We are at Marina Cortez, a marina in the center of town. Leave the gate and turn left and the Malecón awaits, about 3 miles of sidewalk 30 feet wide. Evenings and weekends are filled with people taking a walk, riding their bikes, or jogging along the shore. Turn right and Mexico awaits, tire stores, banks, restaurants, the hardware store, the new MEGA, a Walmart arranged along a busy street with the world’s worst sidewalk. From our central location we know that Mexicans love their music. The guys on the boat next door play music at high volume or late into the night. Somewhere out in the town a Mexican dance club plays music till 5 AM.
We’ve heard from others that Mariscos is a great place for seafood. So tonight is the night. We walk through the local neighborhoods and then up onto the main drag, about 10 blocks and there is Marisco’s, a cinder block structure with walls about 4 feet high painted bright yellow under a high thatched roof. The roof looks new perhaps replaced after Hurricane Odile. The tables are filled with Mexicans; we are the only gringos. We order beers, 25 pesos instead of 60 on the Malecón. As we consider the menu, 2 mariachis walk through kind of bedraggled, the bass looks like it’s made of red cardboard. They plink and plunk a few notes trying to get a taker, but give up in 5 minutes and leave. The waiter talks us into a starter of chips and guacamole.
Two guys walk in. A man wearing a vest and blue shirt, he is ruggedly handsome with perfect teeth, and close cropped beard he moves with the confidence of a man who is certain of his place in the world. His companion, a tall slender man with a shaved head wears a black shirt, levis and dusty cowboy boots. As soon as I see them, I have this slightly itchy feeling.
A black forerunner suddenly pulls away from the curb, everyone in the restaurant looks over their shoulder, the guy in the front seat is hanging out of the window, but a young girl playing with her iPad in the back seat makes the whole thing seem less threatening.
I have this feeling that I’m in a situation I don’t understand. Lisa and I share a seafood cocktail. A new group of mariachis walk in. These guys with blue shirts immediately strike up a conversation with the two guys. The restaurant is thinning out and it’s not even 6 o’clock yet.
Two of the mariachis are obviously brothers. Both are on the chubby side, they wear ray ban eyeglasses that look as though they have never been cleaned. The bigger one is playing a battered tuba, painted black with brass scrollwork shining through, the other has an accordion. A tall slender young man in a tight fitting tee-shirt plays the guitar. He has a great voice. Lisa and I order a plate of grilled shrimp and another beer.
The guy in the vest is running the show. He tells them what to play and sings along. He orders beers, perhaps ten in a bucket of ice. As the songs go on he notices us listening and toasts between tables by raising his beer. After a few songs the mariachis are getting tighter. The tuba player has a flourish. I didn’t know you could do that with a tuba. The music goes on for about 45 minutes. After a while the Mariachis get beers from the bucket and the vest brings us a couple of beers. His English is perfect….. our Spanish isn’t.
The vest wants the Mariachis to play a song for us, but we are of course completely unfamiliar. I walk over to their table. The vest is Jose, I tell him that while I have certainly heard mariachis before, It has always been this group of guys cruising between tables singing love songs for couples and this is completely different. The music is creating this image of campesinos singing around the fire, unrestrained, musical.
Jose laughs..”We are not gay”. I’m American, from a little town near Porterville, I have a recycling business. I’m considering retiring down here… (He’s about 30). My wife cheated on me so I’m getting a divorce and considering what do next. This guy is the brother of the “president”… I think he means governor. He asks what I think of La Paz, (nice). Cabo (noisy). He is thinking about starting a business importing clothing into Mexico… then he tells me he loves driving around in Mexico, because he looks like a drug dealer….. Hunh?. Jose and the bald guy go through check points easily. They get great service in restaurants, “did you notice the guy coming over to open the beers in the bucket?”
Then he tells me about 4 times not to worry, La Paz is safe…. He has my back, what? What just happened? We walk back through the dark streets being careful not to fall into any potholes.