Grateful Traveler: Little Miracles in Punta Mita – Part 1
In all the years that I traveled, all the countries that I’ve been to, there was only one place where I felt, “I’ve come home.” This was Punta Mita, a tiny fishing village on the west coast of Mexico.
At the time I lived there it was like the land that time forgot. There was no electricity. No running water. No gas. Not even any bathroom facilities.
The few families who lived there made a meager living catching and selling fish to the tourist hotels in Puerto Vallarta.
I landed there almost by accident.
I was renting a palapa (a thatched-roof hut) from a fisherman in the tourist town of Yelapa and when he told me he was off to follow the fish, I asked if I could come along.
My first view of Punta Mita was magical.
We traveled there at night and as the sun came up over the horizon it silhouetted the fishermen as they stood in the shallow waters of the Pacific casting their circular nets about them with a balletic grace.
The water and sky were a perfect blue. Along the beach were a series of thatched roof huts set off by palm trees, and in the background a lush forest.
Once our boat was pulled ashore, I realized that what had appeared as paradise from a distance was in fact a place of deep poverty. Just over the rise from this picture-perfect beach were piles of trash – the result of modern society’s introduction of tin cans and glass to a place where people had always used biodegradable materials to meet their needs.
The only well in town was putrid and an attempt to dig a new one had failed. Now its water was used for washing clothes; drinking water was brought in twice a week by mule. With no electricity, the day began at dawn and ended when the sun went down. But the beds inside each home were so filled with fleas and accompanied by so many rats that I elected to sleep alone on the beach rather than be trapped inside with them.
And yet I felt happier here than anywhere I’d ever been, including my childhood home. Why?
The people. Poor beyond all imagining, they welcomed me with a cheerfulness and grace that proved irresistible.
They fed me. They made me feel part of village life. They taught me everything they knew about surviving in such a place: how to build a fire each morning and cook the fish we ate three times a day, how to wash my clothes at the well and beat them on the rocks, how to stay cheerful in the face of overwhelming and crippling odds.
If I ever got in trouble I was to go to the village padrone (a kind of godfather who watched out for the welfare of the villagers in exchange for money and goods), not the police. I was never to walk anywhere alone.
If I chose to walk to the next village a couple of miles away (it had a tiny store where I could buy soap and other necessities) a child was always sent to accompany me because “someone might hurt you, but they’d never lay a hand on a child.”
When I wished to improve my language skills (they said I spoke “si” Spanish—whatever anyone said I answered “si”), they invited me to attend school with their children. School for these kids involved a two-mile walk each way for two hours worth of lessons. All grades were taught in the same room, at the same time, by the same teacher. And yet no child ever spoke out of turn, acted impolite, or treated the teacher with anything but respect. They knew they were entitled to an education only until sixth grade and they partook of it greedily.
When I left Punta Mita, I told myself it was only for a short while. I was sick and in need of Western medicine, but I promised everyone I would return. I never have but I’ve never stopped wondering what happened to the people I’d come to love so much, especially a little girl named Lourdes. She had broken her wrist and since her mother was unable to afford medical care, it had healed at a 45-degree angle to her hand. In a place like Punta Mita, where being able to work at hard physical labor from childhood is all that keeps you alive, an injury like this is a death sentence.
Helping to get Lourdes the medical attention she needed proved to be my way of thanking the people of Punta Mita. Doing so changed me forever …
Follow Lourdes’ journey as it continues with Part 2 of Little Miracles in Punta Mita.
By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.
More from the Grateful Traveler series: