Friday, February 17, 2012

A Walk in Contrasts

     Every morning when Vince and I go for our walk, I am struck by the contrasts. From roadways to lanes, from buildings to homes, our little suburb of Manzanillo, Mexico, contains contradictions that seem to dominate the country. Industry and commerce versus laid-back attitudes and “manana” philosophy.
     We walk along stubbly rock-strewn roads to the main thoroughfare. Cabs, trucks, cars and military vehicles speed by, the latter on their way to and from the port. Here the sidewalks display beautiful brickwork, hand laid, designs forming diamonds of grey, red and white. The street itself is brick. A medium that cuts through the centre is dotted with palms and planters. Red and pink flowers flourish alongside little green, red-tinged bushes and grass. Well-spaced trees form umbrellas of bean pods and gnarled limbs.
     As we amble along, we are met by all kinds of people. You can see the Spanish heritage in some of the faces, the native influence, the gringo mix. Most of them, Mexican or gringo, nod, smile, and say Buenos Dias. Moms with babies, people off to work, men gathering cans and bottles from the streets.
     Businesses are spread out over the sidewalk, leaving the pedestrian to travel through or find a way around. Restaurant owners set up tables or serve breakfast. A hardware store opens its sliding metal doors for customers, a medical clinic, a wide-open church, a laundry, an Internet café. Someone sells camarones (shrimp) and pesca (fish) out of coolers in front of his house. Tires are piled next door to a small family restaurant, the oil smells dominating over the coffee aroma.
     One of our favourite places to get dinner is an ash pit on the same lot as a car wash. (Vehicles are water blasted and scrubbed and polished by hand.) Chicken and ribs are often splayed on poles in the fire pit and we know from experience that they are delicious. Another place we like to eat is what we call the garden restaurant. That’s because it’s bordered by a beautiful lot of fruit trees and flowers.   
     One building is crumbling, its windows broken and the forlorn interior echoing its grim present. Next door, the plaster is painted a brilliant white. A beautiful young Mexican girl sweeps the sidewalk.         
     Behind the wrought iron gates further on, we can spy a traditional hacienda, done in a soft yellow with dark wooden trim and doors. Bougainvillea grace the decks and balconies. Palms wave in the breeze and always, there is the sound of the Pacific beyond.
     Construction is booming. A building slowly rises from the sand, its grey concrete bricks with no straight edges propped up by wooden beams and rebar. Men are spread everywhere, hammering and shaping. At a condo site, two men sit on a platform and place a stunning marble mosaic façade across the future balconies. Local hotels, restaurants, offices, and roadways are either beautifully improved or in the process. Sometimes these edifices have been in the process for years, though.
     Curved orange clay tiles cover many of the rooftops. Little hotels, pristine restaurants, lovely residences stand next to abandoned lots strewn with garbage, broken glass and shredded plaster walls. Another huge lot appears to be empty, until you look back and see a makeshift shed that houses a sleek brown horse. Down the street, there’s a lot with huge truck cabs gleaming and ready to go. They’re here every day, though, so perhaps their transport business is not so great.
     A soft brown Spanish home displays a neat garden of cactus, palms, and flowers. A tiled wading pool sparkles in the sun. One fence is topped with brass statues, all carved into various human shapes and poses. From another doorway, a huge dark skinned woman, her dress tented around her enormous belly and hips, stares out at the sidewalk. A man in a wheelchair sits inside the courtyard of a small hotel and restaurant. He always waves and calls out Buenos Dias in a deep, hearty voice.
     Huddled amongst a couple of beautiful haciendas is a small square house with a dirt floor and muddy yard. Inside, we can glimpse a bed, a couple of chairs, and several people. They don’t seem to talk much.
     We can walk past rubble, cracked cement, salt-eroded walls one moment and be surrounded by brown, yellow or brilliant white haciendas the next. Dog shit and litter mingle with rose petals and palm leaves.
     The air is usually fresh, with its salty ocean taste, and the sun (although this year it disappeared for over a week) is normally brilliant. The plants are lush. The people are friendly. The ocean roars all around us. Stark contrasts aside, the bottom line is that Las Brisas is vivid, alive and beautiful.
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