proceedings, but that’s okay.  Destruction of environment and precious wetlands is not high on my list of priorities.  It’s unique, true, but some things, if not most, are best without being belabored.  Plus, I tend to get assigned the role of hard-ass when it comes time to read the riot act to the trespassers, since my Spanish tends to be the best of our group.  It’ll get old soon, negotiating with drunks.

And the ride back goes like a dream, through the Sonora Desert, through the numerous checkpoints, through the border, through Organ Pipe National Monument, through the strange semi-comatose little town of Ajo, down I-10 into Phoenix.  The 3pm bus to LA doesn’t leave for a couple hours.  They say it’s full, so I buy a late-night bus ticket.  I don’t want to get in to LA after midnight.  It’s scary enough during the day.  I get on the 3pm bus anyway, old trick of the bus trade.  We get in at 10pm.  The city bus comes at 10:05.  I’m home before 11.  So much for Mexico.  I’ll be back.

Hardie Karges is the author of two hostel guides: “Backpackers & Flashpackers In Western Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries” and “Backpackers & Flashpackers In Eastern Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries,” currently available online at Amazon.

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