November 2011

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The Mexico Diaries: Agua Caliente

Bucerias street dog. Photo by David Lansing.

Early this morning there was a knock on my door. There stood Bulmaro, a screwdriver in one hand, a pair of pliers in the other. “It’s okay now,” he said, snarling his lip in a brash Marlon Brando way.

“What’s okay?”

El agua caliente.”


He shrugged, as if to say, Of course…don’t be ridiculous. If I say I have fixed it, I have fixed it.

He motioned me to follow him outside my condo to where a little concrete hut houses my hot water heater. He opened the wooden doors and pointed. “Mira.”

I looked. The blocky little heater, full of rust and corrosion, was bubbling away. Bulmaro touched it, burning his fingers, to prove that it was indeed hot.

“What was the problem?”

Bulmaro reached into his back pocket and took out a little box of matches with a drawing of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the top. “El fuego estaba apagado,” he explained. “But now it is okay.”

I thanked him profusely, not bothering to ask why he hadn’t lit the pilot light yesterday when he was here and I’d first noticed that I had no hot water or, even, why it hadn’t been lit over a week ago when I’d asked Señor Rivera to check and make sure everything was in working order. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that Bulmaro had come over early in the morning and lit my pilot light and now I would at least be able to have hot water. My purifier still sat moribund under the sink so I could not drink the water, but at least I could bathe in it. As Señor Rivera would have said, “Already we are working on everything.”

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The Mexico Diaries: Señor Rivera

A flower vendor in Bucerias. Photo by David Lansing.

A little over a week before I arrived in Bucerias, I e-mailed the man who takes care of my property, Señor Rivera, and asked him to go through the condo and check everything to make sure it was in good working order. Turn on the air-conditioning, I urged him, and let the hot water run for awhile. Flush the toilets and see if the shower heads are blocked with the heavy minerals and salts that course through our water supply system like cholesterol in a heart-attack victim. Turn on lights, see if the internet is working, and make sure the linens have been washed.

Three days later I got a one-sentence reply: “Everything is perfect.”

Señor Rivera is a man of few words.

When I opened my front door, the sequestered heat and humidity inside my closed abode blasted me backwards. I opened doors and windows to get some air circulating and then decided to speed things up by turning on the air-conditioning, which I almost never do. Except the little red light on the Mexican thermostat did not come on. And no air was coming through the vents.

I went to wash my hands but there was no hot water. And in the kitchen, the light was also out on my water-purifier. No air, no hot water, no clean water. Feeling just slightly annoyed, I opened up my laptop to send Señor Rivera a quick e-mail to complain. Except I didn’t have internet service. Instead, I hiked back up the hill to the palapa next to the administration offices of my complex where there is slow but free internet and sent him a rather long message complaining about all the things that weren’t working. Then I sat there on a sagging couch in the outdoor living room beneath the palapa and waited. Half an hour later, I got a response from Señor Rivera: “Bulmaro is on his way.”

Bulmaro is Sancho Panza to Señor Rivera’s Don Quixote. He is lovable and sleepy-eyed and a man who will do whatever Señor Rivera requests him to do, even if he has no idea how to do it. In fact, he usually has no idea how to fix the problems in my condo but he always shows great interest in them nonetheless.

I walked back to my condo and waited. An hour or so later, Bulmaro was at my front door holding his hat in both hands. “Un problema?” he asked. Like Señor Rivera, Bulmaro is a man of few words. I flipped the air-conditioning switch to show him it didn’t work. He doubted my technique and had me move aside while he tried it for himself. When it refused to turn on, he tried it again, this time moving the switch more slowly. No success. Next he flicked it on and off several times rapidly. Nothing. Finally he shrugged. “No funciona,” he declared.

Clearly, I said. But what can we do about it? He held up a finger as if the solution has just appeared to him. He got on his cell phone and called Señor Rivera. Mister David’s air-conditioner does not work, he told his boss. A few other words were exchanged and then Bulmaro handed the phone to me.

“Bulmaro says your air-conditioner is not working,” said Señor Rivera. “That is why you cannot get cold air.”


After a few more revelations along this line, Señor Rivera determined that perhaps the best thing was to call an air-conditioner repair man. Which he would do immediately. Meanwhile, Bulmaro would continue his inspection of my condo. Which he admirably did, quickly determining that my hot-water heater wasn’t working nor was my water-purifier. He called Señor Rivera to report back and then the phone was once again handed to me.

“Bulmaro says your water-purifier does not work,” Señor Rivera informed me. A repairman would be needed and he, Señor Rivera, would call them immediately. As well as a plumber. As for the internet, the Telecable office was already closed. He would call them in the morning.

“So you see,” Señor Rivera happily told me, “already we are working on everything.” And with that, Bulmaro quietly slipped out of my condo and rode away into the sunset on his little scooter.

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The Mexico Diaries: Miss Vicky

Punta Esmeralda view

The view of the Bay of Banderas yesterday upon my arrival to my Bucerias condo. Photo by David Lansing.

I arrived into Puerto Vallarta yesterday afternoon and when I walked out of the air-conditioned terminal into the muggy, hot México aire there was Miss Vicky, idling in her little SUV in the red zone while a bored Federale shifted his automatic weapon from one shoulder to the other. Ah, Mexico; I was home again.

I haven’t seen Miss Vicky in almost a year so we had a lot of catching up to do. I must see the Puerto Vallarta malecon, bordering Paseo Diaz Ordaz, she told me. They’d just completed a major renovation turning it into a pedestrian-only area. And there were new restaurants to try in Bucerias and La Cruz. Did I want to stop at Mega on the way to do some grocery shopping? I told her I didn’t think it was necessary, although if she wouldn’t mind it would be great if I could dash in to OXXO, the Mexican convenient stores that are as ubiquitous along the highway as stray dogs and the guys wanting to clean your windshield with spit and a dirty rag. I just needed to get some basics for my condo, I told her: beer, ice, and tequila.

“That’s all you need?” Miss Vicky asked me.

Well, at least for two or three days, I told her.

Miss Vicky is a real estate agent in Bucerias. She’s originally from Vancouver, which is where I first met her over a decade ago when she was doing pr for a downtown hotel and I was working on a story for National Geographic Traveler. We had dinner together at her hotel my last night in Vancouver and, making idle conversation, I asked her if she could imagine doing something other than public relations work in Vancouver.

“Well, I’m actually quitting at the end of the month,” she confided. “And moving to Mexico.”

¡Qué sorpresa! Did she have a job there? Did she speak Spanish? Did she know anyone down there? No and no and no, she said. Her parents owned a second home in a little fishing village an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, she told me, and she’d stay there until she figured out what her next step was. Seeing the bemused look on my face, she assured me it would all work out. I didn’t tell her this at the time, but secretly I was giving her six months before she was back in Canada. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Miss Vicky segued from doing pr work for a chain of Mexican boutique hotels to selling real estate and now speaks better Spanish than Felipe Calderón. Almost.

And she’s been incredibly successful as a real estate agent in Mexico. In fact, she sold me my condo five years ago. And I wasn’t even remotely interested in buying something in Mexico. Her soft sell was so good I can’t even remember how she did it. All I remember is that one afternoon she was driving me from my hotel in Puerto Vallarta to another one near Punta Mita and by the time I’d finished my ceviche that night, I owned a 2-bedroom condo on the Bay of Banderas. Amazing, no? And I won’t buy cookies from Girl Scouts because I fear they’re somehow trying to con me. But with Miss Vicky, anything is possible.

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The Anara Spa. And, no, that's not me in the pool.

When I went to the front desk this morning to ask for a late check-out, explaining that I had a red-eye flight back to the mainland this evening, they told me no problem. “Would 2 o’clock be okay?”

Well, that was very nice, I said, but I wonder what I’ll do between two and ten when my flight leaves. “Would 6 o’clock be better?” she asked me.

God love ‘em. There aren’t a lot of hotels that will give you a 6pm late check-out.

That problem solved, I then decided that what I’d do on my last day at the Grand Hyatt Kauai was treat myself to a massage. Maybe a special massage. Something thoroughly Hawaiian. So I perused the spa brochure in my room. There was something called the lokahi which began with a Hawaiian ritual bath (that sounded naughty) followed by a lomilomi massage, volcanic foot scrub, and a coconut scalp massage. Very Hawaiian. Also very pricey ($695; I wasn’t feeling that generous about myself). Plus it would take the entire day (they threw in lunch for the seven-hundred bucks).

There was the pohaku (warm stones), a coco mango rain massage (a body polish), and a hapai massage, which sounded kind of good (until I read the last line which said it was for “moms-to-be”). And then there was the Traditional Hawaiian Healing Escape: “a profound experience that releases the mind, eases the body’s tension, and lightens the spirit.”

Oh my god…yes! Release my mind! Lighten my spirit! Certainly something with that description also had to include a cocktail or two, didn’t it?

So around noon I checked in at the front desk of the ANARA spa where a guy showed me the showers and where to find the free combs soaking in alcohol, just like at the barber I used to go to when I was a kid, and gave me some slippers and a robe. Then he took me to the spa hale, an open-sided pavilion, where I sat naked (except for my robe) trying to look at ease with the half-dozen other naked people sitting around staring into the near distance and sipping cold water with slices of cucumbers floating in it. After awhile, a very tall, elegant woman in a sarong came out and introduced herself as Yohana. She sat at my feet like a maiden and carefully washed my feet while I focused on keeping my somewhat small terry-cloth robe closed between my legs (I’ve never been to a spa where they issued robes of suitable size for men who are six-feet-three).

When that rather embarrassing bit was done (I kept thinking how horrified Jesus must have been when Mary Magdalene washed his feet with her hair), Yohana took me back to a garden room with shutter doors open on to the garden and, after having me get naked on the table, told me to take three deep breaths “inhaling the ha, the breath of life, and exhaling anything that does not serve you,” and then she placed a palm on my back and chanted some Hawaiian prayer over me. I have no idea what she said but I liked it. It was like when I was a child and my mother would grab my hand just before we crossed the street. Certainly no harm would come to me while I was under the protection of Yohana.

Then there was the lomilomi massage which was probably wonderful although, to tell the truth, I sort of zoned out (and maybe even fell asleep) through the whole thing. After that Yohana gave me a warm coconut oil scalp massage which really did put me to sleep. And then it was over. I hate it when a massage is over. It’s like when you’ve opened the very last Christmas present and there’s nothing left. Now what?

Yohana left the room and I sat up and got dressed and when she came back in I was sitting on the edge of the massage table facing the tropical garden full of bright green palms and deep red ti plants. I was feeling groggy as hell. Yohana asked me if there was anything else she could do for me today. “I wonder,” I said, “if you’d mind giving me your blessing.”

“You mean the Hawaiian blessing I gave you at the beginning of the massage?”

“No,” I told her, “your personal blessing.”

She seemed to understand what I was getting at. She held both of my hands in hers and looked very deeply into my eyes and the two of us were silent for a minute of two. Then she smiled and patted my arm. And that was that. My traditional Hawaiian healing massage was over. And so was my time on Kauai.

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A busy day at the pool

What did I do today? Nothing, really. One minute I was finishing up my coffee and thinking about maybe hanging out at the Hyatt’s big honkin’ pool and the next thing I knew it was late in the afternoon and everyone in the lounges on either side of me had left their wet towels and departed.

Maybe the most active thing I did was just walk in a long circuit around the pool. Which takes at least an hour if you do it right. Because first you have to play a few minutes of pool hoops with whoever has the ball and then slide under the volleyball net strung just inches over the water and bounce your way along the bottom of the pool beneath a bridge and around the corner to the waterfall where, if you’re smart, you’ll take a break and order a cocktail from one of the pool girls.

Then you bounce along a bit further to the island in the middle of the pool and climb out and go soak in the Jacuzzi for a few minutes, chatting it up with whoever else is in there, and when that gets to be a little too toasty you get back in the pool and circle your way around to the waterslide and try to decide if you’re going to climb out and stand in line with the kids waiting to bomb their way down to the bottom (probably not) or just sit on the far side of the pool away from the slide and watch the madness.

The first time you watch a young woman almost loses her top when she hits the water hard you realize that you might as well stick around to see if anything else exciting happens. And it does. So this takes up a fair amount of time.

By the time you get back to your chaise lounge you realize that it’s way past noon and you’re starving so you get some sashimi and a beer and because it’s hot and you’ve been doing all that exercise floating around the pool you order a second beer and then you fall asleep. And the sound of kids laughing and diving into the pool mixes with the conversations going on all around you so that you have some Hunter S. Thompson-esque dreams until you finally wake up, clammy and slightly sunburned, and realize that the afternoon is over. And maybe you should go back to your room and take a shower and freshen up. Or maybe take another nap. Probably another nap.

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