Sunday, April 20, 2008

The beauty of what's real.

It's a clichéd image. A long stretch of golden sand, deep blue ocean water, a bright sky and a hot sun overhead, the sound of the waves crashing up against the shore, and an endless amount of time to sit, relax and soak it all in. This is my trip to Mexico to a deluxe five-star all-inclusive resort. This is something many Canadians get to enjoy. Time away from the office, school, snow, cold, city streets, boring surburbia, everyday life. Instead of thinking it as a cliché, I imagine it to be a beautiful dream where the weather is perfect every day, you can eat and drink as much as you like, and you don't have to worry about any problems.

I spent six of seven days in that fantasy world. And it was the perfect get-away I needed. But on a morning of one of those seven days, I stepped into reality. I visited a small Mexican town centered in the tourist development area of Huatulco where I was staying.

The cab ride into town is about seven minutes long and costs $2.50 CDN. Split amongst three riders, I owe $0.83. The roads have sharp curves because they follow the land of the mountains. It is relaxing to feel the wind blow across my face and watch the scenery pass by in a car that looks like it was made 20 years ago.

The town is small but densely populated with stores, markets, restaurants and bars. No building is taller than two stories and all storefronts are brightly painted in pastels. In the center is a huge park with stone benches, a fountain, and blossoming trees and bushes. The sky is overcast and the morning air is starting to thicken with humidity. My companions and I wander through a mall first. It always surprises me to see Westernized commercialization in developing countries. The mall is white and beige and spectacularly clean. They have stores selling Guess-like clothing at Guess-like prices, Adidas shoes, Puma gear, and novelty souvenir shops where a magnet costs more than the total cab fare. But the convenience store is ridiculously cheap.
"I got this bottle of grapefruit juice and pack of gum for 85 cents!" says Kashlee, a fellow Canadian travelling on her own, who my friend Danielle and I met at the resort. "Are you ready to go to the markets in town?" she asks.

The market isn't what I imagined. In a whole square block, I enter these large open doorways into dark and narrow aisles, jam-packed with stalls selling more things than I could have imagined. We come across so many different trinkets--wooden toy motorcycles, black stone animal statues, beaded jewellery, ceramic plates--all handcrafted and traditional to the Mexican culture. Old women and young children are at every corner, waiting to sell you these tourist goodies. And along the perimeter are produce, meat and fish stands. A large bowl of prawns stare up at me with a thousand black beady-little eyes. The scent of fresh mangoes somehow manage to permeate the air. We see a young woman carving the sweet fruit into a tropical flower-like shape, held on a stick so you can eat without getting your hands sticky.

Back on the streets, the sidewalks are busy but not crowded. We wander off to a more residential area. Little cocoa-skinned girls don puffy, laced, pattern-stitched dresses. On one road, a boy cries his head off while an older lady stands in the doorway, watching him steadily. There is only a hard void-like expression on her face. The sounds of the place are rhythmic Spanish music, fast-talking speech in a language I don't understand, cars and bikes puttering along, kids yelling, and our footsteps hitting the pavement.

"There isn't really anything left to see," remarks Kashlee. We've walked the entire town in about an hour. Much of the time was spent idling in shops. Danielle also isn't feeling well so we decide to head back to the resort. I don't really want to leave. The allure of the town is so powerful. It's the authenticity, the rough life, the fact that people live and don't have the luxury of lounging on what is really their beautiful beaches all day long. "I can see why you would want to live here now," I tell Kashlee. She's been raving about Mexico since the moment we met her. I didn't understand the appeal until now.

The trip into town is real life for me. And as much as I enjoy losing myself to fantasy, I love to be engaged by the world. I love to know what the real experience of real people are. I don't need the sugar-coated, glossed-over version the vacation brochures try to sell. There is an emptiness in that dreamworld that could never sustain and fulfill me.

I loved lying on the beach for six of seven days. It was that one morning when I visited the real world that will stick with me forever. The real world isn't a cliché, but it is more timeless and beautiful than any picture-perfect beach.

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