Place of Deer

Mazatlán rests on the Pacific Ocean, east of the southernmost tip of Baja. The city boasts rich history, once home to the Nahuatl people who called the land Mazatl, or place of deer. The culture is Aztec at its roots, with traces of the mighty god Quetzalcoatl and his life-giving conch to be found. And it is quaint. It thrives on its rich fishing industry and on tourism, but it lacks the entrapping sensation that more commonly visited locations ooze. Cancún and Playa del Carmen are so incredibly dependent on the tourist’s wallet that one cannot walk five feet without being aggressively begged to go shopping. There, the contrast between tourist center and local life is so violently skewed that a single street over will be the truth: tourists stroll down well paved, well accessed shopping centers with idealized cultural icons and catchy music one block away, but still hidden from direct sight of the Land of Limitless Wallets, from absolute poverty. The clash made me sick, it made me hate Playa del Carmen for lacking authenticity. I didn’t travel this far for an illusion. But Mazatlán shares nothing similar. There are no grand centers for tourists to shop for kishe trinkets, and locals and gringos alike are mutually shown street fare without pressure. And the seafood. Oh the seafood. I made a promise to eat as much ceviche as I possibly could. Octopus, sea snail, shrimp, small crab, dorado… so much spectacular sea food for a next to nothing cost.

But let’s back track a moment…

While loathing the Thomas Kinkade equivalent of Mexico that is Playa del Carmen, I was pressed with a decision: I need to get out. Playa offered me nothing. I wanted the real Mexico. I wanted the food poisoning, the stress of language barriers, the eyes rolled at the overly eager gringa, the earned siestas, the swollen mercados, the burros, the “what am I eating” experience, the simplicity, the honest tortillas, the proof that it was not the scary place everyone back home thinks it to be… the true culture. And what I saw happening in myself at Playa is something that is best described by a single word: rebellion. I was fully aware of the illusion, and whether I was aware of myself or not I would try to tear the illusion down. It could not be stopped, it’s just the way I am. I am an honest person and I crave honest things. The first target: my former travel companion who had completely bought into the illusion. He was such a bad tourist. Upon arrival to Cozumel, he immediately yelled, “MOTA. MOTAAA!!!” For those of you who don’t know, “mota” is marijuana. And while he sat yelling on the sidewalk that he wanted to buy pot, I sat baffled and simultaneously disgusted. A few thoughts rolled through my head, mostly, “congratulations jackass, you’ve completely labeled us as the f*cking dumb Americans that can be easily swindled. Word will spread, and while I want nothing more than to blend in and meet true people, I am now unjustly marked as that idiot gringa with that idiot gingo. Not to mention… are you trying to get shot???” I kind of hated him for it, but it’s hard to be too mad at someone whose mother earlier approached you begging, “I know he’s a jackass, but keep him safe” (should have seen that as a warning).

Playa del Carmen

A moment later, the resort hostess approached me, “you and your husband please follow me.”
“Maybe later?” She winked.
“No.” But what I wanted to say was, I’m his babysitter.

A few days later, I found myself working gears in effort to break the illusion and find the truth I wanted. And break it I did. My companion left in a childish tantrum after my departure, but if nothing else I’d like to think that I gave him a swift kick to the ass to wake up and be less arrogant. The funny part, though, is that I had to leave with utmost urgency because I had pitted him against a local in a fight over my time… what I failed to realize was: one of them is going to win at some point, and there wasn’t actually a prize for the victor. So I quickly fell from saint to fool, bought the first ticket I could (and bless the stars, the Big Man Upstairs smiled upon my folly and saved me $2000 on a ticket), and fled Quintana Roo, laughing. I mean, it’s not every day you get to say you had to flee a Mexican state because two guys were fighting over you. That’s one for the resume.

Honestly, I don’t remember the Cancún airport. Wait a minute… yeah I do. I guess I pushed it out of memory for a while. It was a nightmare. I left with ample time to correct mistakes; thus, I knew I’d be alright, but it was one of those things where everything that can go wrong, did go wrong. Luggage fiasco, pissed off security, couldn’t find my terminal, minor meltdown about missing Alaska and the people I loved, language barrier, unknown flight arrival, switched flight, delayed flight, delayed flight meant I would miss my connecting flight to Mazatlán… about a third of the way through the list I could only laugh. But if nothing else: I had a window seat.

The escape plan was simple: fly from Cancún to Mexico City to board a small plane to Mazatlán. But if it looks simple, it’s probably not. All the mess earlier delayed the first flight, and as the details of Mexico City came into focus I counted the minutes I had remaining before I’d miss the smaller flight. I was too late. The flight left on the half hour. I turned on my phone to read :32, and even if I sweet talk my way on, I hadn’t the slightest idea where my terminal would be. I accepted defeat and slowly walked from the plane, preparing to talk my way through exchanging my ticket for events out of my control.

“Courtney? Courtney?” A petite guard at the end of the flight dock called my name and two others.
“Hey! My name is Courtney?!”
She stared back, puzzled, and quickly asked, “Mazatlán?”
“Ven conmigo! Corre! Corre!” She took off running.

So there I was, abruptly in Mexico City because people are dramatic fools and Playa del Carmen is boring as all hell, chasing after the tiniest, cutest, airport worker through one of the biggest airports I’ve ever seen without the slightest idea of what’s going on other than maybe she can get me to my flight. I ran after her with the biggest, gooniest smile. But an obstacle approached: she was fast, and she had taken some secret route through security that bypassed the slow line, and I could see her far on the other side, still running ahead and out of sight. I stood, contemplating my options: a) I could play it safe, wait in line, and get through at some point, b) or I could run gung ho, jump the turn style, dodge the guards, and probably get tazed only to ultimately fail but knowing that I could easily explain it later.

Definitely B.

I took a big breath and my muscles visually tensed to bolt, and as I did, a guard with sunken eyes approached me. I cringed, here comes the tazer, I thought. He pulled my ticket from my hand, scribbled some authorization on it, opened the turn style, smiled big and yelled, “corre, corre, corre!!!!” I busted up laughing and took off running, nearly knocking into an older gentleman as I yelled “lo siento señor, neccesito correr!” And he laughed. I could hear her yelling up ahead. I tripped, my sandal broke, I dodged people and ran through long connecting hallways to find this little woman frantically checking her wristwatch. She shoved me into the arms of a bus director, who checked my ticket, shoved me ahead of the other guests, and a minute later I boarded the plane with the other passengers, still smiling. And the view of the sunset over the pacific ocean with the lush mountains lit in orange evening light as the place descended was one to remember.

Pacific Ocean from Mazatlan


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