I went up to the lovely mountain puebla of Mazamitla yesterday to run a couple of errands. It’s just a 45 minute bus ride from Jiquilpan which is just a 15 minute bus ride from the town of Sahuayo where I live.
I mention all of this for purposes which will become more apparent as I develop this story.
My first errand in Mazamitla was to pick up a couple of knives. Not just ordinary knives but handmade from the legendary knifemaking town of Sahuya. As far as I know, this one particular hardware store is the only place in the region who still carries Sayula blades.
My second errand was to the shop called La Graneria. They are the only place between here and possibly Guadalajara that carries authentic French Dijon mustard. It’s a flavor craving – what can I say? Unfortunately they were sold out.
So I went across the street to get a bowl of menudo. I walked in, ordered, then went up stairs to pee and wash my hands. After I took my seat a man seated with his wife asked me in English if I knew the town and any good cabanas for rent.
That was it. No preamble. No ‘How are you?’ Just a rather selfish in-facing logistical question.
I studied him as I answered his question before proceeding to ask a few of my own. His answers were as follows: They were retired. They sold everything in Florida before moving to the village of Chapala (on the northern side of the lake of the same name). And they chose Chapala over Ajijic because it was more Mexican. I found that humorously ironic that he couldn’t even pronounce Ajijic (ah-He-he) although they had lived right next door to the Canadian/American enclave for more than a year.
In this two minute one-sided exchange of information his wife sat sat facing away from me the entire time and never once uttered a single word.
The reason they were in Mazamitla was a to find a cabin for a month to ride out the remaining oppressive heat of Chapala’s summer. Huh?
Come again – huh? I live 50 km. south of there and the heat this time of year is on the warm side, but it is nothing even close to oppressive. (Besides, they’re from Florida where hot and humid is only a single digit this side of hell.)
He went to the washroom and when he returned he paid the bill then he and his wife left without so much as a nod, goodbye or a thank you.
I sat there dumbfounded yet not particularly surprised after I analyzed the situation. First, they were both way in over their heads. Neither of them had any business being in Mexico. Second, they were both extremely unhappy people; disappointed at the hand life had dealt them. Third, they weren’t nice people. Nor were they enlightened people. They never learned that in order to receive kindness and a smile one first had to give kindness and a smile. They were the kind of people who valued comfort (cool weather, aka free air-conditioning) and convenience (an immediate answer and attendance to an inquiry concerning their most imminent problem of comfort) over civility, curiosity and the wonderment and joy of simply being alive in a strange land.
The encounter saddened me. But that all quickly changed, for who was to amble by was a Canadian chap I met there two months ago when I was cruising around up there with my buddy, Clemente. I remember that was the day of the horse-mating story captured in my Valle de Juarez post.
Terry paused at the open doorway, gave me a hearty wave then ambled in and pulled up a chair. We shook hands and marveled over the fact that it was in this exact same restaurant where we had our first and only encounter.
He was dressed in blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt of sorts, tennis shoes, and a faded baseball cap which all combined gave his rough living 56 years a more rumpled boyish charm.
He told me it was his last day in Mexico as he was due to depart back to British Colombia the following day. He was quick to point out that I was the first person he met in Mazamitla and he found it interesting that I was here again as well to see him on his last day.
Coincidence? Nope – I don’t believe in coincidences. In fact he’s the kind of guy who might show up again somewhere else in my life. Which calls to mind a story about bumping into two young Frenchmen in La Paz, Bolivia at the Hotel Republica. I heard this joyous shout, ‘Hey! Americano!, and turned around to see both grinning Frenchmen waving frenetically to me from their balcony. Where did I last see the both of them? I don’t know – Chile? Argentina? Somewhere – maybe a month earlier – on the legendary Gringo Trail.
The world is a small, circuitous place my friend. And I can’t begin to count (or remember) the number of these kind of repeat encounters.
Note: I’ve walked the Inca Trail twice – First in 1999 then again in 2000. And for clarity, The Inca Trail is not to be confused with The Gringo Trail. The Inca Trail runs from Cuzco to Machu Picchu while The Gringo Trail runs the entire length of S. America. Which BTW, The Gringo Trail is kind of an inside joke kind of thing which you don’t learn about until after you’ve been traveling the continent for a month or two.
Back to the present – I talked Terry into accompanying me on my next errand to a saddlemaking shop in the nearby village of Valle de Juarez. I have been obsessed with getting a leather sheath made for my new kitchen blade and the folks at the saddleshop there do some extraordinary leather work.
I became obsessed with both the blade and the sheath since watching two Serbian guys on their most excellent ‘AlmazanKitchen’ YouTube channel use theirs to prepare some mouthwatering meals in the forest.
I am not by nature a covetous man but I confess I am still a little boy at heart when it comes to knives. So first I sought out the blade – the serendipitous find of which I covered in an earlier post – then drove myself crazy wanting a handmade leather sheath for the damn thing just like theirs – as if like I was ever going to carry it out into the forest to prepare meals with it – but I wanted one just the same.
Terry had some interesting stories to tell. First, he’s a musician – guitar, piano, and vocals – and somewhat of a carpenter. A few years back, tired of paying the increasingly high rents in Vancouver, he decided to buy some property off the grid up the mountain, where he built himself a cabin with not much more than a chainsaw and the usual array of handtools. He had only twenty grand to his name and the six acres cost him $18000 and the cabin (12 X 18 ft.) cost him just another $600.
I learned three very interesting facts from this particular homestead building conversation: One, that you can mill boards (from trees) with nothing more than a bar attachment to your chainsaw – but it’s laborious. Hence, number two he constructed it in typical western stick frame style (not log cabin style) and insulated it with wool. That’s right, wool. And the third interesting fact is that there is a surplus of wool where he lives and many shepherds just give it away. Another interesting note is he knows how to weave and actually owns a loom. Amazing.
So this 56 year old Canadian guy is traveling for the first time in 30 years and is doing it on the $600 a month in rent he is collecting on one of the cabins he built. Yeah, he ended up building a second, larger two-story cabin on the same piece of property. Neither cabins have running water – but have limited solar power – yet this woman was eager to pay him that sum of money because she couldn’t afford the rents in Vancouver either.
And so here is a man not just traveling lite (aka poor) on $600 a month, but happy as a clam doing it.
Some people like Terry here have figured out the secret of life and it’s not about stuff.
PS – There is always a place in the world for a man with skills. And pride, happiness, and honor seem to follow close on their heels.
PPS – While waiting for the bus in Jiquilpan (he-Kill-pan) I walked across the street to snap a couple of more photos of what is arguably the finest (and smallest) municipal library in all of Mexico, if not the world. Imagine one of the world’s greatest artists, Jose Clemente Orozco (don’t whine to me if you’ve never heard of him or the famous period known as Mexican Social Realism) who covered every last square foot of the interior walls with his giant murals. Here’s just a few shots:
Mexico: Grand, beautiful, sometimes scary, and generally misunderstood. But a true world cultural treasure just the same.