Growing up I always thought that a rooster’s crow was created specifically, as nature’s alarm clock, to wake the farm folk and welcome another day. I believed that the roosters slept during the night like the rest of us, and at the first hint of dawn, with all of their vocal abilities, blasted that well known universal greeting, ‘cock-a-doodle-do’.
Which, I guess, it is not truly universal considering a Mexican rooster’s song sounds more like, “ki-kiri-ki’.
I thought, that was it! Good morning, Señor Sol, and, hey everybody, it’s time to get up, all rolled into one.
Man! Was I wrong!
I met Roberto at Playas Novillero in October 1974. It was shortly after that I met Doña Maria and her rooster.
Playas Novillero is an expanse of beach on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Quite simply, your eyes cannot take in the entire length of this beach. Not only is it the longest beach in the state of Nayarit, but in all of the country. It stretches on for 56 miles and is a third of a mile wide.
Daily, while the tide is low, cars and trucks drive by on the hard packed sand, toward their destinations.
Buses, bursting with locals, students, and livestock of all species and sizes, take advantage of the short cut it offers. Stops are made along the way at the little pueblos that inhabit the beachfront where school children, old women, goats and their tenders, get on and off.
Due to the lack of roadways, the people in many of these pueblos, depend upon Playas Novillero as their main connector to the surrounding areas.
On the weekend it is common to see groups of children and young adults wading out, over three hundred feet, in the tranquil, and safe, warm waters.
Large extended families, pickup loads of ten to fifteen, arrive and prepare feasts of fish and shrimp on the ocean shore. The children enjoying fresh mangoes with chili and lime. Ceviche for everyone!
During the week, when times were quiet, a person could stand on this beach, look in both directions as far as the eye could see, and honestly be alone. One could walk 5 miles up the beach, turn around and walk the 5 miles back without seeing a soul. I have made this walk many times. Peaceful.
So what does this all have to do with a rooster? Later for that scoundrel. Stay with me por favor.
It’s just that I figured a big ass beach such as this deserved some ‘big ass’ recognition.
Playas Novillero is a hell of a spot. No, that’s not right……………
It’s a spot of heaven.
Soccer, or as they say in Mexico, ‘futbol’, is not my sport. All Canadian’s are hockey crazy. And, I am número uno among those loco for our game.
Yet…..I sat on that beach captivated. Watching four locals working magic with their feet, bodies, and heads, suspending that soccer ball for as long as they wanted. Never touching the ground.
Well, maybe they did drop it a few times. However, that’s not how I choose to remember it.
They saw me watching. Smiling, they waved me over. I stood up and walked to them. We pointed to our chests and said our names. The introductions were done. I met Roberto, Carlos, Jesus, and Gordo.
Gordo in English translates to fat, or when used as a nickname, Fatso. I will never get over how so many of the, shall I safely say, larger Mexicans, are perfectly fine with being called Fatso. Even into adulthood. Where I come from ‘them be fightin’ words.’ Different worlds……I was learning.
‘Jesus,’ now there is a name that’s a ‘whole nother story.’
After the introductions, naturally, the next step was to state our ages. I went first. Unable to speak Spanish outside of ordering a beer, or asking directions to the can, it suddenly struck me. This could be easy. I would draw pictures in the sand. Grabbing hold of a stick, I carefully drew twenty four straight and equal lines in the sand. My age.
The four of them concentrated on every stroke I made. Mesmerized! I was communicating without words, This was wonderful. They seemed to be slowly sizing up what I had done. Looking puzzled they had some discussion, then nodded in unison. They understood!
I passed the stick to Roberto and in two quick movements he drew the number 20 right below my lines. The others followed.
Breakthrough! We use the same numbers. My first Spanish lesson.
We pantomimed, drew more pictures in the sand, and with our broken English and Spanish managed to slowly create an actual conversation. Slowly, is the key word, but it was great fun, and we were making some progress.
I learned that Carlos, Jesus, and Gordo lived in Acaponeta, a 45 minute bus ride inland. Acaponeta is a medium sized agricultural center that services the surrounding rural areas.
Roberto lived on a rancho (picked up on that one right away) fifteen minutes from the town, on the Acaponeta River.
Through the various methods, mentioned earlier, I was able to decipher that the ranch held plenty of farm animals, such as pigs, horses, chickens, and goats. With all of Roberto’s hilarious farm animal imitations none resembled a rooster. It never came up. Thinking back, I should have been able to figure it out…..you know….. because of the chickens.
Hindsight, what good is it?
It took a while to sink in, but when I finally broke the latest code of body speak, I got it! Roberto was inviting me to stay at his ranch for a few days, or, in what is typical Mexican generosity, as long as I wanted.
I was extremely excited about this opportunity. Exactly why I was on this trip! To experience the country, the people, the food, their customs, and everything in between. I may have been pale, blue eyed, and language challenged, but I was determined not to be a turista.
Who was I trying to fool?
Three days later, ( I was fairly confident that we decided upon Wednesday) I threw my pack on my back and waited on the beach in the warming morning sun for a bus. Roberto would meet me at the town square in Acaponeta at high noon.
I’m not sure whether I saw it or heard it first but that old bus was chugging along the beach highway at full throttle. A plume of black diesel smoke trailing behind it forever.
It was moving rather fast, and as there wasn’t a designated spot for pick up, I waved my arms frantically, jumping up and down to make myself highly visible. Surely the driver could see me.
Less than 30 feet away from me he applied the brakes and quickly began gearing down. The abrupt speed change nearly caused a huge bag of limes, a couple of piglets, and a rooster to come flying off the roof on top of me.
Yes, a rooster, however, not the one of this tale.
Skillfully he brought the bus within two feet of where I stood, the doorway right in front of me. I hopped on. The one armed driver graced me with a toothless grin and said “Acaponeta amigo”? Returning his smile, I replied “Sí señor!” Spanish was quickly becoming a second language.
He then said plenty more, none of which I understood (okay, it was slowly becoming a second language). He held out his hand, requesting payment. I reached into my pocket and with various coins laying in my palm he picked out the pesos to cover my fare. Instantly he goosed the engine and grinding through gears we were on our way.
The bus was loaded with girls and boys in their secondary school uniforms, old ladies looking perturbed, workers whispering to each other and chuckling, and young mothers holding small children close to them
(Did I look that weird?).
There were boxes tied shut, bags full of clothes and fruit, a bundle of sugar cane, and of course, an assortment of small animals, littered about.
All of the students were standing in a tight group, hanging on to the overhead bar. This surprised me, because there were at least four or five empty seats. One of which I immediately sat in.
It occurred to me that perhaps the reason why the students remained standing was to kindly allow other passengers to sit as they boarded. A respectful bunch. Not so, they had their own reasons for not taking a seat.
The bus swiftly lurched off of the beach and headed inland. The main artery to Acaponeta is nothing more than a dusty dirt road riddled with all sizes of bumps and craters. And, more livestock, this time cows, wandering within inches of our bus. Getting out of the way just in the nick of time, hardly missing a stride.
I don’t think that there was a hundred yards of straight going. Our driver was more than adept at handling every curve, every shift of the gears. All the while laughing and talking with the passengers as he changed eight track cassettes in his dashboard player.
The guy was a good driver!
I noticed that when the bus took every snaky ess curve that the group of students all fell together laughing and whispering to each other. The old ladies looked more upset and the workers chuckled harder. The mothers brought their children tighter to their sides
At the next curve watching the students much closer now, I could see what was happening.
Mexican-teen-freestyle-in public-dry humping!
They were taking every advantage possible to synchronize their movements to match those of the bus while rubbing up against each other. No blatant grinding or touching, just a lot of squashing together in all the right places at the right time. All due to the bumpy and pot holed curvy dirt road.
Or, was it teen spirit! Now, that’s universal!
These kids loved riding this magic bus. Their creativity made me envious. Leaving me no choice but to add another item to the long list of things I wished I had done in high school.
This also clearly explained the demeanor of the other passengers.
And I thought it was me!
The students settled down a bit. The lads were having problems hiding their excitement, so I guess a break in the action was necessary. Slowly the flushed faces of the senoritas returned to normal.
I then turned my attention to the front of the bus. The driver’s cockpit was colorfully decorated, way over the top. Señor Smiley was definitely a hoarder. On the dash there were at least fifteen mounted statuettes. Minnie Mouse in her polka dot skirt, a troll doll, bobble head Jesus, the Pillsbury dough boy, a soccer player with a broken leg mounted on a trophy, a day of the dead skeleton, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. And, many more, that I cannot recall.
The top of his gear shift sported a hand grenade as a grip. Patriotism evident in the green, white, and red dingle balls that danced across the entire top of the windshield. The colors of the country’s flag.
On the front of the dash there were stickers of dolphins, starfish, a bottle of Corona, Scooby Doo, flags of various nations, and of course, the Virgin of Guadalupe. And, many more, that again, I cannot recall.
Painted on the passenger side of the windshield was a bright blue cross, below it the words ‘Dios es mi copiloto’ – ‘God is my co-pilot’. I truly believed it!
In the area above the windshield, another lovely framed vision of, yes, the Virgin of Guadalupe……..and right beside her, in all her bare ass glory…………Connie Kreski, the 1969 Playboy Playmate of the year.
Country of contradictions? Sí Amigos!
The bus began to slow down now and came to a complete stop. I looked out the side window and saw cactus, brush, dust, and diesel smoke. That was it! Everyone began to exit through the front door. Taking the cue, I followed.
This was not Acaponeta!
The road ended there. We were on a river bank. There was no bridge. Only, an old lopsided raft on the opposite side of the waterway, secured to a guide cable that was strung across from one side to the other. This prevented the raft from drifting down river.
There was also a thick old rope attached to a stake on our side. The other end spanned the water and was attached to the raft. A few of the bus passengers untied the staked rope and wrapped it around the front bumper of the bus.
The driver got back into the bus. He gave the gas peddle a few shots, ground into reverse, and began to back up, pulling the raft to our side of the river.
Once it hit our shore, he stopped. The students secured the raft. The driver then, again with amazing skill, drove onto the raft perfectly. The bus barely fit.
Then, we waited. For maybe, half of an hour, or longer.
A farm truck loaded with papayas arrived on the other side.
A second frayed rope, which was attached to our front end of the raft, was then tied to the papaya truck. Our driver signaled and we all got back onto the bus. Straining, the old farm truck headed back up the road pulling us across to the opposite shore.
Simple, effective, and most important, it worked! The Mexican ferry system had me bouncing happily on my way to Acaponeta!
Other than the many stops en route to allow passengers on and off the bus, the rest of the ride was pleasant and uneventful. That is, if you didn’t count the students, who were all back to their little game of ‘bus body squish me please.’
The bus station in Acaponeta, appeared to me, nothing less than total chaos. People moving in all directions, not with great urgency, but obvious determination. Helter-skelter at a Mexican pace. Watching for a short while I realized that everyone knew where they were going, and when they had to be there. So, not total chaos after all.
More like a form of controlled total chaos.
Part 2 – cont’d next week ……..
The diversity of Mexico and the people’s heart, spirit and soul has attracted Michael Osias to visit Mexico extensively over the past 40+ years. ‘Home is Where the Heart Is’. (All Rights Reserved)