Sunday, March 21, 2010
My Birthday in Coacoyul
Today I turned 65. I don't feel 65. In fact, I don't feel any particular age at all.
The historical novel I'm reading depicts education in the ancient Aztec culture as having divided students into classes not by age, but solely by ability. So a class might include a few teenagers, some 30- and 40-somethings and a couple of tottering grandparents. I figure if I keep learning—rather than acting like I already know it all—I'll always belong in that class.
Today my wife told me I could do anything I wanted. (Not that I ever have much trouble doing that, but I let her think this would be a special treat.) Since we're spending a few weeks here in lovely Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, I decided I wanted to see the town and its environs in more depth than we'd done before. I called Señor Carlos García, a cab driver highly recommended as a guide, who's known for introducing visitors to some of the area's more out- of- the- way places.
Carlos picked us up at our villa in La Ropa and did just what we'd hoped for. He drove us through some of Zihua's poor, squatter neighborhoods up to the top of the city's highest hill for a sweeping view of the city and Zihuatanejo Bay.
We went south to lovely Playa Larga and had a Coke and some totopitos at a beach restaurant frequented by the locals.
We went north, past Ixtapa and its big, ritzy hotels, to Playa Linda, even more a place for Mexican, not Norteamericano tourists. There we saw yet another of this area's gorgeous beaches, and also a modest wildlife preserve featuring, among other critters, lots of iguanas and huge crocodiles with their locally- famous, eccentric handler who feeds them garbage bags full of putrifying fish carcasses.
Carlos speaks very good English, which was helpful for Sally, but when he learned that I speak very good Spanish, he seemed delighted, and we spent much of the day helping each other with our respective quests to master the other's first language.
This was all great fun, but the highlight of the day was a jaunt to Coacoyul, a sort of southern suburb of Zihuatanejo. We were winding our way through some of the town's dusty, rutted streets when Carlos slowed and stopped in front of a modest cinderblock home. "I have a little surprise for you," he announced, "and for my wife too!" Just then the long metal gate in the fence swung open and he pulled into the yard. "Welcome to my home!" he said.
Carlos introduced us to his lovely wife, his five beautiful children, his cousin—just recuperating from an attack of gastritis the day before—and his niece, all of whom gathered around to welcome us in the patio, or back yard. When Carlos announced that today was my birthday, everyone burst into Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican happy birthday song, personalized with my name. It was like we'd become instant members of the family.
After Carlos gave us a proud tour of their house, we said our thank- yous and good- byes, and were off for the rest of our tour, but not before hugs and kisses all around. What a wonderful surprise this visit was! And one that only further reinforces our impression of Mexicans as among the most friendly, generous and proud people we've met anywhere.
Around 6:00 we returned to downtown Zihua. where we settled up with Carlos for his services and asked him to drop us at the zocalo. After all, it was Sunday evening, when the square and municipal basketball court always fill with an amiable blend of local families (by far the majority) and visitors there for some kind of entertainment. Tonight it was a wonderful show of folkloric dance, in full traditional costume, representing various Mexican states and styles.
As birthdays go, this was a very happy one. It was spent with my wonderful wife, going to wonderful places, seeing and learning new things—including sharpening my Spanish—and making new friends. Pretty nice, no? All this and you know what? I don't feel single day older!