Saturday, 26 November 2011

Message In A Bottle

I DROPPED MY pack on the sandy road, and wiped the sweat from my eyes with my shoulder. The damp back of my tee-shirt clung to me in the afternoon heat. "How much?" I asked again in surprise. The big Mexican in front of the taco shop repeated the price of the rooms at his friend's place: $25 a night. And allegedly I wouldn't find cheaper. This place was going to rinse me out by the looks of things. I thanked him and said I'd take a look. I crossed the street on his directions and found the small hotel. A tall, scrawny American in his late 60s owned the place. His name was Dave. And he reeked of booze. I had to take a subtle step backwards when he spoke, for fear of being knocked out. His pale, watery blue eyes were streaked with red, and his hands shook as he looked for the keys to the room. The room was OK, but nothing special considering it was more than twice what I'd normally expect to pay. While we talked the price over, an older woman behind Dave came out of another room, and was waving at me as if to say No. He saw me frowning over his shoulder, and he turned to look at her. I told him I'd take a look around, and headed down the stairs. She followed me out. In the street she asked me what price I'd been quoted, and where else I was thinking of looking? Dave made her feel uneasy. I told her there were a couple of listed hostels, and I was about to look for them. She said she preferred a hotel, and said she'd see me around.

Sayulita is a small beach-fronted pueblito North of Puerto Vallarta's huge bay, in the state of Nayarit. I arrived mid-afternoon, the centre quiet, with most people on or around the beach. There are more holidaymakers than backpackers here, and I drew a few stares walking around town bearing my load. I tried the two hostels in the Lonely Paranoid. The first was locked up and a manky, growling dog guarded the door, seemingly keen on a piece of white man's leg for an afternoon snack. Dogs normally love me, sensing a fellow simple being I suppose, but dogs in México don't. One had gone for me as I'd walked home in Vallarta a couple of nights previously, lunging out of the darkness and scaring the shit out of me. According the two women outside the shop next door the place was open, the owner out of town on holiday. The two Méxican lads she'd left in charge had obviously decided to take a holiday, too? The second place was deserted, the rooms wide open and dead leaves on the floor. If I didn't have valuables with me, I'd have squatted. As it was, it was looking like Drunken Dave's Hotel Borracho.

Keen for the business, he dropped the room to $20. I noticed that the older woman had come back, too. Nothing much available in town on a budget, it seemed. I headed back to the taco place, and got chatting to JT, the Méxicano who'd directed me to Dave's. The shrimp tacos he'd promised me went far beyond expectations...they were excellent. He filled me in on Dave. The guy had been here years, and was leasing the hotel. All his money went on alcohol, and his wife had just left him. Sounded like the booze-soaked tale of many an ex-pat. Their day revolves around that first drink. I've seen this a lot on my travels: ex-pats drinking too much for lack of something to do, and then sitting around bitching about each other. Paradise looks different through the bottom of a bottle.

I took a look around town, and a nice little town it is. The tiny square is colourful and spotless, shaded by several trees. Coffee shops and restaurants surround it, and two blocks of houses and shops away is the beach. Gentle surf sees a lot of trainee 'boarders, and judging by the number of families on the beach, it's a popular holiday destination. Nothing exciting, but a good place to relax for a while. I'd get my tan back and catch up on some reading and writing.

At Hotel Borracho that evening, I was to be treated to the car-crash spectacle of Drunken Dave and his ex-spouse at war. The hotel was single-storey and featured six rooms around an open space with a balcony. A few friends of Dave's turned up, with the woman I later found to be his wife, and they populated the balcony. The drinking got heavier, I was writing and having a quiet couple of drinks. It got more and more raucous. The older woman, a New Yorker named Rachel, came out of her room around aghast. She said she'd been assured that this was a quiet place to stay. Wanted to know if it was going to continue late? I shrugged. How should I know? I turned in a short while later, leaving the drunk couple alone. The friends had left when they started bickering over their failed marriage. The conversation took a turn for the worse, and it soon became clear that I wouldn't be getting much sleep. I could hear everything through the door.

"Look at you" she hissed. "Look...at...you."
"What?" he mumbled.
"You fucking drunk. You're a drunk. Fucking drunk. Drunk. Fucker."
I opened my eyes.
Dave told her that she was free to go, as she didn't live there.
"I've seen you puke blood. Fucker...I've seen you shit blood" she slurred.
"You bitch. I should never have married you..." he replied.
"You're an alcoholic, Dave...just look at yourself...you fucking mess..."
"...fucking bitch..."
"You're going to die..." she sang, mockingly "and I'm going to watch you die, Dave..."
"So are you...look at you, you're fucking anorexic. You skinny bitch..."
"You're going to die, Dave..." the harridan said, mock-soothingly.
"Fuck you, too. Fucking bitch. Get out of here."
"...shitting and puking blood, on the floor...and I'm going to watch."
This had gone far enough. In fact, it had gone beyond anything I've ever heard in my life.

I left my room and walked out to the balcony. The emaciated witch dropped a glass on the floor, and shoved the broken pieces to one side with her foot. Neither made a move to clear it up. Several empty bottles littered the table. It took a full minute before Dave turned, bleary-eyed towards me.

"Everything OK?" he slurred.
"Not really, Dave. In fact, I'd say I'm pretty far from OK right now."
"Were we disturbing you? Oh I'm sorry...we'll try and keep it down."
I was disturbed, alright.
"For a start, you're keeping everyone awake...and this is your hotel" His wife turned to regard me. "And it's not really my business, but I have to say that if I heard my parents speak to each other in the way you two have been doing, I would be mortified. I've never heard anything so spiteful." She apologised. Dave meekly apologised again. I suggested they should sort their differences out with a clear head in the morning, and retired to my room. No wonder their kids never visit, according to JT?

"Dead, Dave. In your own...fucking...blood. And I can't wait. I'm going to watch you die, Dave...do you know that? Watch you. Die."
"Fuck you. You'll die, too...I'll kill you, you bitch..."
She laughed shrilly. I heard chairs overturn, the scrape of metal table-legs on tile, an ashtray hit the floor with a crash; I jumped up out of bed. JT was out of his room, picking up chairs. Rachel had come out of her room, too. A drunken friend of Dave's emerged from his, and tried to placate me as I remonstrated with the drunken pair. This place was like Fawlty Towers, but with violence, booze and little humour. I was off in the morning, no doubt about that.

His wife got up to leave. It was 2am. She apologised to me, and said it had been nice to meet me. Eh? She held out her hand, which I pointedly ignored. She staggered away down the stairs, muttering spite, and Dave slumped in his chair. "Sorry about that...it won't happen again." I told him that wasn't good enough, but that in my opinion he was much better off without that hateful wretch in his life. And then went back to bed.

Morning saw me leaving with a bad back from the lumpy bed, and a partial refund from Dave; he'd likely spent the rest on last night's jolly knees-up. I'd been on the verge of leaving, but had found a shabby hostal-in-progress run by a grumpy Chileño and a young Méxicano named Victor. Between these fellows and an Alaskan nicknamed Hollywood who frequented the place, my mind was changed about departing: a few days on the beach would do me good, and this lot liked a smoke. Though the moody Chileño liked smoking ours, and then rolling his own in the bathroom. Not very sociable. But Victor was great to be around, and took me to several good bars. Hollywood and I got on like a house on fire; he reminded of a slim Ray Winstone, and had a few good L.A. tales from his days of working there as an editor, hence his nickname. A solid drinking partner.

The days drifted by. Sun. Books. Beers. Smokes. I met a few more ex-pats as the week went on. Two women, one in her late 40s and the other a blonde Canadian in her early 20s, seemed a permanent fixture on the party scene. The older one was attractive, but it looked like years of hard-drinking were taking the edge off her looks. The younger one had introduced herself as they were walking by our table one night. Nice figure, but her mouth was surrounded by small spots and sores. Not my type. When she'd given me the eye and moved on, Hollywood leaned over and said "Stay away from that one...meth-head." She certainly looked it. I encountered these two with another woman late one night in a local bar a few blocks from the beach. A group of people outside Hotel Borracho warned me not to go in, as it was full of dodgy Méxicans, and the scene of constant trouble. Red rag to this bull: in I went. The place wasn't packed, but the pair were there with another friend. Soon drunk, myself and Hollywood were dancing with them. The older one leaned into me as the third one was writhing up behind me, groping me. "I think she wants you" she slurred, breathing potent rum fumes in my face. The spotty one was slyly grinning at me across the dancefloor. "Well" I said "you can't always get what you want." She looked a little puzzled as I extricated myself and escaped their clutches. I had a suspicion they'd probably been through most of the men in this town, and weren't used to being turned down.

I found myself chatting to the owner of the bar later, a gorgeous 44-year-old. She looked 30 if a day. We got on, and in my drunken stupor I started thinking that maybe I should stick around in Sayulita for a while longer? A few more tequilas and I decided Yes, that's exactly what I'll do...this place isn't so bad after all. Reckon I could live here etc etc. I even had a few dances more with the gruesome gropers. I might even have groped them back, I can't remember? It was a very messy night with a late finish.

Next morning I awoke with a sawdust mouth, but thankfully it was my own ceiling I saw when I first opened my eyes. The Australian lad, Julian, who'd turned up the night previously, was packing his bags. He'd offered me a lift to Guadalajara, but last night in the bar I'd been keen to stay on instead. I recalled the details of my late-night conversation with the latina: divorced, two twenty-something kids, jealous ex-husband in the town, and tied to the place by a dodgy bar. Hmmm. I stirred, and Julian looked over. "That lift still on, mate?" I asked. He nodded "Let's get the fuck out of here."

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