Saturday, 22 December 2007

Reality Check


Last weekend, we drove to Cabo and San Jose del Cabo for some necessary shopping and to meet with friends. I have never enjoyed Cabo, other than as a venue for people-watching, but we lived in San Jose for 6 years before coming to Todos Santos.

I was overwhelmed by the changes that have swept through the towns. Blooms of subdivisions cascade over the landscape. The once vacant beach near our old condo has sprouted jostling hotels, our place now cowering beneath much larger, grander complexes. A glossy magazine lists 130 pages of homes, most of which are well over $1M (and, apparently, the most expensive houses sell fastest).

Supporting the delivery of new construction, and servicing the residents and visitors, is a huge industry, which has drawn many new people to the area. The twin towns and the corridor between them have become bustling nests of activity, complete with traffic jams and all the usual paraphernalia of North American progress.

As I wandered around San Jose, with its rows of identical silver and tacky trinket shops, I found myself asking “Why do people want to come here, now?”

I remember what delighted me about San Jose in the past. I felt as though I were invited into a foreign culture, an adventurer, experiencing all the quirkiness of real life. Hunting series of shops till we found all the ingredients for a meal. Marveling over the logic of shops that place car parts next to bird cages, cookies, blenders and dresses. Feeling triumphant when, after seeking for days, I find a large aluminum juice press hidden in the back of one of these stores.

Those days are past, eliminated through the convenience of supermarkets and big box stores.

My friend helped me understand why people flock to the Cabos. He pointed out that the incredible climate and the excellent golf and sports fishing were all still there, less than 2 hours from a large percentage of the American population. That’s what people wanted, he said, now more than ever. Then it dawned on me. Most people aren’t going to Cabo and San Jose to go to Mexico. They want a hedonistic escape from reality. Maybe seasoned a little with some nice scenic backdrops, some carefully packaged authentic “folkloric dancing”, and some souvenirs to prove you were there. The Mexico they want is a homogenized, manicured, Disneyland experience.

I was glad to return to our home town, which does not revolve solely around the servicing of hedonists. Fishing boats still go out to catch fish, not fishermen. I can still enjoy the quirks of real Mexican town life, with sudden appearance and disappearance of assorted farm animals on adjacent vacant lots, and, upon opening our car gate one night this week, finding a horse tied up at the electricity pole, its owner waiting to go on a date with his girlfriend from the house next door.

I vote for reality. I wonder how much the new Master Plan for Todos Santos, due to be published soon, will be based on the principle of maintaining that reality.

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