(One Reason) Why I Fell in Love With Xcalak, Mexico
My wife (now my ex) was having a small medical issue. Nothing major, nothing serious, just something that needed attention. Back in the US you would go to the corner drugstore, get a little something and it would be taken care of. In Xcalak there is no corner drugstore. So, along with the usual housekeeping necessities, while I was in town last week – buying drinking water, picking up laundry, getting beer – I was also on a mission – a mission for Pepto Bismol.
Xcalak, Mexico is a small fishing village with a population around 400. It is about as far south as you can go in Mexico on the Caribbean coast. The first gravel road to the village was established in 1980. The roads in town are dirt. Mass tourism has not oozed its way in yet. There are no jet skis or parachute rides. There is no place to buy a wristband that entitles you to drink in the hot sun all day until you pass out. There are no foam parties or after hours discos but; the water is crystal blue, the air is clean and it is quiet, unspoiled and beautiful. In other words, we think it is paradise.
Now, what would have been a straightforward exercise in the states, turned into a mini afternoon’s adventure in laid-back Xcalak. It had been raining. Not steady raining but that showery rainy season in the tropics sort of raining where timing is everything. Business that, five minutes ago, could literally be a walk through paradise, could instantly turn into what seemed like a stumble through an automated high-pressure car wash; with lightning.Anyway, in Xcalak, as in the rest of Mexico, there are “Abarrotes” on virtually every block. An Abarrote is a small convenience store where you can buy a limited amount of dry goods and usually bread and a little produce; sometimes locally grown. If an Abarrote sells refrigerated goods – cheese, meat (milk is not refrigerated) – it is called a “Lecheria”. If the Lecheria sells beer or liquor it is then called a “Super”. Easy, right? (Notice I didn’t mention anything about over the counter pharmaceuticals.)
I stopped to get the laundry, which wasn’t ready yet so, I started picking my way through the shops. At the Super? “Sol sí, Pepto Bismol, no.” I got Sol. At the Lecheria? “Agua sí, Pepto Bismol, no.” I got water. At the Abarrote? Pepto Bismol? “Quizá, (maybe!) . . . no?” Everyone kept pointing me toward the “clinica”, a clean, modern looking motor home parked near the Lecheria in the center of town. I didn’t really want to see a physician for so simple a problem but I was on a quest and couldn’t return home empty-handed. As soon as I got to the clinica it started to rain. A few big, fat drops but not much volume yet. The door to the motor home was closed and the blinds appeared to be shut so I just wandered around outside looking at the sky, like a big gringo idiot.
After a few minutes of looking helpless, confused and perhaps a little pathetic, a small girl of about eight or nine years, came up to me and asked, in English, if I needed help. Using my growing but woefully inadequate Spanish, I tried to communicate that I needed something for my wife from the clinic. After a few minutes of me butchering Español, rain still threatening, her exasperation well hidden, she said in English – “My father speaks English, I will get him”. I stood awkwardly outside their nearby house, bracing myself against freshening winds, embarrassed that my language skills couldn’t get me any further and waited. I could hear some shuffling and discussion inside but I didn’t understand any of it. After a few minutes, a gentleman stepped out, moving very slowly. He was obviously in pain and using his right arm to hold his left arm which was in a makeshift sling. With every step he painfully grimaced. When he got to me he smiled politely and asked what he could do to help.
That was about the time the skies opened up. We shuffled quickly out to the clinic. We started getting pelted by rain. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed almost simultaneously. We slogged through the growing puddles then did what I was too paralyzed to do earlier and simply knocked on the door. From there it was pretty straightforward. He translated to the physician, in excruciating detail her symptoms and what was needed. She raised a finger indicating that she would be right back and quickly returned with two sample sized boxes of pharmaceuticals. I asked, “¿Cuánto cuesta?” swelling with pride at my Spanish attempt. Looking a bit confused she replied, “nada” then raised her hand as if to say goodbye and quickly closed the door against the now slackening rain.I walked back to the house with who I had since learned was named Juan. I wanted to help him along but he was determined to make it unassisted. I tried to ask in Spanish how he had been injured and he politely smiled through the pain and explained, in English that he had been hit by a car while riding a motorcycle home from work just the day before. I reached out my hand to shake his goodbye, somehow forgetting that every movement caused him pain. He looked into my eyes then at his sling and back into my now embarrassed eyes and smiled. That smile meant more than any handshake ever could. I smiled back, nodded two or three times and got back into my truck: he having committed an act of compassion and my affinity growing evermore toward the people in this little town in a far-off corner of Mexico.
See also Why We Left Xcalak, Mexico