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Travel  |  See all articles tagged perspectives or in region Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Idle ramblings of a homesick girl

Brenda Retzlaff

After multiple trips to Puerto Vallarta I think I am becoming Mexican. I look Mexican, so when I jump into a cab, I have to politely say "No hablo Español” when the driver rattles off a breathless sentence about the weather, the roads, the fiesta or whatever the topic of the day is. I then get the “look” in the rearview mirror. “Ahh! No Mexicana? OK, where to, Lady?”

I feel like an outcast, because my heart feels at home, but my mouth just can’t communicate. Granted, I can get to the bathroom, order beer, even give a few directions: a la derecha, a la izquierda and todo derecho. Conversing, on the other hand is a nightmare. I am a friendly person by nature, and like to ask questions, or talk to people, but going any further than como está throws me for a loop. So, a lot of smiles and sign language comes into play, a few laughs and off I go feeling terrible I couldn’t say anything more than a few simple words.

Once I get past the fact I am a lousy conversationalist, I relish in the fact Puerto Vallarta not only feels like home, but sounds like it and smells like it. Granted not my ‘real” home, as Minneapolis tends to smell like snow, pollution and fried things on a stick. No, Vallarta has a smell of it’s own. From the moment you land on the tarmac and they open the door of the 'plane, there is the smell of carne asada, tropical flowers and fresh laundry. Even the beach dogs smell good. They have that salty, ocean-y scent, rather than the “Look Mom! I just rolled in a dead fish!” smell my dog prefers to good old doggy shampoo. I also think my dog needs to come to Vallarta for a visit and learn some good old fashioned street dog manners. Not only has she NOT learned to look both ways before crossing the street, I have to leash her constantly. Maybe if she gets in a tangle with a worldly pup, she’d be content to sleep under a bistro chair while I enjoy some café de olla. If that doesn’t work, I’ll make her wear a mini serape and a sombrero, and she can earn her keep. At least she knows some Spanish commands, and when the command suits her, she will sientase and arriba. I can just picture my “youngin’” running free along the beach, playing with the beach dogs and bringing home her first nasty case of fleas. If I could get her there, I would be such a proud parent!

Vallarta has a special place in my heart. Each trip brings me closer to selling the farm. I remember the second trip where I sat on the beach with a margarita and a napkin jotting down my worldly possessions and what their market value was. I figured if I had a big garage sale and could sell my car to some unsuspecting teenager I could live in Vallarta for year. Maybe two years if the dog would wear the outfit and bark to La Bamba.

Now I have been home about 24 hours and I am thinking I should cash out my 401K and invest in a different kind of retirement package. I figure if I get out before we “Enron”, I could live in Vallarta indefinitely if I play my cards right. I’d pay for a year rental right up front, that way I force myself to buckle down and make it work in the first year. I am talking cheap, right in the barrio rental, no frills, just enough room to hang my hat and my 20 pairs of shoes. From there, I will hustle the streets and see if this gringa can fill any positions a Mexican cannot. This may be difficult, but then I see other gringos doing things in Vallarta my blind grandma could do with one leg. I will also swear on my Dad’s grave I WILL NOT SELL TIMESHARES! Well, unless I can’t eat and the dog isn’t bringing in her share of the rent. If I can't find a job, I could start up one of many wacky to weird business ideas if Hacienda would approve any of them.

My heart and mind keeps drawing me closer to Vallarta. It isn’t the beaches the beer or the bars. It’s much bigger than that, and yet much simpler. I become a better person once I escape the rat race. Granted, we all have to be a rat in respect to needing to work, but living to work and working to live are two different animals. My goal is to work my way from a rat to maybe, say, a mouse. I’d even be willing to share my cheese and not worry if the neighbors have gouda and I only have Velveeta.

I’ve also realized my mentality about my Mexican life versus my American life is worlds apart. Here at home, I complain if my neighbor’s dog barks a lot. In Mexico, I smile when the rooster next door wakes me up at 6:00am. Here at home I get pissy when the neighbors crank their stereo with rap, but in Vallarta I enjoy the complex mix of banda, mariachi and Shakira blasting me from 18 different directions. Two days in Vallarta, my neighbors say Hola! And wish me a good morning, eight years in the same house with the same neighbors I am lucky to get a “howdy”. Here in Minneapolis, I won’t answer the door when someone is selling something, and in Vallarta I anxiously await the bread man, the broom man and the knife sharpener guy, and I don’t even have knives.

Granted, I know Vallarta has issues I may find difficult to get used to, but it’s also much less bound by silly rules and sue-happy neighbors. Figuratively, the scales weigh more in Vallarta’s favor just by the simple fact that I am a guest in Mexico and will technically always be a guest, so I either put up or shut up so to speak. I also won’t be bound by outrageous property taxes so the government can build a new baseball stadium or football stadium I will never enter. On the other hand I just have to learn to go with the flow and know that my way or the highway just doesn’t exist. Kinda refreshing.

Sometimes I think I am just a little bit insane, that it’s vacation fever. Then I realize it’s been four trips where I really wasn’t on vacation. I spent the last seven days in a typical Mexican neighborhood, eating at taco stands and little home-style restaurants. I never made it to the bar once, I rarely took a taxi, and I spent many days with a Mexican family, feeling right at home. I didn’t feel like a tourist, I didn’t even feel like a traveler, I just felt like someone who was away from home a bit too long.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2002 by Brenda Retzlaff © 2008
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