I have seen all types of people come and go over the years in our little community down in Playa de Estero, Chapultapec, Mexico. Many come with high expectations and leave confused and deflated. That just seems to be the way down here. For every expatriate that lands here and stays, there are more who come and abruptly leave. Actually, I have noticed this same phenomenon in the small mountain community where we live in the States.
I think it boils down to why they came in the first place. Unfortunately, many come with expectations that Baja will fix their fractured lives. Anyone who has spent much time down here knows that Baja is not very good at fixing anything—just look at the roads.
I am reminded of a neighbor I once had named, Ernie. After selling a successful masonry contracting business in SoCal, he moved to our little community in Baja with high expectations and enthusiasm. He was tired of the pace and materialism of the States and was excited to move to a slower pace—a place where he thought he could reflect and get back in touch with who he was and where he was going.
After arriving, he wasted little time throwing himself into a flurry of activity, exploring the restaurants and sightseeing around the country. He dove into an extensive remodel of his home. He was constantly on the go for about a year.
But after that first year, I began to notice a change in him. At first it was little criticisms about his Mexican neighbors. He complained about the lack of services, the disorganization and the slowness of the way of life. And as more time ticked by, the criticisms grew worse until he became obsessed with what he thought was wrong with every little thing they did and what this way of life offered. He had grown dark and unhappy.
It was just about this time that the Mexicans started to build a social hall near us. Ernie spent hours everyday watching them. He would get upset with their methods of construction especially their slowness in laying block. As previously mentioned, he was a masonry contractor by trade.
Every time I saw him, he would work himself up into a rage about how poorly they were constructing the building. I warned him to calm down and not worry about it but to no avail. Ernie was obsessed. He had found a new project it seemed. I was concerned for his health.
I left on a moto adventure for several months and forgot about Ernie. When I returned, I noticed the Mexicans were putting the final touches to the block building. It was a beautiful solid building, very ornate and colonial in style. But I, also, noticed that Ernie was no were to be found.
Finally, after a few days of not seeing Ernie, I went over to the building and I approached Ishmel, the foreman of the construction crew, and asked him if he had seen him. He was a small barrel chested man from Chiapas on the Guatemalan border. His bronze skin, silky black hair and flat face revealed his Indian descent. He was legendary in our village for his wisdom and capacity for hard work.
Ishmel shook his head and replied. “Oh, it was terrible, Sr. Ken. You remember how Sr. Ernie was so upset with our methods?”
I nodded. I knew from his tone that something bad had happened.
Ishmel continued, “Well, one day Sr. Ernie got really upset with us—more than usual. So upset that he grabbed the trowel from my hand and yelled that he would show us how to lay block properly and began buttering block and laying them.”
Ishmel teared up and continue. “Then it happened. He looked up at me and said he didn’t feel so well and dropped dead, over there.” Ishmel pointed to a little wooden cross behind the building.
After recovering from my shock I asked Ishmel what he thought about all this. He paused for some time before answering. “Well. Sr. Ernie was upset with us. He wanted us to lay block a better way –the American way. But after seeing what happen to him, I think we’ll just keep laying block the way we’ve always done it—the Mayan way.”