We have a lot of sunny days, rarely a cloudy one. Yesterday, while driving down Avenida del Mar, the sky surprised me with all of its clouds. It was glorious. So I took a few photos out the window as Greg was driving. Today, in downloading them, what I really loved also were the people I happened to get, framed with that gorgeous sky in the background. We can see tourists, visiting our lovely city and taking a family photo.
We expected when we first moved here to love the views, the sunsets, sunrises, watching the sailboats and the party boats, the catamarans and the parasailers, the oyster divers, shrimp boats, cruise ships, ferries, and the jet skis. The really remarkable thing to me after living here awhile, however, is realizing that the malecón has got to be the world’s largest gymnasium (and swimming pool).
The photo above left is of a few spinning bicycles, and a lady practicing yoga, in one section of the malecón. As you can see, exercising on the malecón is both an incredible audio and visual experience!
Below I list just some of the myriad exercisers and health nuts we see every day, all day long.
The people on the cement (used to be tile) walkway, including:
- The walkers: fast and slow, limping and smooth, sometimes with a walker, in expensive sports shoes or recycled tires, wearing sweat-repellant high-tech fibers or charity duds, some in the midst of such heated conversation they fail to notice anyone else, others greeting, hugging and kissing nearly every person they meet, the guy who squeezes a ball in his hand as he walks, those who carry weights and do arm lifts as they walk, those who take a few steps and then lunge, those who walk backwards, those who listen to ipods, and those who walk dogs (or whose dogs walk them).
- Joggers: old and young, fat and slim, jolly and focused, that guy who jogs with his arms stretched straight out in front of him, the lady who swings her arms hard enough to knock someone out, and the guys who pump their arms. There are joggers with both knees bandaged, or braces on both knees; but they are jogging.
- The runners, and boy do some of them run, evidently from one end of the malecón to the other! Every day! Maybe more!
- Rollerbladers: newbies, professionals, those who stumble, those who go 50 kph, those who wear pads and helmets, and mostly those who don’t.
- Bicyclers: on antique bikes, beat-up bikes, and state-of-the-art bicycle technology, ridden by nationals and foreigners, old and young, those dressed for the Tour de France and those in flip flops and cut-off jeans, those with brakes and without :), and those who steer with their hands and those lovely young men who don’t use any hands (some who steer by weight better than others!)
- Those who use the cement benches for sit-ups and stomach crunches.
- Those who use the steel railings for push-ups and leg stretches.
- More joggers: those who jog in the hard sand and those who really get a workout in the soft sand. And, unbelievably, those who jog backwards in the sand (thank goodness they don’t usually do this up on the malecón itself).
- More walkers: including those who have shoes and those who go barefoot, and those who stop to collect shells.
- And even bicyclers: yes, mostly vendors, but those who commute, too, and have much stronger thighs than I do!
- Those practicing yoga: usually they are in a group, with bed sheets spread out over the sand. There are quite a few different groups, with various teachers, meeting in various places at different times of the day.
- Tai C’hi: taught by our friend Rick in the Taboada on Tuesday eves and Saturday mornings.
- Those people who wield those sticks into contortionist poses. Looks like a martial art, but I’m not sure what it is.
- Those incredible swimmers, who swim long distances down the coast and back, alone and in groups, with wet suits and without, those who have done it for years and those who join a class to shape up or improve swim strokes. There is an official “swim club” down near the fishermen’s pangas, and anyone can go early on Saturday or Sunday for lessons, during which they teach you to swim in the ocean and learn the currents. Ocean swimming is a completely different sport than pool swimming, of course.
Background Information for non-residents of Mazatlan:
The main road along the ocean is called Avenida Del Mar. The road connects the Golden Zone or tourists’ area to the south of the city called Olas Altas. The posted speed limit on this street is 40 kilometers per hour, or about 25 ridiculous miles per hour. This speed limit is routinely ignored except during traffic jams and parades. If you drive 35-40 kilometers per hour, you will get beeped at, cut off and not enjoy your driving experience. I try to go as close to the speed limit as possible. In other words, it is not like me to dart in and out of the two lanes and try to be the guy in front. The risk does not justify the outcome, as there are frequent stoppages for busses and taxis as well as the threat of encountering “the man.” Much has been written about the graft of the traffic enforcement system in Mexico. We have all heard stories about bribes (or “mordidas”) being paid to police officers for legitimate and not-so-legitimate traffic offenses. Most people prefer to pay the bribe rather than deal with the bureaucracy of paying a legitimate fine. Having lived here for about eight months, our friends are usually shocked to learn that we have not been pulled over ever for anything. We always write it off to the fact that we drive a Honda Civic and try our best to obey traffic laws and not draw attention to ourselves. Just in case, I always state, we have a stash of small bills in the console of the car. You never want to be the guy who asks the cop, “Do you have change for a five hundred?”
So here it is Valentine’s Night. Saturday night—we are on our way to dinner downtown. We are treating ourselves to a nice night out at an expensive restaurant we have never been to before. It is dark out, just after 7:00. I pull onto the Avenida Del Mar and ease into the flow of traffic. Very light for a Saturday night. Okay with me, we’ll get there early and have more time to find a parking spot. As I go past the most commonly referred to landmark, The Fisherman’s Monument (also called Monos Bichis, or “naked mannequins” by the locals), the road opens up as traffic all but disappears. The road gets a little windy as we begin a slight assent along the rocky shore. As I execute a bend in the road, my eye is caught by a flashlight being shined into our car from the side of the road. A lone motorcycle police officer stands some 30 feet from his bike and is shooting a beam of light straight into my face. I look at the huge digital display on our dash and see that I am doing 51 kilometers per hour. By the time I pull over, I am a good few hundred feet from this man, who is now my bitter opponent in what will be a bloody battle to the end for our hard earned pesos. Ahh, I think, if I back up and get closer to him, it will give me points for saving him the long walk. I demonstrate my driving skills by backing up yet still following the curve of the road. American driver indeed, he’ll know he is dealing with a local when he sees me.
I put the car in park and roll down the window. At this time I realize that I am parked in the darkest part of the damn road. This Mordida Fund that I have stashed in the center console is all but irretrievable, lost to the dark abyss of the too-deep console. How can I offer this man a reasonable bribe if I have to enter the console and spend five minutes showing him how prepared or unprepared I am for this monumentous event? I guess I’ll need another strategy.
I quickly tell Danny to say nothing and let me do the talking. I assume Dianne already knows. The officer approaches and I give him a hearty “Buenas noches” in my absolute worst Spanish. He asks me in Spanish if I know how fast I was going and I again offer up “Buenas noches.” He then asks where we are from. “Vivimos aquí” (we live here), again in my worst Spanish possible. I figure if he can’t tell me what I did wrong, he will have to give up. He wants to know where we are going, so I make him ask about three times and I just keep staring at him like I really want to understand, but have no clue what he is saying. Finally, I relent, and say “restaurante en la plazuela.” I said it poorly enough that he says it back to me in perfect Spanish and I give him a celebratory smile—now we are communicating. He asks who is in the car with me and I proudly point out, “mi esposa y mi hijo.” Two in a row, uh oh, back to the speed thing. He tells me the speed limit on the street is 40. I repeat in Spanish, Cuarenta (40), and point at my dashboard to show that I understand. Feeling like he can strike pay dirt, he goes back to his first question and I again smile. He tries a few other ways to ask, but I’m not biting. He tells me again about the speed limit and I tell him again, “cuarenta, no mas (40, no more) and smile. I throw in a gracias and he wishes us a buenas noches and we are on our way.
I feel bad for a few things. One, I was speeding and did deserve whatever punishment I am entitled, except when you factor in the fact that most traffic rules in Mazatlán are a joke. Second, it is no coincidence that this guy was set up in the darkest part of the street as to avoid the cameras installed along the Avenida with the expressed purpose of catching cops asking for bribes. Third, it was Valentine’s and I could have given him enough pesos to get his wife a couple of roses or himself a six pack of Pacifico – his choice, but I would recommend the roses. I didn’t want to get into a bidding war which is what these too often can become. In my defense, if I had not stopped, he never would have caught me. He gave us something to talk about as we navigated the streets to our destination, obeying every speed limit, of course!
Fresh seafood, of course! Life here means waking up, getting Danny off to school, and walking or biking the malecón (oceanside promenade) with a cooler. We may decide to visit the pescaderos (fishermen) at their pangas (boats) in Playa Norte, or one of the two little pescaderías right across the street, to buy pargo (seabream), lenguado (sole), huachinango (snapper), or maybe sierra (saw fish) for a good ceviche. We can buy enough fish for two meals for US$3.50, or pay a bit more for swordfish or dorado, and significantly less for octopus (sometimes US$1 per kilo!) or squid. We might buy a kilo of fresh prawns for 40 pesos (US$4), or oysters from the ostioneros as they come to shore with their inner tubes and netting (US$4/dozen). We have some great conversation, beautiful views, shop for lunch, and exercise, all at an easy pace and before beginning our work day.
One of our dreams in moving to Mazatlán has been to be more physically active in the course of daily life, to be able to enjoy the outdoors more, and to eat more healthily of fresh, whole foods. With these dreams in mind, we’ve taken a long walk or bike ride most every morning along the malecón, the oceanside promenadehere in Mazatlán. A round trip bike ride from our house to the Pedro Infante statue is about 8 miles. A walk from our house to the pescaderos (fishing boats) and back is about 3 1/2 miles.
What is truly special for me is the fact that we can enjoy the incredibly gorgeous views, people-watch Mazatlecos of all ages and walks of life exercising, and we can buy fresh fish directly from the fishermen as they put in in the morning. This season of the year (June-August) they seem to come in between 7:30 and 8:30 am. Most of them have an axle with two wheels that can cradle their boat as they bring it up on the beach. Once they arrive, they unload their fish, put some of it up by the malecón for sale to the public, and take most of it across the street to what appears to be a cooperative store. They then head back to their boats to make fresh ceviche (cut up fish, carrots, lots of lime juice, onion) and wash it down usually with a ballena (whale, large bottle) of Pacifico beer (our local brew). 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning is already their lunch time. Most of the fishermen are very friendly and happy, and the boat launch beach is quite the community hangout, especially in the morning. You can see this photo I took of a domino game on the beach.
The boats are all small lanchas, with outboard motors, and seem to hold 2-4 fishermen. The lanchas remind us of the fishing boats in Cinque Terre, Italy, but they are not painted quite as colorfully. Most are named after women; we are guessing wives’ names, daughters’, girlfriends’.