ADIOS TO THE COAST
—and the long, hot summer
By Chuck Poulsen
It was August in the Pacific coastal town of Playa los Cocos. The heat and humidity - those siblings of misery - were neck and neck at 94 and racing higher. I was on the roof of my house and involved in the local pastime of dripping sweat while also exploring the untimely death of the air conditioner.
The motor had rusted off its brackets. It was easy to see because a hole the size of a softball had rusted through the unit’s housing. The A/C was three years old. It lasted as long as it had taken the ocean salt to corrode the hardware in my laptop and TV. The wooden beams supporting the porch roof were made of what they called ironwood, and I was beginning to wonder if they would rust out too.
When I decided to move from Canada to the Mexican coast, friends were supportive of my enviable good fortune. They said things like: “I hate you” or “I hope a shark bites you right on the ass.”
But, as the old wisdom goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a deranged thing. Most people from the north country, of course, visit Mexico in the winter months. Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Cabos, and, for the unfortunate ones, Cancun. These are mostly all beautiful places in the winter. They are sunny and lush with foliage and flowers, prettier that way than Lake Chapala I would add so you don’t think I’m trying to sell you property here.
The gringos love these visits and so they should. But most of them think the Mexican coast is Eden year around; they really do. They move to the ocean under this misimpression until summer arrives in a rage for no less than six-months. They soon begin looking out to sea and yearning for ice bergs. The thought of their eyelids freezing shut in Edmonton becomes a fun memory. The experience of sliding on the snow into a ditch seems like clemency.
They say to themselves: “Holy jalapeño! What in blue blazes have I done?” During one summer storm in Playa los Cocos, 28 centimeters of rain fell in a day. (That’s 11 inches for you metrically-challenged Americans). There was a three-metre high seawall (ok, ok, 10 feet) in front of the property. During that storm, the ocean slung stones over the seawall into the front yard. The stones were as big as golf balls.
I shouted “FORE” - a word I know well - and headed for the back room. The downpour wiped out a bridge. When it was rebuilt, it was painted Day-Glo yellow like that huge millennial testament to the Big Mac in Guadalajara.
The locals in Los Cocos started calling the replacement the Golden Gate Bridge. (As an aside, I wonder if the Americans’ reluctance to join the rest of the world on weights and measurements means they are secretly onside with the isolationist Trump. I mention it only in case any of you Democrats are starting to nod off about now).
Anyway, it was the broken A/C epiphany that spurred me out of the burning ring of fire in favor of Lake Chapala. One attraction for gringos to this area is the large expat population, with concurrent tribal benefits and ease of using English.
I keep trying to learn more Spanish but the words refuse to stick in my aging mind. Workers are building an addition on top of my house here. During the last rain, water streamed onto the kitchen floor from above.
I thought I had remembered the Spanish word for rain - lluvia - and pronounced in English like “you’ll via.” When the foreman of the job arrived, I pointed at the source of the problem, mentally stuttered, and said something like: “you have a visa.”
Time to take out my smart phone. The word miracle is overused, except for walking on water. So voice activated language translation doesn’t rise to the level of a miracle either, although we might consider canonizing whoever invented it.
Of course, the other big attraction here is the weather, year around. Sure, it rains here, but you don’t need scuba gear in your Go Bag.
It has been stated, almost virally, that National Geographic rated Lake Chapala as having the second best year-around climate in the world. I haven’t been able to source that to National Geographic. Maybe, in the spirit of cheerleading, someone made it up and off it went. I’ll happily stand corrected if someone knows better. Even if that rating isn’t legitimate, it would be hard to reasonably design a better climate than this one. But everything leaves some room for griping.
The road to Guadalajara should be called the Highway of Holes. The government alleges - pre election - it will be re-paved this year. We’ll see. Other than that, no sweat, no heatstroke, an A/C that works when it’s lightly needed for two months. And Mexican people who are usually cheerful and courteous, more so than a lot of gringos.
Says Google Translate: No hay problema.