Saturday, December 16, 2017

South to San Blas

I had decided in La Paz that it was time for an oil change for my Africa Twin..did I mention that I am thinking about calling her?  I will hold off on that for awhile, as I seem to putting my foot in my mouth (figurativel) lately, so I will hold off on any official naming party.  My first opportunity for a real Honda dealership was Peurto Vallarta. I thought that there would not be a problem, and finding the shop was relatively easy.  I was at their doorstep bright and early Monday morning, only to discover that they could not handle a 1000 cc bike.  I wondered about that, but it was probably more about not having a trained tech, so I looked around for Plan B.  This Plan was to head for Tepic.  It has been a long time since I had been in Tepic, and that adventure was accomplished from the floor of  a very overcrowded chicken bus, over 40 years ago.  Oh well, the ride there was great as I had elected to stay off the toll roads and take the more liberating and free (libre) roads.  There was less traffic, in most cases, and the scenery was more rural, in my opinion.  The ride from the coast up to Tepic was challenging, fun, and very worthwhile.  The twisties through the hills and mountains were memorable, and I was glad of the Mexican habit of signing the serious corners effectively. 

Without too much  difficulty, I arrived in Tepic in the late afternoon, and found a reasonable bunk fairly close to the the Honda shop. The folks there were glad to take the job on, and I was free to wander for an evening and a bit of the morning.  I liked Tepic, as it seemed busy and metropolitan in a good way. I believe that there are a couple of universities there, and I did see a large number of young nurses, so I assumed that there was a teaching hospital or university as well.

 A very helpful TECEL person helped me to get my phone straightened out.  Apparently the money that I had paid in Baja Sur for service was not any good over on the mainland.  At least TECEL has lots of opportunities to manage the phone account, and the employees are helpful, as opposed to my very poor experience with AT&T.   It is worth noting that I consider myself to be a digital immigrant, or maybe even a refugee.  Everywhere I look, all sorts of folks are on their phones. Young kids and old guys are comfortably texting and googling away. I feel like a alien from the Planet land-line when it comes to knowing and understanding smart phones and their accounts.  To compound the issues, I have a phone that I bought in Australia with a SIM card from lower Idaho.  I will have to find some accommodating 10 year old to explain to me the intricacies of international telephony.

I found this mural and carving in the main square of Tepic to be interesting and useful  These folks respect and tout their history, the good, the bad, and the strange.

In the middle of the square, some enterprising and courageous artist had placed 100 women's shoes, painted red.  They were place there to symbolize the large number of women murdered in Northern Mexico as a result of the drug trade.

The art piece is a visual protest against the violence towards women and children in all of the world. 
The artist specifically mentions the murdered women in Juarez, where 33 were murdered. (I stand to be corrected on my poor Spanish translation.)

I was very happy that my bike had been serviced quickly and efficiently at the Honda shop. They gave her a much needed bath. While I was sad to see the red dirt of Moab dissolve away, I knew that she would find a way to get dirty again, as She is bound to do.

Not after heading out of Tepic, I headed on the libra highway is a somewhat southwesterly direction. I was looking for a particular Archaelogical site, which I never did find on this jaunt, but I did run into the so-called Los Toriles, or Ixtlan site.  Fortunately, there was a "Ruinas" sign at the side of the road, and I was able to find the nearby site without difficulty.  I had the whole area to myself, as it was just past mid-day, and hotter than I had wanted.  Nevertheless, my photos will give you an idea of the extent of the ruins.    I have also copied directly from Wikipedia a much better account of the region.

The archaeological ruins of “Los Toriles” are related to the Aztatlán tradition. Its buildings contain temples with stairs and worship places made of round stones jointed with clay, stone slabs and in some cases, with motif carved stones including spirals and a snake.[3]
The Aztatlán tradition is chronologically located on a period from 700 BCE throughout 1520 CE, it is considered a western mesoamerican cultural event that shares cultural traits with the Toltec and received cultural influences from central highlands.[2]
This rich tradition is manifested in their varied and beautiful complex ceramic and polished stone, obsidian, and jade, such as: arrowheads; human instruments, gods and animals. Metal work impacted the agricultural activity and environmental exploitation, manufactured utilitarian artifacts as well as ornamental and sumptuary objects.[2]
Architecture reached its peak when ballgame courts appeared, their construction prompted the organizing of large well designed platforms, patios and squares with pyramids of certain elevations, walkways and paved roads, stairways, worship stone carvings, columns as roof support, roofs, posts, palm and grass, utilization of adobe walls and floors. The burial was common in large pots where skeletons lie in sitting or extended position, accompanied by offerings primarily made of pottery.[2]
The " Aztatlán Tradition " flourished in the south of the State with the cultural development of Ixtlán de Río, on a period from around 750 BCE to 1110 CE, recognized as the Mid-Ixtlán period. Its early phase corresponds to the period that goes from 300 BCE to 600 CE.[2]
From the "Aztatlán Tradition" the Shaft Tombs are highlighted, and it is noted that the discovery of Smoking pipes vestiges in Amapa imply that tobacco was farmed, there are also samples that demonstrate the use of metals, form manufacturing needles and fish hooks, also bricks for construction evidence was found.[2]
In more recent times, within the "Aztatlán tradition", the now called Sentispac town, formerly known as Tzenticpac or Centicpac, was the seat of the lordship of the same name, which extended to Omitlán, Itzcuintla, Cillan and Atecomatlán and was occupied by Totorames native groups, who dominated and receiving tributes from Coras and Zayahuecos settled in the same coastal region.[2]

Can you feel the heat of the day?

The Federal Archaeological Department had a good description of the site, in a number of different languages, which I appreciated.

I very much appreciated the time and effort put into restoring these sites. I could feel the history as I walked about, and could imagine some of the vibrancy of the area, long before the Spanish arrived.

When the light was better in the early afternoon, I could see that some of the rocks contained petroglyphs, which was very interesting to me.

According to Wikipedia, this site was a major source of obsidian. Sure enough, at the entry gate, there was a huge chunk of black, shiny obsidian.  I am sure that some folks would have mistaken it for a lump of coal, but the sharp edges and the hardness evoked a sense of farther back in geological time.

After this visit, I continued my ride south and west.  The libre road was narrow and winding for the most part, and overall a great motorcycle ride.  Periodically, the road would pass by the construction of the new bridges being built to overcome the huge canyons which typically make road building so difficult and expensive.  The supports for the bridges being built were incredibly tall and super-sized. I was really impressed with the technology and engineering skills involved with improving the highway to the coast.

Somewhere on the route, I came across this Tourist sign, and I was pleased to find out that I was somewhere between Colima and Summerland.

Well, I eventually did bump into the Pacific again, so I knew that I at least still had my "Never Eat Soggy Wieners" rule worked out..

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mazatlan: From the Inside Out

Leaving Baja Sur and into the Mainland...

At the La Paz ferry terminal, I was yelled at by the Aduna girls because I was taking photos. When asked, did you take photos?, I could honestly say "No, my photos are terrible."  I think she was more worried that I would not get a good shot of her better assets.  Non the less, the loading to the Baja ferry was uneventful.

I remember that the loading process can take awhile, and it seemed that we used up all of the three hours getting loaded, although I was on early, and found myself a nice dark place to sleep and hide during the all nite crossing.   I remembered this time to make sure that the AT ( I am considering calling her Rosa) was tied down, although there was not any hint of a hurricane this time across.

The crew and the truck drivers know what they are doing: backing up the rigs, and giving them a half turn mid-ships is no small feat.

At 800 pm, we were underway under clear skies and flat water..

The next morning, after a night of non-sleeping, we arrived in the port of Mazatlan.  I recall that our entry into Mazatlan was stalled for 30 hours because of the wave action caused as a result of a hurricane a few days before.  This time, our entryway was fast and efficient. 

I could see that there had been some work done on the harbour side of things. I remember ships being tossed up against the estuary, the last time I crossed from La Paz.

It did not take long unload the bike and get on the road again. It was early mid-morning, and I had no interest in hanging around Mazatlan. 

In case my reader has forgotten, it is my goal  to write this part of Redhed's  Rambles in such a manner as to allow my grandchildren to have a better idea of who their grandfather was. I am a believer in the permanence of material published on the web, and I am sure by the time the they become interested in this old geezer, the technology will be able to revive Red's Charters (another phase in growing up) as well as Redhed's  Rambles.  I suspect that Facebook will have evolved into some money-making venture for the owners, and if the grandkids are interested, they will have to pay, maybe in order to view the past the way we think it is...

To that end, I want to tell a little story about one of the first times that I ventured south to the grand country of Mexico.  It is my hope that the grandkids get a taste of what kind of young man I aspired to be, the pitfalls which I encountered in entering and avoiding adulthood as long as I did, and perhaps even providing a clearer picture of the man that evolved...this story was begun when I started to participate in a writers' workshop in La Manzanilla, Mexico, in the winter of 2017.  The narrative, and the story itself winds itself through the memory cells of my mind, going back and forward to the late sixties and early seventies.  For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that was over 50 years ago, and I was barely out of my teens...

The story is inspired by my latest visit to Mazatlan, after I had disembarked from the La Paz ferry. I had no desire to stay for length of time in Mazatlan, and so I headed in a southerly direction, and between intstincts, two GPS units, and very good highway signs, I was soon heading south, out of town, and towards a bagful of memories locked into an experience in the Mexican state prison, just 30 km south of Mazatlan.   Sure enough, there it stood, still as large and looming as I figured it was over 45 years ago. I never saw it from the outside looking in, but the existing walls, lights, and watchtowers confirmed to me that this was not a place where one wished to be on a Mexican holiday...I debated if I wanted to stop and take a photo, and decided to keep on rolling, and allow the image to file itself away, and serve as a reminder of some of the dumber decisions and scarier events in my life.

I digress..."Mazatlan: From the Inside Out"

Sometimes I get my stories mixed up, so excuse me if the facts and memories appear altered or confused. I do know that the Canadian end of this tale involved our present Canadian Prime Minister's father invoking the War Measures Act upon Eastern Canada. (By the time my grandchildren read this, Justin and his dad, Pierre,will be greyed-out memories, perhaps pictured on the fifty dollar bills we will need top buy a loaf of bread.)  I imagine that a quick Google search would reveal the year to be 1971 or 1972. In fact, a not so quick google search reveals that the major focus of the War Measures Act in Canada was in the fall of and early winter of 1970, thus placing yours truly in Vancouver in the early Spring of 1970.  To continue...this was the era of rock and roll, free love, flowers in our hair, and lots and lots of angst. I was fresh out of work, perhaps out of Fort Mcmurray, or maybe Fort Nelson, or Foreskin John. ( I worked in all of those communities, mostly as a bricklayers' helper, a pipeline welders' helper, or a general skid hand...another story, perhaps)..for me the late 60's and early 70's was a time of experimentation, trial and error, and in many cases the direct memories of those growing up years are altered, and in some cases, destroyed.  As I wandered in Vancouver in the early Spring of 1970, I decided that it was time to find out exactly where this fellow called Carlos Casteneda and his magic peyote buttons actually lived and flourished.

Having blown away any saved wages or gains from my winter pipelining, I needed to find a cheap and efficient way south to Mexico.  At the time, the local hippy paper, the Georgia Straight from 4th Avenue had a section where folks could share just about anything that they had to offer.  I looked for someone heading south, as I wanted to avoid hitchhiking for awhile.  I had spent too many days on the road hitching to Montreal in 1976 with $19.00 in my pocket. I wanted to ride to Mexico.  During these days, twenty or thirty folks would congregate at a suitable hitching corner, quietly get stoned, and wait, sometimes for days, for their turn to be picked up by some random driver. I had had my fill of that, and so I searched for a shared ride south, at least to San Francisco, out of the oncoming rains and snow.
I finally found a ride with a fellow named Allan.  Stern nearly fifty years have passed, it is interesting to me that I still remember Allan's name.  While I don't remember the type of car that he drove, it seems that it was a little four door Toyota or Austin. I wonder if the Japanese had invaded the North American car market by 1970?  No matter, the significant element in this tale of woe is Allan, and his character. I remember him to be quiet, kind of well-mannered man, quite the polar opposite to my person in 1970.  In those days, I wrapped a case of beer and a package of smokes around my soul and twisted it until all sorts of hellry resulted, as my Dad used to describe my lifestyle.

Moving on from Vancouver, I do not remember much of the ride with Allan from Vancouver, other than it was a lot simpler crossing into the states in a vehicle that it was when I tried shoeless and jobless a few months before.  I do recall in the travels south that we landed in Southern California. The day before, the students at the local university had burned down the bank. I remember seeing the burning embers and thinking that these American radicals were a long way from our peace and love dances in Stanley Park. For the life of me, I do not recall the city but I do remember an incident during the night which opened up this country boys' eyes to the realities of the world. (A subsequent Google search places the time and place exactly. The city was Santa Barbara, and the Bank burning incident had serious repercussions on the culture of the day: 

"On top of this, the growing drug culture and hippie lifestyle of the time widened the generation gap between students and police, who patrolled Isla Vista and campus in riot gear, often using tear gas to disperse crowds.
“There was nobody over 25, hardly, and this counter culture, drug culture climate, which meant police were unable to understand, or appreciate Isla Vista so to speak,” Flacks said. “[The police] really thought the students were bad guys and that they were at odds with students. And vice versa. Students knew if they were driving [a] Volkswagen van painted up or generally had long hair hippy attire you were going to be harassed by police, stopped in traffic, pulled over, etc.”

Well, now we know that I was in Southern California by February 25 of 1970. Always good to know, I guess....back to my tale....

Alan and I had managed, somehow, to find a place to crash with a group of students in the area.  I  was very attracted to a couple of the Southern California girls, their healthy tans and their easy going manners.  After a lot of beer and probably some pot, most of uncrushed for the evening. I seem to remember an upper bunk that I had managed to secure, alas, alone.

In the early hours, I awoke to a hand gently caressing my arms and chest as I lay in the bunk. Immediately, my lizard brain decided that the good looking brunette in the red bikini had decided to move on the visiting Canadian.  As my fantasies grew, and I struggled with  a strategy to bring the girl up to my bunk, I thought that I would reciprocate the gentle massage that I was receiving.
My hand dropped below the side of the bunk searching for the other end of the arm that was caressing my sweaty body.  My arm leaned over further, stretching to find that bikini and the wonderful body that went with it.  I felt the top of a head, a head with perhaps more hair than I had remembered on the lovely brunette.  The touch was reciprocated on my chest. This was going to be a night to remember, I thought as I leaner further over the bunk.  I reached down lower, struggling to maintain onrtact with the hand while reaching further down. The hair, the nose, the lips, and the anticipation was growing. The lips, the moustache, the beard!

I jerked my hand back, slapping the hand massaging  my chest and rolled as far away from the edge of the bunk as I could. God, had just happened?  What had I done?  Who were these people and what kind of place had we landed in?  I spent the rest of the night chatting myself, questioning my sexuality and swearing off all booze and drugs forever.  All of me was  filled with disgust and fear, not to mention veiled threats from my now-dead Sunday school teacher..I couldn't wait to leave the next morning. I avoided eye contract with all, and even the compelling glances from the California girls were suspect, and I was left with a knot in my gut and a sense that some forbidden line had been crossed. My introduction to free love was not what I had expected, and it took me awhile to work up the courage to ask Alan if he thought there was anything different about the houseful of folks. 

He replied, nonchalantly, that the two guys were gay, and that he was surprised I had not figured that out. He went on to explain that he, too, was gay.  After I had digested all of that new information, and thought through how many times I had stuck my foot in my mouth in the past few days as we travelled, I began to make sense of things. 

Our journey south into Mexico was uneventful from that night in Santa Barbara on.  I do not recall any problems as we travelled southwards, finally arriving at Mazatlan.  By then Allan and I had developed a bond, as travellers do, and we both seemed to be enjoying the Mexican experience.  My pledge to give up alcohol and drugs was short-lived, and it was not long before I was finding the hot spots of Mazatlan, as such as they were in 1970.  One evening, I made some decisions which ultimately ended up being a very heavy learning experience for me, and one that I keep fairly close to to the surface of my conscience whenever I am tempted to challenge or test my 29 years of sobriety.

I had mentioned to Alan that I was going out for the evening. We had found a cheap room somewhere in Mazatlan, off the tourist row, and more or less away from el Centro.  In those days, my hair was longer, redder, and I may have been trying to grow a beard as well.  Remember, I had to fit in with every other gringo hippy who was wandering around Mexico at the time.  Anyways, I remember the sequence of events which  took me down the rabbit hole of the Mexican prison system....

I was walking down the street, a well-lit suburban street when a Mazatlan patrol car pulled up beside me. The two officers wanted to talk to me, and they wanted some identification. I don't recall how good, (or bad) my Spanish was, but I am sure after a week in Mazatlan I could order a beer and maybe a taco or two.  Anyways, the two policemen wanted some identification. Foolishly, I remember passing them my id, and I think by this time, I was in the back seat of the patrol car.  Remember, dear reader, that I had not started my night on the town, so I was, as far as I recall, sober and cognizant of what was happening.  During our "conversation", I had the distinct sense that the two cops wanted my Canadian Passport, at which point I refused to give it to them. I did have it on me, God knows why, but I was not going to give up my Canadian passport.  I had run into young Mexicans on the beach who were trying to get me to sell stolen passports because I was a gringo, and I immediately thought that I was on the other end of that particular scam. I would be damded if I was giving up my Canadian passport...I assumed, wrongly, that somehow I could buy my way out of this holdup. No...that was not going to happen this night.

Down to the main headquarters, the main jail, and in I go. I don't recall how much protesting or hollering or even begging that I did, but it was all to no avail. Into the slammer with the drunks, druggies and other ne'er do wells of the night. I am almost sure that I kept my passport and wallet throughout this transition from the cop car to the cells, but I don't recall for sure.  Now I was in a pickle. The cops had picked me up no later than 8 in the evening and I did not get any sense that I had a right to a phone call or that there was any way to contact the outside world.  I made myself as comfortable as I could, finding a space in the large holding area where my back was to the wall. I do not recall being hassled, and probably the others were as pissed as I was to be thrown in the slammer for no good reason. 

Around 2 o'clock in the morning, there was a lot of banging and shouting. The locked cell was opened, and we were all shuffled into a bus. I don't remember what I was thinking, but I am sure that I was feeling even more anxious that somehow this dumb confrontation over a shakedown was now escalating big time.  Sure enough, the bus was our transport to the big prison down the road 20 or 30 kilometres!

In the light of day, I found myself in a brand new home, one that I could not have imagined in the best of times. The "yard" was flanked on all sides by very high walls, walls that I could not see over and so high that they made it very difficult to tell the time of day. Within the courtyard, I could see these many little hand built shacks, fabricated out of cardboard, stray pieces of wood, and canvas. It was a community surrounded by the huge  prison walls.  It is amazing how quickly your Spanish improves when you are removed from other gringos and the Spanglish which we flaunt at one another.  Before lunch of the first day, I had been introduced to the Captain of the cons, as well as his enforcer.  I remember a middle-aged guy with whiskers who explained to me, in terms I could understand, that he ran the joint, and that in order to avoid working inside the prison, it was going to cost me 15 pesos a day. El Jefe had his enforcer, and this dude was well suited for the role, and I have a clear image of this hulking big guy, at least 6 feet or more, who breathed menace and dread.  El Jefe, who I learned was doing life for murder, made it clear to me that his enforcer would determine the jobs that I had to do if I didn't come up with the pesos. 

As I mentioned earlier, for some strange quirk of fate, I had managed to secure both my passport, id, and I am thinking probably my wallet. I do not recall having to clean the toilets or sweep the yard during my time in there, so I must have found a way to pay the Enforcer. 

Clearly, through a mistaken belief in the value of a Canadian passport, or some twisted sense of justice, my decisions had landed me in this prison. There is no doubt that this situation was serious, and at that point, there was not a soul in the world that knew my situation, other than my prison mates.  It was pretty clear that they had found ways to cope and accept their kharma, I was at least smart enough or perhaps even a bit street wise to sit back and assess the situation. It was clear that banging on doors and yelling at the guards in the towers was not going to get me released.  The "village" within the walls was functioning, and I saw women, booze, and lots of pot in the next two days. Any fantasy about escaping this enforced adventure were not going to happen. I needed to centre myself, and hope that someone on the outside would somehow discover me.  My magical thinking seemed to deny the fact that only person on the outside who would miss me, would be my travel partner, Alan. 

As mentioned, one learns very quickly to adapt when one's options are limited. I was able to play down the sole gringo role fairly quickly, from what I remember, although the reality is that the 15 pesos were keeping me secure, and when those ran out, the situation may change for the worse. I had a carpet to sleep on, from what I remember, and I ate reasonably, so as I said, I had managed to settle the nerves and put some thought into existing until some opportunity arose. I was in survival mode more that I had been before in my short and limited life. On the morning of my third day in that prison, I was awakened by some incredible screaming and yelling. What made the noise more noticeable was the fact that the swearing and cursing was in English. I soon found the source of he angry words and threats were coming from a pair of young Americans, who had been unceremoniously thrown into the main cell area. 

As it turned out, these two guys from Houston had decided to have a night on the town. Mazatlan being that kind of town in 1970, offered all sorts of entertainment, up to and including some high class brothels, I have been told.  One of the fellows, the one without the broken arm,  explained to me that he and his buddy had got drunk, and attended a high end brothel.  After their meetings with the ladies, they drunkenly decided that the services were not good enough, and they proceeded to take the jerry can full of gas from their jeep and spread it all over the steps of the brothel.  Well, these two Houstonites did not realize that the police of the day had their fingers tightly clustered around the brothel, and lighting fire to their establishment was the quickest way to end up dead, or worse. 

Needless to say, these two were in bad shape, and aside from massive hangovers they had been worked over with boots and clubs, so they were clearly in a lot of pain and full of regrets.  Somehow it came out that they were lawyers, which somehow did not surprise me..(easy for me to say, 45 years later, eh?). 

I think that I explained the rules of the prison, as I understood them. I don't know if they had any money with them, or if they had any help from the outside.  I had this vague feeling that having three gringoes in the cage was not going to necessarily mean things would get better for me. 

On the third day....later that day, I had this wonderful surprise.  Somehow my friend Alan had somehow managed to track me down.  He had worked his way through the police system in Mazatlan, and somehow (and to this day it astounds me) managed to figure out where I was.  I remember that the figure of $600.00 US was tossed around, and I don't know how he managed to work the bribes and pay off whomever needed to be paid off, but there he was, and there I was, free!

I have told this story to a few folks over the years, and I wonder how much embellishment I have added to the facts. It is the absolute truth that Alan saved my ass from that prison, and it is the absolute truth that without his intervention I would have a very different attitude towards Mexico.  I remember promising the two lawyers that I would get them out, once I learned Alan's system of buying the officials off.  I believe that I did carry through with that promise, and I believe that I would have tried very hard to rescue those two from themselves, at least. 

  As I rode by the prison this last time, I did not get a sense that there were a couple of gringo lifers in there, at least not from Houston.  As for Alan, somehow, in someway I hope that he is out there, that he has had a good and fulfilling life, and that his memories of a Mexican vacation with a hippy hitchiker are all good.