Thursday, September 23, 2021

ghosting our way through the summer

I love ghost towns.

Some of the best, of course, are in the west. Gold towns that were bustling commercials centers bloomed and died faster than a cactus flower. You can still find their remnants scattered across the mountains of California, Nevada, and Arizona. And in the highlands of Mexico.

My Air Force buddy, Robin Olson, and I have spent hours traipsing through their skeletal remains. At times, I swear I can hear Samuel Clemens whispering story suggestions in my ear.

What is interesting to me now was once a tragedy for the people who watched the decline of the towns they built. I suspect that is exactly how a lot of the merchants in Barra de Navidad felt this summer. The place looked as if it was rehearsing to be the next Cerro Gordo in California.

I realize that a lot of northerners who spend all or part of their winters on the Costalegre believe that Melaque and Barra de Navidad disappear into the mist like Brigadoon the moment they leave and then just as magically reappear on their return. I realize that -- because that is exactly what I have been told. Well, not the Brigadoon part. That is my invention.

But it is not true. At least, not during a normal summer.

Mexican families usually arrive here every summer in buses, SUVs, and airplanes to spend their school vacations on the same beaches northerners use in the winter. And weekends are almost as busy before the summer vacation crowds arrive. The bad months for merchants is when children return to school in September. The lull does not pick up again until the northerners start arriving in October.

When The Virus made its debut here in the spring of 2020, most northerners fled home. And, other than what turned out to be (probably) an ill-advised closure of the beaches for semana santa, not much happened in the way of preventive medicine. Despite warnings of doom, not much happened.

No one knew why. Masks were a rarity. Social distancing gave way to cultural hugs. Large gatherings went on as normal.

But The Virus did not seem to take up the dare as it had elsewhere -- even in close living quarters where one person was infected and no one else in the house was affected. Several of us developed theories, but none of us really had an answer (dodging the bullet). A reader in England gelded our hubris with the observation: "just wait until delta hits you."

He was correct. When the delta variant moved into the neighborhood, our villages were finally introduced to what the rest of the world had suffered. Illness. Hospitalization. Death.

And, even though Mexican tourists continued to visit the beach as usual while Guadalajara and other highland cities were hit hard in the summer of 2020, Mexican tourism dried up in the summer of 2021.

The shot at the top is of the main tourist street in Barra de Navidad last month. The proverbial cannon could have been fired and the only damage would have been to a pile of bracelets-with-your-name-embroidered-on-it. No one was here.

Now, I will lift my hand to the accusation that the photograph is a perfect example of journalistic manipulation. I purposely timed the shot to avoid the few people who were out and about. But the point is just the same. Shopkeepers cannot make a living without customers.

This is what the tianguis looked like this morning. There were more stall workers than shoppers. in fact, there were more stray dogs than shoppers.

We are in the middle of the September-October lull. Because the summer trade was so bad, most (but not all) business owners are looking forward to the return of The Canadians (as anyone north of the Rio Bravo is known amongst my Mexican friends) to bolster sagging revenue.

Don't disappoint them. Every person traveling here has to make up his own mind whether the risks are worth the pleasures of spending the winter on the Costalegre. For me, it is not even a close call.

And to prove my point (at least, to me) I am going to closet myself in airplanes for two days to fly around the world. If I can do that without being confined to a covid bed, you can choose to do as wish with the result.

Of course, if I die of covid in Dubai, just ignore that pesky little fact.

But come December, when I return from a different journey, I hope not to find Barra de Navidad the ghost town it has been this summer. 


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