Saturday, January 25, 2014

Little Green Lies

We took Elizabeth the other evening to help usher some brand new baby sea turtles into the ocean. She's got her tutu dress on, not for the occasion but because she doesn't wear much else these days. For most people, a tutu isn't an especially good look, but it works for her.

It worked especially well with the turtles, because when you're wading in the surf and need both hands free for nudging and flipping tiny wriggling creatures, you want a skirt that doesn't drag its hem. A tutu is just the thing.

"Helping" tiny olive ridley turtles through the perilous first moments of their seaborne lives is one of a growing number of experiences now being actively marketed here and throughout the destination tropics under the rubric of "eco-tourism."

You hardly need the spin to draw a crowd for a turtle launch. The little guys are so cute, waving their flippers and crawling all over each other. They look like tiny rubber wind-up toys. Who wouldn't want to give them a hand?

We were part of a van load of a half dozen or so who showed up at the hatch site in Nuevo Vallarta and found an enthusiastic throng of a hundred or more who had bought tickets at one or another of the hotels and condos that lined the beach.

They were mere tourists. As eco-tourists we sailed past the envious multitude like Paris Hilton at the Monkey Bar and entered the nursery enclosure to receive our portion of the day's hatch first.

Several things qualified us for the preferential treatment. First, we were repeatedly assured that our guide was an actual marine biologist with field research experience.

Second, although we were dying to take our bucket of babies to the water, we were treated first to a lecture on turtle life cycle, mating and reproductive habits, and the horrifying gauntlet of existential threats they run from the moment of birth and even before. Such as loss of habitat to the likes of us.

Third, our guide gave us expert instruction on how to introduce the hatchlings to the bay, casting scornful glances at the crowd of untutored hoi polloi who by now were at the water's edge yelling boisterous encouragement to their own bunch.

They had not been carefully taught, as we had, to use three fingers -- two on top, one below -- to hold the little ones, and to avoid squeezing them too hard or stepping on any turtle that got washed back to the beach.

Fourth and foremost, we paid a lot more to be there. Our guide told us our fees would help fund turtle aid projects, net only of the cost of transporting us from town.

That of course is where the eco-rubber really hit the road, or so we hope. I know there are some opportunities to join real research teams and contribute useful unskilled labor to a beneficial project.

But around here, you can be an eco-tourist just by paying a premium price to watch whales, observe young crocodiles in the tiny estuary grudgingly left untouched by developers behind the hotel zone, take a bird walk, or even to ride a zip line through a jungle canopy.

The only other requirement is willingness to spend a few solemn moments in guided consideration of how fragile is life on the planet, and to endure a small dose of guilt over your own heedless part in making it that way.

That's enough. Everybody back in the water.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Small minded bureaucracy that can't get out of its own way is maddening wherever you're forced to deal with it.

And far from "changing everything," the Internet turns out to be a way for bureaucracy to continue torturing you even with no actual bureaucrats present, e.g. ObamaCare.

Imagine our surprise to discover that in Mexico, where we presumed such miseries would be squared or even cubed, the systems we've had to use -- both virtual and actual -- have so far worked the way they're supposed to, much better than we're used to in the U.S.

For example, we pay a property tax,  or predial, on our home that comes due every January. Our property manager used to pay it for us and several of our neighbors, to spare us the trouble of standing in line in the municipal building to talk with collection authorities back when our Spanish wasn't ready for prime time.

But sometimes we'd forget to remind the manager we wanted him to do this, and we'd go delinquent for several months. So a few years ago when the city put its system up online, Pam started paying it that way. I did it myself this year.

It's easy as pie, even for the idiomatically challenged, and produces a nice printable comprobante, or proof of payment document, which we occasionally need for other purposes.

Once we failed to print out the receipt, and later when we needed it we found we couldn't bring up our account on the web site. With a heavy heart I headed for the tax office, now located in a new building in a remote suburb.

But it took only minutes to find the special section that deals with online payers, and just a few minutes more for the helpful lady to fish out the original hard copy of my payment record and hand it to me with a smile.

A few weeks earlier I had the same sinking feeling as I drove to the motor vehicle office for late renewal of my Jalisco registration, recalling how our DMV back home had flogged us for weeks with our own frustration before it finally coughed up our plates.

A throng sat waiting in chairs for their turns at the window. But sing glory, it turned out not to be the window for renewals, where there was no line at all. Five minutes later I was driving home in a legal vehicle, whistling Cielito Lindo.

Our current status quest is for residente temporal visas for Pam and Elizabeth through the local immigration office, the eternal object of gringo fear and loathing. The process has been lengthy, its true. But each step has at least made sense, the waits haven't ever been long, and the national website for tracking applications has worked like a dream.

I'm sure we've been lucky. The expat blogosphere is riddled with horror stories and complaints about unresponsive or incompetent functionaries. No doubt we'll run into some of those eventually.

But I pondered all this yesterday as I was enjoying an alfresco home-delivered pedicure on the balcony and watching the bay for whales. You might think a pedicure is a little precious for a retired guy, but only ever wearing flip-flops on the uneven pavement around here is hard on our feet. Poor us.

Anyway, I had the stray thought that even if securing local documentation was a lot more infuriating and left us with a bit less time for staring into the gorgeous middle distance, it would take a singular lack of grace to bitch about it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


This huge motorsailer turned up in the Bahia de Banderas this week. I probably should have recognized her, but Pam had to tell me it was the Rainbow Warrior. Then I trained the binoculars on her and saw the enormous “Greenpeace” painted on her hull.

Watching her this morning ghosting across the bay, spreading every sail she has in the nearly nonexistent breeze, made me think about the non-stop boat show we get to see from our front porch.

I stopped gawking long enough to learn that the Warrior is touring Mexican ports to bring awareness to the environmental damage from overdevelopment in sensitive watersheds and lack of serious government efforts to regulate it. 

The ship is a spectacular sight and a perfect vessel for carrying a message of protest against abuse and neglect of the planet.

But Greenpeace isn’t the only organization that shows the flag around here to make a point or two.

The U.S. Coast Guard has sent the cutters Steadfast, Mellon, Jarrett and Alert on good will visits here. Sometimes their crews come ashore and do great volunteer work in poor neighborhoods. 

The ships themselves make dignified circuits of the bay to show off their impressive size, armament and fresh paint. I’m sure military authorities hope that smugglers are watching.

The Mexican Navy has a base north of town and a small fleet of patrol boats, some so elderly you worry for them if they venture out too far. They all make little voyages now and then past our line of sight and then head back without having done anything in particular but prove they could. Enemies of the state, ashore and afloat, beware.

Cruise ship arrivals and departures are routine, but they’re so enormous it’s nearly impossible not to stare at them. They stop short of the marina entrance to take on a port pilot. Then their vast bulk seems to slip right into the hotel skyline to the north of us and disappear. “This could be you,” is the message.

There’s another fleet that says just the opposite. These are the glossy, bulbous private and charter yachts that home port in Vallarta. Now and then somebody comes up with enough scratch to fuel one up and float it along the shoreline with a party on board, transmitting loud and clear to nearly all of us, “This couldn’t be you.”

Small sailing vessels of all kinds remind us throughout the day that life is beautiful. Hardly a happy hour goes by without at least one of them traversing the brilliant orange path that narrows across the water to the setting sun. Add a squad of pelicans and if you have a camera you have a postcard.

And after dark, the noisy pirate party ship Marigalante slips close inshore directly in front of us to launch its nightly five-rocket fireworks show. In that case, the medium really is the message.