Mexico's Wide, Wide West: Life in a Remote Fishing Village

Puerto Lobos is a study in contrasts.  If (the more developed) Bahia de Kino feels like “land’s end”—per Lonely Planet—then this is off the map, though that is changing with the new highway, as previously mentioned.  My only visit two years ago, the road had just been paved to here—from the north down the coast—shortening the distance from the big city of Caborca (pop. 60,000) and transportation links to the rest of the country.  Now that link to the links is even shorter, as there’s a bus thirty minutes to the south in Puerto Libertad, that connects to the much larger city to the southeast in Hermosillo (pop. 700,000).  But if Puerto Lobos looks like a tiny little God-forsaken Mexican fishing village on the surface, peel back a layer of the onion and there’s more (actually I prefer those large Mexican green onions for this purpose). 


There’s a tiny community here of similarly-minded ex-pat American hipsters (ex-Flagstaff, mainly) looking to get off the grid on the cheap, at least part-time—build a crib, put a lock on the door, etc.  If that sounds sooo colonial, well rest assured the Mexicans do it, too.  In fact, on weekends, and especially the Holy Week preceding Easter, the whole place takes on an entirely different personality, raucous and rowdy.  Thus, this tiny village of fishermen is nothing so much as a village of beach houses (mostly shacks, actually) for city dwellers, Mexican-style.  And when I say “get off the grid” that used to have a different meaning entirely, i.e. off the power grid.  Now civilization is impinging little by little, and power and light poles are going up one by one…and a community that used to be pitch black at night is gradually taking on the appearance of “normalcy.”  Some like it that way.  Some don’t.  There are even cell phones now, so put a little thingamajig on your laptop and that means Internet, too.


What about the war, you ask, that drug-fueled war that has in the last five years claimed as many lives in Mexico as the Vietnam War did to the US in ten?  That’s somewhere else…in somebody else’s village…in somebody else’s mind.  Oh sure, there’s a bit of drug trade here, coming from who-knows-where going to God-knows-where.  They come in, do their thing under the cover of night, and then they go home, usually.  Sometimes they hide in fifty-five gallon drums while the helicopter’s search lights probe overhead. 


As long as nothing really bad happens in town, then everyone turns a blind eye to the drug trade…the storeowners, the fishermen, the American ex-cop.  The bad guys are good customers in town, after all, for the supplies they need, so everybody wins.  Yeah right.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that’s how the war got started in the first place, everybody turning a blind eye as long as it was somebody else’s son carrying the gun and somebody else’s husband getting killed.  Now it’s starting to hit home, especially in Ciudad Juarez and Monterey, the main drug routes to the US markets.  How long before the western lands get ripped up by violence is anybody’s guess.


So in my few short days I establish a little routine—coffee and a light brekkie in the morning, long walk, see the town, see some friends, lunch, nap, internet, etc. But the best part is the afternoon swim, out about a quarter mile to the pelicans’ island.  If the tide’s out, you can walk almost the entire way.  There are miles of unspoiled beach around here.  In the right season you can even see some misguided whales taking the scenic route.  The fat-bellied mother-flippers still don’t have GPS.  All good things must come to an end of course, so I try to put together an onward plan as best I can.  First that means to get to Hermosillo, and then decide where to go from there.  I call the hotel down the road in Libertad (cell phones now, yes!) and they tell me there’s a bus at 2 p.m.  Another Mexican friend says there’s also one at 11 a.m.  With that info in hand I decide that I’ll crash a night in Hermosillo, then maybe take half a day out to Bahia Kino and back—looking for an ironwood carver (long story), then back to Hermosillo and continue onward.


Of course the Kino leg is optional, subject to my shifting moods and desire to do business when I’d really rather write, so the “continue onward” part is of primary importance.  That could give this trip a life beyond merely visiting friends.  The Sonora river route looks pretty good, if the bus schedules are sympathetic to my needs.  I won’t know until I get there.  If it all sounds sketchy, that’s because it is.  I prefer to recycle back statements (“space intentionally left blank”) for those sketches.  But the river route sounds nice, traditional little Mexican towns with hot springs and furniture makers and cows and cowboys—no more Indians.  The original Opata-speaking inhabitants are down to fifteen in number, and they all live in Mexico, D. F. now.  It’s a shame.  Or I could go farther south into the heart of the Yaqui/Mayo territory, but I’ve done that before.  So I get the brilliant idea to book a room in advance by Internet for Hermosillo.  Expedia has some, but I decide to book another on its own Spanish-language website.  It goes through without a hitch, confirmed.


The next morning I check my credit card online to see what the charge is in dollars.  It’s $38.38.  Uh-oh, that can’t be good, not in Mexico—anywhere else, maybe, but not Mexico.  A sign is a sign.  Suddenly I don’t feel so good.  D & E take me to meet my 11 a.m. bus, but there is none.  I’ll have to wait until 2 p.m.  We see the town’s few sights—there ain’t much—and have lunch, but that sick feeling won’t go away.  D & E leave me at the bus stop, but the bus never comes…never.  I’ll have to spend the night in Libertad and catch the 5 a.m. bus, even though I’ve already paid for a room in Hermosillo.  Something like this happened the last time I came here, exactly two years ago to the week.  Then I tried to book a Mexican bus in advance and never got the confirmation, so assumed it never went through.  I made other plans, then the charge showed up; I never got my money back, and not for lack of trying, including calling the bus line’s head office in Mexico, D.F.  I assume I’ll have to eat this one, too.  If things went smoothly, then I guess it wouldn’t be Mexico.  (to be continued)

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