Saturday, January 08, 2005

Yelapa gets power -- and calls it progress

YELAPA, Jalisco, Mexico — We visited this isolated Mexican village a few days ago only to find that in the four years since we first landed through the surf after a wild panga ride to get there, the pueblo now has fulltime electricity (they used to turn off the generator at 10 p.m. each night, restarting at 8 a.m.), satellite television (which the kids all cluster around) and even a small video arcade area. A rough dirt road now allows autos to be within a mile or so of the village. Previously, the only way there was via small boat.

Progress? Doubtful.

Still, a short walk up the jungle river takes you away from the tourists with cell phones on the steep beach to a tropical existence we dream about in the U.S., a tropical existence that is certainly at poverty level by American standards. But the people here in Yelapa are rich in ways we strive for. The locals have a tranquility you will never see in a shopping mall in the U.S. (or most living rooms), and even though they sleep in a hammocks, they don’t seem to worry if their hammock is a little threadbare compared to their neighbors — if they even see their neighbors who might be in a hut a hundred yards away.

Returning back to Paradise Village Marina (sometimes called Southern California South or Gringo Gulch) was a shock, where the talk was all about how the governor of California has decided to take out after already dispirited school teachers by instituting a dog-eat-dog merit pay system and try to dismantle the public employees’ retirement system which is one of the most successful in the world. With the teachers, he has an easy target. After all, a California teacher confronted with a classroom of students, only half of whom speak English, is assumed to be a slacker. Why can’t she/he teach the Russian, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese or Spanish-speaking students and meet the wacky standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. (An act which the federal government has not funded, just demanded results.)

The pension fund provides a greater challenge because the people running it are about a smart a group as you can find. If they actually ran California, the state wouldn’t be in such bad shape financially.

All of that seems quite distant from Yelapa, where 10 pesos (90 cents) still buys you a cold Pacifico beer and the fresh fish at the palapas on the beach is delicious and almost as cheap as the beer.

In fact, it’s time to pick up my boogie board and head out to the Paradise Village beach for one of those beers and perhaps a hamburguesa con papas fritas (yup, burger and fries). It’s not Yelapa, but it sure beats the alternatives to the north or listening to the Fox Nut Network.


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