An Emerald Oasis in a Prickly Sea

After dropping my Scarecrow, Ricky, downtown, I drove the one mile back to Campo Los Petates ~ my Emerald Oasis home for the next week. I was greeted by a family of cooing coots, a river of agua dulce (sweet water) so placid that it felt more like a pond, blessed shade, a cool breeze, and a crew of two men who were building a new palapa. They very sweetly offered me the best campsite in the place. I guess it helps that I was the only guest.

My campsite was big and beautiful, furnished with a rusted, green-topped chrome table and matching green school bus benches, and shaded by the only palapa that had been rebuilt since the hurricane. I realize that an old car seat in the yard is completely white trash, but my crazy Irish grandfather always had an old car seat nestled in the garden overlooking the river. Some of my favorite childhood memories were of sitting on that old seat, just me and my grandpa.

The palapas of Los Petates are built practically on the edge of the Rio San Ignacio. In normal times, the river doesn’t swell more than an inch or two. Last September was not normal. Hurricane Odile brought torrential rains and the Rio San Ignacio flooded. A 15-foot wall of water coursed through the arroyo, destroying everything in its path. The town of San Ignacio and the Mission are a short distance from the river and built on a rise, thus they were spared from the destruction. Los Petates was still digging itself out from the flood debris and replacing their palapas that disappeared down the river.

Shortly after I arrived the owner, Manuel, rolled up on a janky old Fuji bicycle. He was attired in faded yellow jersey and Helen’s Cycles shorts that were probably a size too large when he first got them, now they looked two sizes too big, the black had turned to brown, and the fabric was worn through to the point of transparency in places. The bike was a true ten-speed and the wheels were so out of whack that he would rode with the brakes open so the rim didn’t rub on every revolution. Despite the worn out equipment, he rode his bike every day, he also rode to work, unless he had errands that required a car. As he rolled in, I was just unloading my janky old Fuji Roubaix city bike. He asked me if I would like to join him for a ride in the morning. What a sweet introduction to my stay in San Ignacio.

Manuel arrived at the crack of dawn the next morning for our bike ride. As we set out, he very sweetly warned me that there was a pretty serious hill as you head out the other side of town. After rolling through town, we negotiated a gravel road then climbed up and over a small hump. Descending the other side I saw nothing but rollers beyond. I asked him where the hill was. He told me we had already climbed it. I giggled, and in my head I heard the inimitable words of Bugs Bunny, “he don’t know me too well, do he?”


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