Tuesday, October 25, 2011

two worlds -- one me

Reality is not absolute.  It is relative.

Or so I have come to believe from leading my life -- and then reading about that life as perceived by people who are not here.

Despite what you may be thinking, I am not about to launch into the relationship between time and quantum physics.  Michael Crichton already did that -- to the cost of his reputation.

Almost every expatriate in Mexico has a local computer message board.  Ours is called TomZap.  And an active board it is.  Made up of Mexican citizens, full-time expatriates, part-time visitors, and people who wish they could be counted amongst any of the other three groups.

The big topic recently, of course, has been hurricane Jova, its effects, and aftermath.

As you know from reading my posts, I am very pleased with how quickly the residents of Melaque shook off the effects of the flooding the town experienced.  Within days, the shops and streets in the business districts were clean.  And everything was about as normal as things can be in our little village once the usual stream of commerce was reconnected.

But to read the comments on TomZap, you would be inclined to believe that a large portion of our town had suffered devastating, unrecoverable damage.

Now, I know much of that comes from the feeling of helplessness that people feel when things or people they like are facing what seems to be tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  I understand the sentiments.  Our congregation felt the same way about our pastor’s family and the other people who were battered and  baptized by the Red River earlier this year.

Today I decided to try a little experiment.  I drove out to the Manzanillo airport to imagine I was one of the winter crowd arriving after my departure last March.  What I knew about the flood was what I read on TomZap.

I would not have been shocked by anything at the airport.  There are a few missing tiles on the front of the airport's overhang.  But work is underway.  Nothing even noteworthy.

On the 2 mile drive to the highway, everything looked as it should.  It is a natural wetland -- and it is wet.  But about halfway to the highway, this field appears.

To the uninitiated eye, it looks like an empty field.  But it is supposed to be (and was before the flood) filled with truck farm crops.  Usually peppers.  It now looks as out of place as a missing tooth in Kate Moss’s smile.

And then, almost to the intersection, things start looking a bit more Irwin Allen-ish.  Where there was once a cloverleaf intersection, there is now a collapsed highway ramp.  That is the photograph at the top of this post.

The river that lost the construction-wrenching water is over a mile away from the ramp.  Not surprisingly, there was plenty of flood damage the closer I got to the river.

This jumble of flotsam was once an Army checkpoint on the river border to Jalisco.  Where surly young soldiers once asked for papers. there are toppled trees. 

Repair teams have done a marvelous job of cleaning up the area and repairing the several hundred feet or road that was simply washed away.

And this is where all of that water was supposed to stay -- the river between the states of Jalisco and Colima.  I apologize for the “airplane window” view, but I was driving and shooting at the same time.

Much to my surprise, Cihuatlan, the equivalent of our county seat, was open for business.  It was a surprise because even with our normal summer rains, Cihuatlan’s streets are choked with sand.

Cihuatlan suffers the same issue as New Orleans.  Its geography recurringly argues against a city being there.  In Cihuatlan’s case, it is its presence on a narrow floodplain below steep hills and above a wandering river.

In the Jova flood, tons of sand washed down the hills choking the streets while the river rose flooding the city.  What the river did not wash away was buried in a combination of sand and silt that needed to be removed before it hardened into an almost concrete formation.

And removed it was.  Actually, the sand gets removed every time there is a rain -- right back to the top of the hill from whence it came.  President Obama may want to take note.  Cihuatlan has its own seasonal stimulus built into its sand heaps.

But our recently arrived visitors would see none of that.  What they would see are the same piles of sand (though they are a bit higher and more numerous) awaiting transport to the top of the hill -- just like any other year.

Once I left town on the way to Melaque, it was possible to see what the river did on the Jalisco side of the floodplain.  There are hectares of coconut plantations.  And under the palms are banana plants.  A very clever use of Mexico’s scarce agricultural space.

The problem is that most of the banana plants are now gone.  Snapped off by the flow of the flood water.

So, if the new arrivals are looking for signs of bad weather, they will find them.

On the other hand, they will also discover that Melaque is ready for them.  The San Patricio plaza was under water and covered by mud just a few days ago.  It is now ready to receive its winter visitors.

Was the flood bad?  You bet it was.  And once the grand gesture of immediate charity is done, people will start forgetting that there is an ongoing economic issue.

This area lives off of tourists and agriculture.  The flood just stripped the area of a full cycle of crops.  They are gone.  And so is the revenue that would have come from those crops.

Like most middle income nations, Mexico’s revenue flow is lightly balanced.  It will take some time to get back into a regular cycle.

And that is why the tourists that come to Melaque offer some of the best opportunities to help make up some of that revenue.  I intend to eat out more often and to leave a bit more folding money on the table as tips. 

After all, 20% is a real easy calculation for my ever-aging mind.  A small price to pay for a view like this.


Felipe Zapata said...

A missing tooth in Kate Moss's smile. Well, listen to you.

Steve Cotton said...

But I am still living down the diaper metaphor.  Similes are a mixed blessing.

Howle said...

thank you for that perspective.... It was a good ready!

Steve Cotton said...

For me, it was a fun read.

Curtiselowe said...

And for me it was a fun read.  I like your attitude about the local situation.

Jim Dobinson said...

Steve , that was a g,  good   Blog and also the explanation of the road to ZLO .  We are sure blessed to have some one who can explain what's going on down there.
I talked to some friends the other day and asked them if they were still concidering Mealque for a winter holday, they said that they had been told not to go s the damage was to bad .  I said to them that we have to go and spend a little cash and help the towns economy.   Don't let anyone keep you away. Regard  Jim

Steve Cotton said...

Oops! I guess I meant it was a fun ride. Now I have sunk to giving myself positive reviews. I could qualify as an Amazon author.

Steve Cotton said...

Jim -- I fully agree. Melaque has absolutely everything it had before the storm. By the time most people get here, there will be little evidence a storm even happened. Melaque has had floods before -- and everything keeps going on just as it always does. Melaque needs its friends to come down and enjoy themselves.

Alf said...

Thank you so much for all the pictures and info provided the last two weeks.  We arrive via ZLO on Sat. The small group blogging on Tomzap have done a very valuable service informing those of us not in the area during the floods.  

Steve Cotton said...

And it has been great for all of us to be helpful.

Nancy said...

Nice post, Steve.  And what a gorgeous picture at the end.

Steve Cotton said...

That view is what counts.  As the wind and water drift into the middle distance.

ANM said...

"Reality is not absolute."  It's relative?

Did you write that or did you have it ghost-written by some peripatetic pragmatic philosopher doing free-lance work?

If it was really you who wrote those words, Magister Stephan, then it is time for me to hang up my harness of Socratic dialogue and declare the end of the history of philosophy.

Or were you just joshin' folks?


Steve Cotton said...

Plato is weeping.