I grew up in a small town. I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement. It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.
I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.
The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour, but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.
Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.
One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.
The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one. I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent. It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.
It’s nice and I miss it.