Finding a room after dark in a city like Mazatlán on a Friday night should be easy, no? Exactly no. Eric came through with a nice find last night. How happy I am to have such a great support group back home! These guys have my back when I need it most. The Hotel Morales Inn offers a single room for 220 pesos and a double for 357. Every hotel I probed along the beach was full or out of singles and wanted 600 pesos for a double. No thank you. Those extra pesos buy things like food, beer, and nights in other cities. I’m very happy with this hotel. It’s located in the heart of Mazatlán where the locals live and eat. The three-story building is all but falling apart from the outside. But inside, the place is a solid fortress of concrete and tile. Everything about the place from its design to the decor reminds me of an early-1900s asylum. The locks and doors are stout enough to keep the craziest of people confined. The beds and tables are made of concrete and steel. The accommodations are meager but sufficient. A room comes with air conditioning, a ceiling fan, and a spacious bathroom. The shower is even big enough for me to launder all of my dirty gear and clothes and set them about to dry while I explore the city.
I walk around with my pocket phrasebook and practice saying the things I see. I learn a little more Spanish every day this way. Not being fluent has made communicating a challenge at times, but most of the people I encounter are helpful and honest. They talk slowly for me, or they use very simple words and sentences to help me understand. I practice compliments while I eat and leave with new ways to express my gratitude. My pre-school Spanish vocabulary sometimes gets me into trouble. I mispronounce words. I grammar wrong. I butcher the very meaning of things. A friend calls this “cave man” Spanish. I don’t grunt or shout much, but I sure do rely on hand gestures a lot. And I also rely on the honesty of the people to help me along. Today I learn that not everyone in Mexico will have my back when the Spanish fails me. While walking to my hotel from the beach, I hear a band. That’s a sure sign of fun and a first for me in Mexico. Live music has been so elusive that I practically pounce into this dive bar with a grin from ear to ear. The only music I’ve heard in two weeks has been the same crap I hear in the United States. And it blasts from every car and and every storefront without a care for quality. I can’t wait to hear some local music played by real people. My pounce into the bar stops abruptly. This is no tourist hangout. Bottles upon bottles of Pacifico and Corona move from the bar to the tables in the hands of robust Mexican women. Every table is full of beer-drinking Mexican men shouting and gesturing along to the music. These are the kind of men who look like they work hard for a living and rely on beer to forget whatever it is they do to pay for the beer. What have I got myself into? The music and promise of cheap beer keep me from turning tail. I decide to deal with the culture shock later. I need a beer. Ordering a beer from a bar that only sells beer is easy. Ordering a beer from a bar that only sells two kinds of beer is even easier. And it really doesn’t matter whether I have the bad beer in a brown bottle or the bad beer in a clear one. All the local beer tastes terrible and costs the same. I’m on the Pacific coast — Pacifico it is. When I order from the bar tender, he says thirteen in Spanish. I hear thirty and hand over thirty. He takes it without pause and makes no sign of making change. I do pause, and think about what just happened. I call him back over and ask the price again. He says thirteen in Spanish, and I realize my mistake. He just sold two beers for one and decided to keep the difference as a nice tip. Half way through my beer, I decide to have a second since I already paid for it. I gulp the rest and order from the same guy. He doesn’t protest when I take my second and leave without paying. I chalk up the four-peso difference to a valuable Spanish lesson: practice counting. Trece is not treinta no matter how fast the man says it. The band is something else. The instruments are as worn as the people playing them. The missing finger key on the trombone is played by a finger so calloused and stiff that it barely moves with the music. The tuba looks like a giant fish for all its shiny dents. A piece of the drum hangs on for dear life with every beat. The sounds these instruments make are just as rough as their looks. Only in concert do they make a noise resembling music. Nonetheless, I love it, and I am the only person who claps after every song. The heck with it. I don’t care. These guys deserve some respect. I clap as loudly and drunkly as I can. The next day must be a Sunday. I have no idea anymore. I don’t even bother looking at my watch. The streets are usually a good indication of the day. Today must be Sunday because the churches look busy and my breakfast restaurant of choice is closed. In fact, everything is closed except for the churches. Sunday it is. I set out to find alternate breakfast and begin my hike to the harbor. Cue handsome-looking young man in an apron at a taco stand. Breakfast it is. I sit and must look crazy hungry or just crazy given my smile. The couple next to me look surprised and say so. They ask in English if I like these tacos — as if these tacos are something to not like. Of course I like tacos. Who doesn’t like tacos? They smell top-notch, and the chef is a handsome cut himself. Besides, meat and some onions on a tortilla with salsa and lime begins to taste the same after awhile. I have to discriminate on other qualities like cost and the view from time to time. These tacos don’t taste the same as all the others. Halfway through my second of three, I muster the courage to ask the handsome young chef what kind of taco I’m eating. Vacca, he says. That’s cow. Good so far. Carne de cabeza, he adds, and points to his head. Yup. I’m eating cow head tacos for breakfast. Totally worth it. The cow face I ate for breakfast must have been from one of those mountain climbing cows I saw in the canyons because I set out on a climbing adventure to Mazatlán’s poop point after breakfast. I call it poop point because Mazatlán has a poop problem, and that problem is only seen from poop point. A hike up the big rock south of the harbor tells all. Just the smell is a good indication of the problem. Every wisp of wind is a chance to smell the remains of yesterday’s tacos de cabeza. This is the home of Mazatlán’s water treatment facility. It’s tucked away from the tourist beaches on a small peninsula to the south. And just south of the treatment facility is a pipe that pumps the smelly tacos directly into the sea. From high above, it’s easy to see just how far the poop goes before it and the ocean are indistinguishable. The beaches may be miles away, but I won’t be swimming in Mazatlán.