Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sea Turtles and Police Shakedowns

Last week, I was forwarded an invitation to attend the Marriott CasaMagna Resort's unveiling of their new menu to the local press. I was the only American in a contingent of maybe a dozen people. At 8 pm, we were escorted to the hotel's swanky beachside restaurant and treated to a show of martini making by their award-winning bartender. He had one table laden with various bottles of liquor and another with a line of martini shakers. I had a chocolate martini, a "sexy" martini and an appletini. Only finished the chocolate martini, since I had to keep my wits about me. Halfway through the tasting, the hotel reps asked if I would be interested in seeing the release of baby sea turtles into the bay. They were born that same day! It's high season for this particular natural event and all the resorts along the bay take part in harvesting the eggs and looking after them until hatching time. In fact, everyone in Vallarta is encouraged to save the eggs and turn them in to prevent poaching.

I was escorted down to the release site where the local ranger had two large crates of baby sea turtles, maybe 2" long. The turtles are released after dark to give them some protection from predators. The ranger pour the turtles out on the sand a few feet from the ocean and they gradually find their way to the water. I can't tell you what a thrill this was -- especially getting to hold one of the little tykes in my hand.

The rest of the evening was taken up with various sample courses served in the resort's massive and elegant dining room. All in all, it was an amazing evening.

Earlier the same day I joined my chef friend Seth Cloutman at Benito Juarez Elementary School in the Remance neighborhood of Vallarta, where he is trying to get a garden project started for the students at the school. Remance is a very poor neighborhood, and this wonderful school takes in the kids nobody wants, what they call "the unadoptables." The principal is a saint and a man with a vision. A cement-covered stretch of schoolground will be jackhammered out to make room for earth and vegetable beds. Seth based his idea for the school garden on Chef Alice Waters book, Edible Schoolyard -- a plan to teach poor kids how to grow vegetables which can be prepared for healthy meals. Right now, the kids in Remance subsist on sugary softdrinks and mac & cheese. Anyway, I'm cooperating with Seth to photograph and write about the project for Banderas News. In a case of pure synchronicity, my dinner partner at the Marriott, a writer and naturalist, had been at the same school earlier in the week talking to the kids and showing them a macaw from the jungle above Puerto Vallarta.

Well, I'm about ready for this oppressive tropical heat to end. My hair is soaking wet most of the time -- I've given up trying to style it. My body wears a constant oily sheen of perspiration. People are saying this has been one of the hottest summers on record -- also one of the most violent. Last week, two Canadian men were shot to death outside Gold's Gym in what appears to be a drug-related assassination. They were both shot multiple times, then while bleeding to death on the ground, were shot again with automatic weapons. I've heard some pretty hair-raising stories about violent murders here in Vallarta. The media generally tries to hush them up, fearful that tourists will be scared away.

Last night, as I was exiting the tunnel on my way to my ladies book club meeting, I was pulled over by the local police. The cop who stopped me tried to say I was driving over the speed limit, but it was purely a shakedown by a corrupt police force. The week before at a dinner party, an American woman told me about the same thing happening to her -- and how she handled it. He tried to confiscate my driver's license, but I refused to hand it over to him -- I knew what was coming next. He asked me how much money I had on me...and started picking through stuff on my console. I had put about 80 pesos and change in the zippered flap of my purse. I unzipped the flap and pulled out the money (I had larger bills in another compartment which I didn't tell him about). He pointed to my coin purse on the dash which was filled with American coins. I handed it to him and he pulled out a Susan B. Anthony dollar, asked me what it was. Playing the part of the naive, distressed female, told him the dollar was "collectible" -- worth maybe $25 USD." He asked me how much is that in pesos...anyway, he took that and the 80 pesos and let me go. Apparently, these shakedowns are happening more and more in Vallarta. They see American plates and they pull you over...sometimes they even take your license plates! As I drove home last night, cops were everywhere on the lateral streets, so I stayed to the center lanes to avoid being pulled over a second time. I have to admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally turned into my neighborhood.

As the economy worsens here, no doubt, such episodes will increase. Someone broke into Dave's vehicle last week and stole one of his tripods. I heard a horror story about a Canadian family driving a Suburban to a family wedding, crammed with suitcases and camera equipment. They stopped to eat lunch in Mexico City and came out to find their vehicle completely emptied out -- suitcases, navigations system -- even the vehicle registration.

I try to be smart, and I feel safe living on the third floor of this building, but I just pray I can hang on to my laptop. I'd be up a creek if it got stolen. I purposely let the Beast go unwashed so it won't attract attention. Until now, I haven't been fearful...but last night gave me the creeps.

Friday after work, Israel and I went out for a cheap dinner at La Ola. We were just finishing up when a bunch of musicians with drums, saxophones, etc. came in and began playing really loud Salsa music. The musicians were gathered around one table where one or two guys were seated. The noise was so loud we could barely hear each other. After we left, Israel told me that it's a common custom for the neighborhood druglord to hire a band to play for him as he eats his dinner. . .

It boggles my mind that a little over a year ago, I was sitting in an isolated office writing devotionals. This place is a whole new paradigm.

No comments:

Post a Comment