Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Third Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 89-109): In which we’d like to address Los Elefantes en al Cuarto.

A few weeks ago there was a kidnapping in Puerto Vallarta. We know it made the rounds of the US media because friends and family started contacting us, some out of concern for our safety, others out of curiosity. For those that may have missed it, one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and five of his companions were kidnapped at gunpoint from a restaurant on PV’s main drag. Now if you’re not up on your Mexican drug lords, El Chapo is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, arguably the most powerful cartel in the world and the main supplier of illegal drugs to the US. The DEA has called him the “godfather of the drug world” while the US Department of the Treasury considers him the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” (which is Treasury-speak for “He’s imported products into the US worth billions of dollars. Forget evading the DEA; he’s evading his taxes!”)
After having escaped from prison back in July 2015, El Chapo was recaptured this past January and is currently awaiting extradition to the US. So right now his organization is basically undergoing some leadership changes and rival cartels are taking advantage of the situation to get themselves a bigger piece of the pie. The popular consensus is that the perpetrators of the kidnapping were members of the Cartel Jalisco New Generation or CJNG (and no, I’m not using an acronym because I’m lazy (okay, maybe I am) but that’s what’s on their logo. Yes, they have a logo. Who knew?) Editor’s Note: what the US media didn’t report was that everyone was released after a few days of “negotiations”. What was negotiated is not exactly known because CJNG might have a logo but I don’t think they do many press conferences.
So far that’s been our one brush with violence and by “brush” I mean that we were familiar with the restaurant (having walked by it numerous times) so there’s that visceral connection that comes with personally knowing one part of the where/what/who equation. Editor’s Note: The restaurant, La Leche, stands out in that it’s a white pseudo-modernist structure with prominent black scroll markings (that and its name means “milk”). But I must admit, it was kind of exciting in a “you hear about it but does it really happen” kind of way. Because if security is the smoke, then whatever fire you’re being protected from is always in the back of your mind. And there’s a lot of security around here. It’s not uncommon to see military trucks driving around convoy-style, each filled with marines armed with assault rifles and at least one manning a mounted machine gun. The Federalis are prevalent on the highways where they randomly pull over vehicles to search for guns and drugs. All properties in Nuevo Vallarta and the hotel zone in PV are gated and have 24-hour security. All stores have uniformed guards and security cameras. Editor’s Note: We were leaving a Sam’s Club and there were two men armed with semi-automatic rifles at the exit. For a minute I thought, “Wow. They’re really serious about checking the receipts.” before I realized they were guarding another guy servicing an ATM machine (which prompted The Captain to remark, “Just how much cash do they keep in those things?”)
Now I must be honest. When we were planning the third voyage, we were going to fast-track Mexico. You hear all the stories, you see all the news footage, and the State Department travel warnings only add to the dilemma with their passive-aggressive…”Government employees are prohibited from travelling in certain area after dark. The rest of you? Do what you’re going to do. We can’t stop you.” (Thank you, US Government, for once again not being very helpful.) It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, and I think that sells the whole country short. Because after three months, we’re so glad we decided to stay. Aside from the weather which does take some getting used to and some run-ins with aggressive vendors, we have not had a bad experience since we got here (weird and/or interesting incidents yes, but nothing that would make us want to cut our residency short.) Granted, we are in a town that’s heavily reliant on the tourist trade and it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy when you know the local government is doing everything in its power to keep its visitors, expats and law-abiding citizens safe and happy. It’s likely that things will be different the farther south we go, and a healthy respect for current events will confine us to the more reputable ports and anchorages.
But as we all know, there is no “safe” place really. And I’m not talking about getting mugged, or being hit by a bus, or drinking the water (more on that later). I’m talking about getting caught up in the unfortunate downside of an otherwise great country—physically yes, but more psychologically. The odds are extremely low that we’ll get caught in any gang-related conflict, but hopefully we won’t scare ourselves out of seeing some really amazing places just because we think we might get hurt. Like anywhere else in the world, it’s important that we be smart, cognizant of our surroundings, and not take any unnecessary risks. In other words, we’ll just continue to enjoy ourselves and hope that cartels “keep to the code” and leave tourists and law-abiding citizens out of their endeavors (or as Jerry says to the gangsters in Some Like It Hot, “It’s none of our business if you guys want to bump each other off.”)
All that being said—and at the risk of contradicting myself—we will be bypassing Acapulco. Whereas many Mexican cities have recently dropped off the various “most dangerous cities” lists, Acapulco is currently sitting at #3 right behind Caracas, Venezuela and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. They call it Guerrero’s Iraq. Street killings, kidnappings, and other crimes associated with the drug trade have turned the city—including the previously safe tourist zones—into a battleground which even a heightened military presence can’t seem to abate. Foreign tourism has become virtually nonexistent (plummeting from 3.6 million in 1999 to less than 110,000 in 2014), Mexican tourists have taken to bringing weapons for protection, and armed military personnel now patrol the beaches (apparently jet skis have become a favorite mode of transportation for the modern assassin.) Even the US Government has outright forbidden its employees to travel there. I guess for once, we’ll go ahead and agree with them on this one (See? Pigs do fly!)
And as if we needed one, we also have another—more personal—reason to skip Acapulco. Apparently the Deck Boss contracted a nasty case of what she refers to as the “Aztec Two Step” during her last visit in 1951 and has harbored a grudge ever since (and as Canada can attest, she does know how to hold one—a year later and it’s still all about the eggs.) Now I had heard of Montezuma’s Revenge and even the Gringo Gallop, but never the Aztec Two Step. But a little research into travel articles written in the 1950’s unearthed a plethora of colorful euphemisms coined by travelers who just couldn’t not drink the water. Visiting the pyramids? Mind the Gippy Tummy. Istanbul? Watch out for the Turkey Trot. Visiting the Taj Mahal? Delhi Belly! Interestingly, the Mexican people have their own euphemism—the Turista. (That they don’t call it the Posterior PiƱata is just a wasted opportunity.)
So Acapulco is out due to violence (of one kind or the other) but the rest of the Mexican Pacific coast is open for adventure. And if we have any mishaps? Well, I guess that what keeps this blog going.
Editor’s Note: Keep a copy of this blog entry. If we fall victim to Mexican cartel violence, it’ll be the ultimate in irony.
Pictured: The Mexican army in Nuevo Vallarta. That's an M60 mounted on the back. They should mount one with a t-shirt cannon and shoot D.A.R.E. shirts at unsuspecting passersby. "Stay off drugs, amigo!" PHOOMPH!

Pictured: Got milk? La Leche—where it all went down.
Not Pictured: Dairy Farmers of Mexico lamenting, "Great. We finally get people to consume more dairy products and then this happens."

Pictured: On the bus to PV about a week after the kidnapping. The group in front of us all pointed and started talking very excitedly as we passed La Leche. Proof that even the locals find this a bit of an anomaly. Coincidentally, they were on our bus on the way back to NV where they spent the entire time singing, "Who let the dogs out! Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!" So there you go.

Now because elephants always travel in herds, it’s time to discuss that other hot-button topic: Zika.
Mosquitos outnumber gang members by about a billion to one. So it stands to reason that you’re more likely to get a mosquito-borne illness than caught in the crossfire of warring cartels (unless you live in Acapulco where all the mosquitos packed up and left long ago—primarily for their safety but also to avoid the Bloodsucker Squirts.) 

In an earlier post, I blogged about the importance of using bug spray. Editor’s Note: I say “blogged” instead of “wrote” because the latter implies that I use correct grammar and punctuation. At that time, the emphasis was on comfort (because it’s hard to be comfortable when you want to rip your skin off) but of course the underlying motive is illness prevention. West Nile Virus was the big bad for years, but now it’s Zika. A lot has been reported about this latest in mosquito-borne maladies with the three biggest takeaways being that it’s spreading quickly, there is no vaccine, and for some that contract it the results will be devastating.
In Mexico, it’s not just Zika you have to watch out for. They’ve also got malaria, dengue fever, and some nasty piece of work called chikungunya down here. All come with a fever (which is a glorious thing to have when it’s 95 outside); a couple come with a rash; some have vomiting; and most throw in extreme joint pain for good measure. The severity (or even onset) of symptoms varies from person to person as does recovery time. So of course every time one of us gets bit, the “worst case scenario” prize wheel starts spinning and every ache, pain and bodily anomaly is heavily scrutinized. Editor’s Note: For a couple of days The Captain felt sluggish—just kind of blah—which we immediately attributed to yellow fever because that’s what happens when you live in a mosquito-infested environment and WebMD is your primary physician. But he quickly recovered, as did the Deck Boss from her sudden bout of cholera.
So what’s to be done? In the truest spirit of ounce of prevention/pound of cure, don’t get bit. Or at least put up a good fight. Apply bug spray, put screens on hatches and windows, make sure there is no standing water around like in a bucket or crevice or even a fold of canvas, treat door and companionway openings with insecticide, invest in some citronella coils or candles if you’ll be on deck after dark, and apply bug spray. The experts say that you should also wear long pants and long sleeves and long flowy things but in all honesty, I’d rather get bit. It’s fricking hot here! It’s only modesty that keeps me clothed at all.
Paradise Village does a pretty good job of spraying to keep the mosquito population down but when you’re dealing with a pest that can go on Tinder, hook up, get pregnant, lay 10,000 eggs in a puddle of water, and get back to the bar in a span of ten minutes, you’re kind of fighting a losing battle. 
We keep a can of OFF! next to the door and try to be good about spraying it on before going up on shore, especially if we’re taking Otter out. When doing his business, he prefers greenery. And because he likes to milk every last ounce of walking time, he will hold it till we are way off the resort property where the grass has gone wild, the trees hang low, and it’s perpetual spring break in mosquito-ville. It was out here where we first learned that when applying bug spray, you can’t just hit the major areas and hope the rest of you is protected by residual waft. The little bastards are adept at finding the one patch of skin that got missed—the chink in the armor if you will. I’ve returned from walks with a welt above my left eye and three bites on my middle toe. The Captain got bit underneath his watch—we’re still trying to figure that one out. And speaking of, animals get bit too. Otter is on Bravecta, but when out we try to keep mosquito contact at a minimum by walking him in a zig-zag pattern. Zig to a bush, lift a leg, zag back to the pathway, repeat. The longest time spent in the grass is for doing his duty. Which is why God forbid Otter should get into something dodgy. A raging case of the Doggie Doo-Dah-D’ohs! will keep his butt pinned to the ground for hours.
Suffice to say that Zika has already entered the pantheon of “reasons why mosquitos shouldn’t be allowed to exist.” Seriously, why are they here? Besides reproducing, drinking blood, and keeping bug spray companies in business, what purpose do they serve? And before someone pipes in with “they serve as food for other creatures”, I’m sorry but anything whose main goal is to wipe out the human race should have been eradicated long ago. Besides, those “other creatures” should take one for the team and eat flies instead—they’re annoying as hell, too.
Editor’s Note: Keep a copy of this blog entry. If one or more of us contracts a mosquito-borne illness that, too, will be the ultimate in irony. The only thing more ironic would be contracting Zika, then falling victim to cartel violence on the way to the market to pick up some Imodium.

Pictured:  One of a series of public service ads. This one is imploring people to wash food containers thoroughly to avoid inadvertently creating a mosquito breeding ground.
Not Pictured: A group of juvenile-delinquent mosquitos. Those pupas got their doo-rags on, their pants slung low, and their spray paint at the ready. There's gonna be some tagging tonight!

Pictured: Ground zero for mosquito-borne illnesses: the stagnant puddle of water. Brought to you by the chicken in the Walmart parking lot.

Special Editor’s Note: The Deck Boss would like to say “thank you” to everyone that commented on her last photo. We think she looks good, too.
We’re also happy to report that even though Dr. WebMD suggested she go immediately to the emergency room, the small pox cleared up on its own after two days.