Mexico Update #3

December 26th

Skipping over the events of Barcelo Maya! and the travel to Playacar for now, i wanted to share a little bit about yesterday – Christmas in Mexico.  Fair Warning – this turns political, and emotional, and “preachy” would not be a far stretch, about halfway through.

It is about ¾ of a mile to the swanky downtown area of Playa Del Carmen from my hotel.  The walk is safe.  Very small Airport on one side and a row of gorgeous, though abandoned or not yet occupied buildings, on the other.

The swanky end of downtown has the nice free public restrooms – always good to know where those are.

I looked around and quickly learned that this too is pretty much like the touristy sections of Virginia Beach or Ocean City or Myrtle Beach – hawkers, overpriced stuff, and large crowds of slowly wandering tourists.  But it was interesting all the same.  I found one of the veggie places from Happy Cow100% Natural.  Sadly their site is poorly designed with images and flash instead of text so google translate does not work there.  I did download the menus and did some work con dictionario and learned enough about what was offered.  When i found the restaurant, it was near the beach on one of the main drags – 5th Avenue.  This is what it said on Happy Cow, but on their own website it is listed about 15 blocks away. It looked just like the picture and description from Happy Cow (waterfall!) and the menu was the same.  I did not have enough spanish to find out if there is more than one location, or if they moved – but i have 6 more days in Playacar to figure that out.  The location from the website is very near the natural food store I plan to visit anyway, so I can check those out at the same time.

After noting their location on the map i drew combining info from the phone book and the interwebs –

Highly Detailed Map

i told them i would be back and went off to locate another Happy Cow find – Playa RAW.  This is a vegan, raw only joint.  I have only been to one other restaurant of this style, but the food is better than it sounds.  Vegan Raw lasagna is awesome.  How do they do it?  I don’t know.  It is mind blowing to imagine lasagna prepared without heat, cheese, or dairy – but they do it and i like it.  I have never studied these folks or their methods, but I did learn a little.  They are Vegans plus (or minus).  Heat causes chemical change that decreases the amount/effectiveness of the nutrients in food.  Raw food has maximum effect.  They take the principles of vegetarian/vegan animal friendliness and extend them to the rest of the earth.  Everything needs energy to sustain itself.  We get ours from food.  Eat as low on the food-chain as you can and maximize the effect you get from eating so that you kill fewer things to sustain yourself.  All I know about their cooking methods: some use is made of non-electrical natural-convection-style and/or solar dehydrators.  I don’t know “the best” ones, but if you google it, there are tons of info sites and even DIY youtube videos.

I knew it was going to be a long walk, but i had not managed to get a sense of scale on the maps yet to know if it was 2 miles or 6 miles.  It is closer to 5 miles – one way.  A direct route may be only 4 miles or less, but i was not on a direct route.  I turned around at about 65th Street North.  Playa RAW is near 84th Street North.  Known location for good veggie food, 100% Natural, – about 10th Street North.  Known bathroom – 10th Street South.  I had already walked around 3 miles, and i was getting hungry, and would need a bathroom sooner than later, and you leave the tourist areas and enter the blocks where people live near 20th Street North.

I did not have the sensation of fear walking in these neighborhoods, but i was uncomfortable.  If i had more Spanish, i would have felt a little better, but as with other places where the poor live, it is hard not to feel like you are flaunting your wealth.  It was an odd place.  There was a mixture of absolute squalor – rivaling conditions i saw in the Indian slums around Delhi and the refugee areas (“camps” makes them sound better than they are) around Amman, Jordan – normal poor folk, and even lower middle class/upwardly mobile folks.  There were kids with radio control cars playing in the street and almost every late teen/early twenty year old had headphones on or was playing tunes on their phone in speaker mode.  But right next to these are the people digging through trash looking for anything useful, living in burned out buildings with maybe 3 walls and collapsing roofs, or in abandoned construction sites, or just under a tattered tarp.

I do not have the answers, but i do think it is important to learn to even ask the questions.  Back home i think of myself as poor – or at least economically lower class. Mostly i am just ‘thrifty’ (or cheap if you wish) and the ‘poor’ self-image encourages thrift.  It is a simple but effective tool – you spend less and learn how to do more with less if you tell yourself you have no money.  But there are options and resources available to me that these people do not have.  This is a gross oversimplification but i think it is a great example of the importance of the Big 3 – Economics, Infrastructure, Education.

Politically, you have to find a way to help those who need it – and it takes a lot of money. You have to get people with money to give it to you so you can get resources to the people with no money.  And you have to find ways to generate and retain more people who have more money – Economics.

It is hard to get a job, even a not-very-good job, if you smell bad all the time and have nothing but dirty clothes because you do not have water – Infrastructure.

It is hard to get a better job if you can’t read or write – Education.

I believe that we have been blinded by the pace of life today.  Everything must be said in a sound-bite and issues must be made sexy and fun.  The things that need the most attention and the people that need the most help do not fit into these categories.  It is hard to campaign for office or do fundraising on a platform of sewage, roads, and books – but those are the things that will do the most good – everywhere in the world.  It is embarrassing that we not only have not fixed these things – we are not even really trying to fix them.

These are not secrets.  It is not hard to reach these conclusions, or build a consensus on the veracity of these claims.  I have no special knowledge, skills, or de-coder ring – these facts are laying out in the open for all to see.   We choose to look away, back to our own lives.  Me too.  I have done charity work, built and repaired with Habitat for Humanity, volunteered in soup kitchens, given money and clothes, built websites and presentations, planned and led events, and designed fundraising strategies for other charity organizations.  But, i spend way more time on selfish pursuits.

We can’t all be “all give all the time”.  I get that.  But why can’t we get everyone some water and some rice, a road to the hospital, and a book?  Why aren’t we trying harder?