A southern hemisphere swell arrived in San Juanico, Baja California. It also washed a few dozen surfers into town. They came mostly from Los Angeles or San Diego, a 16-plus hour drive, one-way.
But if you want to enjoy the waves at this magnificent fishook-shaped bay, you’ll pay a heavy price. The last 45 minutes of the drive is on a bone-jarring, vehicle-grinding dirt road. And this time of year–hurricane season–can fill huge arroyos with water and mud in minutes, making them impassible for days.
What better place to see how one Mexican town is celebrating two important holidays?
During the year 2010, Mexico celebrates both the 200th anniversary of its Independence and the 100th anniversary of its revolution. The entire year has been proclaimed by President Felipe Calderon as “Año de la Patria,” or “Year of the Nation.”
But some are saying that Mexico’s crushing problems are taking some of the shine off the bicentennial.
“By accident of timing, as Mexico approaches the 200th anniversary on Thursday of the start of its rebellion against Spain, the national mood has sunk into its deepest funk in years,” wrote Randal C. Archibald in an article titled ‘Mexican Bicentennial Falls Short on Fervor’ in the September 12 edition of the New York Times.
He cites a drug war that’s claimed almost 28,000 lives and shows no signs of abating. In Mexico City, people are upset that the government’s choreographed a $50 million celebration spectacle, arguing that the money should be diverted to desperately needed social services.
But here in San Juanico–and much of the rest of Mexico, I suspect–these problems are not on most people’s radar screen.
San Juanico sits in splendid isolation close to La Purisima, which itself isn’t close to anything, either. (Both towns are about two-thirds down the length of the 1100 mile-long Baja Peninsula).
San Juanico has a few hundred souls. Two-and-half restaurants (the pizza joint is only open Fridays and Saturdays). A single paved street that runs for a few hundred yards. Electricity comes from 10 wind generators and is stored in banks of batteries.
Most people make a living by by trapping lobsters, or fishing. People here are tough, independent, and used to making do, or making do without.
However, thanks to the Internet and highly accurate surf forecasts, dedicated wave hunters can zip into town for a long weekend, bringing with them a cash infusion for the local economy.
El Burro en Primavera Restaurant is full tonight; 22 people are dining here, all gringos. “Thank goodness for the waves,”said owner Rosalina Mesa Murillo. “Before this, things were very slow.”
Towns without a tourist attraction aren’t so fortunate. About half of all Mexicans live in poverty (47%), according to Mexico’s Conevel, the National Advisors of Evaluations and Social Developement.
Here in San Juanico I was, as far as I could tell, I was the only gringo who showed up at the town’s plaza to watch the festivities. Grade-school children performed skits and dances that retold the story of Mexican independence. Everyone in town lined up at a huge communal buffet to enjoy home made dishes.
Next to me a proud fisherman father snapped digital pictures of his daughter and her friends dressed as indigenous people, performing a traditional dance.
We watched for several minutes. Then this huge, powerful man held out his calloused bearpaw of a hand, shook mine, and invited me to come down to see visit him at his fishing boat.
This is the Mexico that never makes the news; the quiet, hardworking Mexico filled with warm-hearted people.
The band struck up, someone painted my face with green, white and red stripes–the colors of the Mexican flag. I sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed watching people celebrate their families and their country.
“Viva Mexico!” shouted the announcer.
“Viva Baja California! Viva San Juanico!”
Everyone in the plaza gave raucous cheers.
For the people of San Juanico, it was a special evening.