Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the seasons turn

The streets of Melaque look as if John Ford has stopped by to film the climax of a western.  The big shootout could happen any minute.

In the early afternoon on a Tuesday, our streets were almost devoid of human activity.  Even our homely town square was empty.

For the past six weeks Melaque has been awash with tourists.  Mexican students get a relatively short vacation during the summer, compared with students north of the Rio Bravo.  But their families use it wisely.  Often at the beach.

During my first four summers here, the tourists came mainly on buses from Guadalajara or the surrounding towns of Jalisco.  Two years ago, there was a noticeable change.  Middle class families started showing up in expensive SUVs -- the type of families who previously spent their vacations in Puerto Vallarta.  It has been proof positive that the middle class continues to grow in Mexico.

Last Saturday, I had lunch at a restaurant across the street from the only bank in town.  When I first sat down, all I could see was a field of cars and SUVs double-parked in the street.  I assumed most were using the ATM.

By the time I had finished my meal, the street was empty.  The bank parking lot was empty.  A better writer could have conjured up a tale of pestilence and plague.  Of course, the families were on their way home to get the kiddies back in class.

These six weeks of summer vacation are incredibly important to the economy of Melaque.  Even though the largest revenue source, by far, is agriculture, the Mexican tourists bring in the second highest amount -- during the summer, on weekends, and the ever-important Christmas and Easter vacations.

I will confess that my revenue numbers are anecdotal.  They have to be.  We have no Chamber of Congress and there are no readily-available statistics from the Mexican government.  But my business sources are all unanimous in their assessment of the importance of Mexican tourism to Melaque.

And they are just as unanimous that northern tourism comes up third in overall annual revenue.  There are plenty of businesses that cater almost solely to one trade or the other.  For instance, several of the restaurants I enjoy are open only during the winter season.

But that is changing.  I have a friend who has run a high-end hotel here for years.  In the past, she would close in the summer.  She now stays open through the year and has found the Mexican trade in the summer to be very lucrative.

The same goes for the restaurant I was sitting in at the beginning of this essay. In the past two years, it has become a regular summer haunt of middle class Mexican families.  It gives me an opportunity to practice my Spanish by eavesdropping on conversations.

And that is why I often have to ask followup questions when someone asks me about the "season" in Melaque.  The only thing that is constant is that the tourist year has it own life cycle -- just like the laguna.

In truth, I will miss the tourists who have just left.  I know the waiters will.

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