Friday, January 25, 2008

Hola from Yelapa

About time I wrote from our winter retreat in Mexico. We’ve been here in Yelapa, just south of Puerto Vallarta, since 13 December and only lately have we begun to experience tropical warmth. From late December until the beginning of this week, daytime temperatures were pleasant enough, but at night it dipped into the 50s and we huddled under two heavy blankets at bedtime. Old residents here said they’d never experienced such cold, even around Christmas, when you expect it to be a little chilly. Global "warming"? Probably. Anyway, it’s finally beach weather during the day (not that we go to the beach that much), and the nights are warm enough now for us to sit comfortably on our back balcony without having to wear a jacket or sweater and play cards. Whereas just days ago we had to close ourselves up in our "guest" bedroom and burn candles for a little heat. At last, the kind of weather we came down here for.

This is our fourth winter in Yelapa and we’re now accepted as bonafide members of the gringo colony here. This was impressed upon us when, a couple of weeks ago, we were invited, along with the rest of the colony and a number of locals, to the wedding of a North American resident and his longtime Latina partner. And a muy grande wedding it was, with a reception on the patio of the couple’s waterfront palapa, followed by the nondenominational service and champagne for toasting. We then adjourned to the Yacht Club (a restaurant and disco, not an actual yacht club) for chicken cordon bleu and pieces of the giant wedding cake. Then dancing into the wee hours, from which we excused ourselves about 11.

The other event we’ve enjoyed since arriving this year was a quinseanera (the traditional "coming out" of a Mexican girl on her 15th birthday), which we attended on my 73rd birthday, at a rancho upriver from the central village. The corral there had been swept clean of horse and cattle dung and tables and chairs set up around the perimeter. An awning festooned with balloons was strung over the corner of the corral nearest the path up from the village, and here we found the proud mother sitting with her female relatives and friends. Across the corral a couple of young men were putting together the sound system, from which presently ear-blasting Mexican music would emanate. To the left of us, just off the corral fence, two or three older men were working around half of a 50-gallon drum, cut lengthwise to form an oversized brazier, setting it up and building a fire in it to form the coals over which seasoned, delicious strips of beef would be roasted to be served along with rice and vegetables and tortillas after the coming-out ceremony. There would be a bottle of tequila on each table, and Coke or Pepsi for mix or drinking alone.

I should say we’d been invited to the affair by the girl’s mother, who knew April from having cut her hair last year, when she stopped to chat with her on our way to the waterfall upriver with our son and his family during their two-week stay with us. And I should say also that we met an interesting older couple at the affair, a documentary filmmaker named William (‘Bill") Livingston and Guadalupe, his Mexican wife. We’ve since visited their palapa up in the jungle above the playa (the beach) and have watched DVD copies of four of his documentaries, lent to us by Bill, on my laptop computer. The best of them is an award-winning National Geographic documentary called "The Great Indian Railway"—about the railroads in India. The others are on Mexico, Italy and Russia, all enjoyable. He’s quite a character, has traveled the world over and made lots of money, I gather, which is rapidly dwindling, he says, because of the falling stock market. Guadalupe ("Lupe") is a photographer in her own right and Bill’s assistant. She’s beautiful, from Mexico City, where she still has family.

The quinseanera ceremony was touching. Six young men dressed in boots and straw sombreros escorted the girl around the corral (it was dark by now, but a couple of flood lights somewhat lit the place), and at one point lifted her up for the crowd of us hundred or so onlookers and passed her from hand to hand over their heads like a prize to be shown off.

Earlier a platform of boards had been laid on the dirt of the corral, and now the girl was seated in a chair on the platform for the symbolic exchange of her girl’s flat-soled shoes for a woman’s high heels—in this case, a pair of fancy boots. The girl’s mother, I think (the lighting made it difficult to tell), performed the change of footwear, while soft, romantic music played out of the speakers behind her.
Then the girl stood in her grownup boots to dance with her father, then her godfather, and any number of uncles, cousins and friends of the family, each cutting in to the other. This was still going on when the food began to be served. We sat at a table with the filmmaker and his wife and tried to talk as we ate, but the loud music had started up again and we gave up. We left together about 10, the fiesta starting to crank up, and walked by flashlight back to the village. We parted with the couple where they began the climb to their casa after instructing us how to find it and inviting us to visit sometime.

April and I went on to the Yacht Club where, at April’s instigation, I was treated to a pot-banging announcement of my birthday, a group singing of "Happy Birthday," and a big piece of delicious cake on a plate decorated with flowers and a candle, compliments of the management.

A special day in this special place.