Tuesday, December 19, 2017

San Blas: Now and Then..

When I first came to San Blas in 1970, the clock in the tower below was stuck at 11:20.  For a few months, I watched that clock, expecting it to begin to turn over again.  It never did, and it became a source of wonder for me and a tale to regale my friends back in the world. I managed to convince a few to return to San Blas in 1983 or so in order to check the village out, and to see if the clock in the tower had been fixed.  Sure enough, the hands still stood at 11:20!    My last visit to San Blas, in 2012 with the rabid Englishmen confirmed, yet again, that the world was okay, and that the time was set at 11:20 still.  Unfortunately, this visit to San Blas revealed that the original, non functioning clock had been removed entirely and a new clock tower had been built in the last six years.  Thankfully, the city fathers saw that it was in the best interest of the San Blas world to stop the clock at 10:10 in the morning, thus reaffirming for me and other returnees that the world does in fact not need to speed along...
The bells of San Blas.  On one of my visits, I had convinced the Mother of my Sons to come and visit the scene of a portion of my misspent youth, partially with the intent of convincing her that I had in fact grown up...

The history of the Spaniards and the sailors leaving San Blas northwards is much more complex and interesting for me than this plague proclaims.  In fact, ships from San Blas sailed north to what would become Canada.  They in fact anchored in Friendly Cove, which is very close to my front yard. 

I was glad to see that Mickey was still having some fun and that the town had not grown up too much.

Ah the town square: a focal point of my life for a few months back in the hazy 70's.  More on this somewhere in this posting..

The Municipal Building has been spruced up since my last visit, and I think the clock tower is new...

Some street murals on the side of the local primary school..

Being a port town, fresh fish is a mainstay of the local market.

I really, really missed the clock in the tower, but then again, I also miss the last 45 years too...

For times gone by, nothing can be a VW bug..

Did I mention that I arrived in town the same day as 400 other Mexican bikers...

On my last visit to San Blas,in 2012, I had  some interesting discussions with the curator of the museum at the local fort. He was a teacher, and when he found out that I knew Friendly Cove, (Yuquot), he gave me the royal treatment, and I in turn, bought his book on the history of the travels of the Spanish ships between San Blas and Yuquot.  Of course, the Americans, Russians, and British also had a bit of a say in who in fact "owned". Friendly Cove, not to mention the presence of Chief Maquinna and his Nuchanulth people who apparently did not have any say in the matter...

The fort overlooks the town and the ocean and it is well worth a visit to see this building established in the 1500's.

Built to last....

Nearby, there was the remains of a church built for the occupants of the fort.

I think that the local guard dog was on his  siesta time when I visited....

The sign recognizes that the ships travelled as far north as Alaska....

One of the local kids agreed to sit for a photo..

On the way down from the fort, another structure showed more remains of a building...

As I have said before, the further south that one heads, the older the buildings get. I am fascinated by the structures that have been built to withstand the tortures of time and weather.

I wandered down to the dock to see what was happening, and it appears that a couple of draggers were tied up. I just wonder what their by catch is....

Further on, the Mexican Navy had created an interesting feature. A Coast Guard cutter has been put on display. I found the drives very interesting, and I wondered what sort of power ran this vessel.

San Blas, Nayarit

I first found San Blas in the summer of 1970, not long after my fortuitous release from the Mazatlan lockup of previous notes.  Somehow I had managed to find this little pueblo, which was off the beaten track and I was also able to meet up with fellow travellers, surfers, and other ne-er do wells of the time.  I think there were about six or seven of us young people who rented a "house" with a couple of rooms, not far from the town square in San Blas.
While I was very grateful for my rescue from the Mazatlan prison, it would appear that I did not learn very well from that experience.  Upon loading in  San Blas, I had soon hooked up with other young travellers who were fully engaged in avoiding responsibilities for growing up, and were generally hanging about in the sun. This suited my agenda perfectly.
Our little house became a microcosm of the communes which were springing up throughout North America during this period.  We shared our resources for food and rent, and beer.
I think that I stayed in San Blas with this group for over two months. There are. number of more or less clear memories or fragments thereof which may be able to paint a fuller picture of those days for my reader.
Of course, all of us were taken in by the relatively easy availability of Mexican marijuana, and it seems that it soon became quite apparent to the authorities that the Gringoes were getting somewhat carried away with their blatant pot smoking.  Not being street smart or cool enough to manage a lower profile, some of us were acting out and jeopardizing the tranquility of the village and thus our presence there. The effects of the tequila, pot, and beer, not to mention the loud music was beginning to be too noticeable, even for the laid-back local constabulary to ignore. Somehow, the group managed to get the message that behaviours needed to tone down and we came to a decision to police ourselves before the local law enforcement needed to mount a raid or do something totally out of character for them.
I recall the day when one of our American friends was leaving for the north.  He arrived at our door with a huge shopping bag, and of course it contained a huge amount of pot. While we had already come to the conclusion that sitting in the main square, rolling joints, and puffing on pipes was not the appropriate message for us to present to the locals, we certainly could not refuse the gift, and we knew that we had to come up with Plan B.  We had pushed the limits of the Mexican police pride, and we knew that overt smoking would lead directly to the local slammer. I, for one, was very clear about the consequences of that line of thinking...We needed to clear the air and come up with an alternative to the smoke signals that we were putting up.
Someone in the group suggested that we use the gifted marijuana as main ingredient in a batch of brownies.  A task force was sent out to the local tienda to find a suitable brownie mix.  We were going to bake our way to civil rest and respectability in the pueblo with a batch of brownies. The shopping crew, I remember, returned with the solemn news that not a bit of brownies nor the required mix existed in San Blas. Undaunted, a second scouting crew was directed to "survey the land, and to not return without a solution to the huge bag of marijuana which was beginning to threaten the solidarity of our band. The size of the bag and the amount of pot on the kitchen table threatened to burn a hole in our peace treaty with the local polio if a suitable alternative was not quickly found.  I recall this segment of the story in some detail and with considerable veracity, as I believe that I was the invidividual  who solved our dilemma and thus the existence of the little house in San Blas. My solution to our smoke-free agenda was, in my mind, brilliant, as well as being delicious.
I found that the local bakery had an never ending supply of flour and yeast, I believe. Remember that this was long before Dr. Google, and not a smart phone was thought of...somehow we managed to get together all of the ingreadients required  to make doughnuts. We had good stove in the house, albeit wood burning and smoky, and one of us found an oil of sorts which seemed to work in frying the doughnuts. A large pot finished off the utensils end of things. Fortunately, one of the girls was a wholesome prairie girl from Winnipeg, and her grandmother had made pirogies, so it was not a big step for her to direct us in the manipulation of dough and other ingredients for the making of our speciality doughnuts.
Needless to say, the very large shopping bag produced many, many, many doughnuts. As there were lots of cooks sampling the product and regularly adding their version of the correct ingredients, the potency of the doughnuts seemed to increase as the days progressed. Funny enough, to this day, I don't remember if they were sweetened, or if we every managed to glaze those doughnuts or not.  The good news is that our baking extravaganza solved the paranoia which we had developed regarding our presence in the community.  We became model citizens, quietly sitting about the town square with our plastic bags over flowing with doughnuts, munching away and watching the clock tower, ever expecting a magical click to change the big minute hand, and the world would move onward.  As I mentioned, the minute hand never did shift while we were there, and there was quiet and peace in the little town, with all parties enjoying the tranquility of coastal Mexico.

Another story comes to mind, of my time in the San Blas community of the 70's.  We had rented a small little house, just a few blocks off the main square, and situated in a small and quiet neighbourhood.  I seem to remember that the house was in need of a clean up and a fix up, probably why we had been able to negotiate a pretty reasonable deal.  While we did not attempt any serious carpentry, there were a few holes in the roof, as I remember. We did, however, elect to paint the buildings' interior, in order to brighten up the couple of adobe rooms.  It seems that the search team sent to find suitable paint  and materials for the clean up could only discover bright reds, yellows, and I think a blue or two.  With a little imagination, you can visualize the kitchen stove working away on its hundredth batch of dough nuts while the cooks and others proceeded to tighten the rooms with a splash here and a splash there.  It was not too long before most of the interior walls were painted in variety of rainbow stripes and symbols.  I don't think that any of us understood the concept of a "feature" wall, and after all, there were lots of bright colours to be used up.  With the inside of the adobe hut brightened up, it was an easy leap for all of us to decide to work on the outside, and soon enough that moor innocent house was a blazing rainbow of colours and designs.  None of us though that we have have blown the cover that we had worked so hard to develop with the dough nut escapade.  As far as we were concerned, we were fitting right into the quiet little side street neighbourhood, just a few blocks from the town square, where the clock in the tower stood at 11:20 as long as I lived there.

The painted house and the dough nut factory are the main memory fragments which remain from this sweet town, although I do have a couple of other stories that that kind of make sense and fit into the narrative, at least to me.

At one point in my sojourn in San Blas, I befriend a young guy, about my age. He made his living trapping animals in the jungle surrounding San Blas. He live trapped the animals and somehow leased with an American dealer who moved the animals to zoos and other sites.  I recall that my Mexican friend did not have enough money to buy .22 shells for his rifle, and I did at the time.  In turn, I was invited to go on a hunt with him, into the jungle.  We ended our day in the jungle with six very large and very dead iguanas.  I clearly can see those guys: very orange, very long, and very big.
All of them were at least 3 feet long, and very bright orange in colour.  I have since learned that these guys were very mature igauanas, and now, protected from capture.  I can remember taking these six dead iguanas back to this fellow's mothers' house, where we skinned them very carefully.  I had developed a plan, and I wanted those skins for a project which involved lizard leather.  My reader needs to recognize that this was 1970, and leather garments were the in thing for those of us on the road, and elsewhere.  The hunters' Mom was very grateful for the meat from these lizards, and I do recall sitting down to a great meal, which, had I been blindfolded, would have passed for chicken.

My plan was a long term plan, and believe it or not, these six salted down iguana skins would be rolled up and sit in the bottom of my hand-made cowskin back pack (the one with the leather Canadian flag) for the next few months as I wandered further afield and eventually northward.  In fact, these six iguana skins would not see the light of day, or in this case, the top of a a drug detectives' desk in Minot, North Dakota for five or six months.  The St. Valentine's Day blizzard story of 1971, set in Minot, North Dakota will have to wait for another coffee or two....or perhaps a visit to Winnipeg or Regina..

Another set of items which managed to survive my San Blas sojourn of the seventies was a group of what I call "Monas" because that is what I remember the locals calling them.  Three or four of them sit on my kitchen window shelf to this day, gathering dust and never really knowing the adventure which I undertook to bring them back to British Columbia. I remember hitchhiking a ride from San Blas into what I thought was a very small and remote village which was into the nearby mountains. Back then, I had an ongoing interest and fascination with artifacts and things archaeological. How I heard about this village, I don't remember.  Somehow I managed to trade or buy a number of what I thought were artifacts, and I was convinced that these "Monas" were at least pre-Columbian in origin. At that point in my life, I had not taken any anthropology courses, and yet I was drawn to the old and ancient and somehow managed to acquire these few pieces of clay artifacts. Are they in fact remains of a pre-Columbian tribe  from Nayarit?  Who knows, but the journey and the involvement with the folks in that little village fulfilled, to a small part, my Indiana Jones fantasies.

My last San Blas story, or maybe my second last San Blas story, is fairly straightforward. At least it is straightforward for me to tell and retell, now that I am looking at close to 30 years clean and sober. In the day, I fancied myself as a pretty good beer drinker, and once in awhile I would attempt to manage some tequila or rum as well.  Invariably, I would end up on the floor, as the song goes, whenever the hard stuff was experimented with. Being young, naive, and needing many lifetime lessons in order to get the message, I found that San Blas was a fairly open environment to experiment with the "drink", as my Scots ancestors might have said.  Indeed, I befriended the town drunk, a man who fascinated me largely because I could not figure out how he managed to stay alive and more or less functioning. I don't recall his name, but I do remember two insignificant but related facts about this mans' life, aside from his reputation as the town drunk.  One, he had a pet parrot that did not leave his shoulder. Even when he passed out, the parrot would remain there, squawking away, perhaps a little loaded itself. Secondly, and most importantly to me, the town drunk was from Bella Coola, British Columbia.  At this point in my young life, I had not been to Bella Coola.  I can, however, foreshadow a story of Bella Coola with anecdotes about a beautiful redhead, a Ramblers with a blown transmission, a malamute named Nootka, and a Bella Coola  grizzly hunter....all for another coffee and perhaps another visit to Central British Columbia.
I was too young, naive and full of myself to pick up on the lessons that Parrot Pete's life could have saved me from, if I had thought a few life lessons through...as they unfolded in front of me, and around me.

I will leave this post with a photo, that to me, says a lot: In the background is the San Blas Social Club, which I understand is the Gringo Go to place for information in San Blas currently. If I remember half correctly, that was the site of the bar where I missed the many messages about life that  which "Parrot Pete's" lifestyle should have (could have)shown me.  In the foreground is the the typical table of locally made bracelets and the like, prepared for the visitor.  I talked to the dude and he assured me that he was 100% Huichole Indio.  While we were 'talking', he pulled out his smart phone, and my fantasies about reliving my search for the magic Peyote buttons were dispelled in a moment..(Sigh).