FIESTA in The Time of Quarantine
It’s Holy Week. It’s Holy Week in Mexico, a land and culture where ‘social distancing’ is neither comprehended nor much practiced despite the local Governor’s warnings. Church bells are ringing but the doors are closed and locked. Normally this is a busy crowded week best suited for gringos, like us, to hide out at home on purpose while Nationals come into town to visit relatives, hit the beaches or parades all day and then party like its 1999 all night.
This year the city of Puerto Vallarta is closed for business completely. Hotels, beaches, restaurants, schools, shops and even state-line borders plus many public services are closed for the month of April – at the very least. The American and Canadian ‘snowbirds’ have flown back to ride out the virus at home.
Has that stopped the party down here? Somewhat, but not much if yesterday - Palm Sunday - is any example. Even with vehicles roaming the Colonia streets broadcasting on loudspeakers: Quedarse en su casa. Esta es una orden del gobierno - Stay In Your House. This is a Government Order, there were at least 4 big loud parties in our neighborhood with music blaring from all directions all night until early morning.
All the ex-pats we know who live here full time as we do, and our friends and family in the States, have been in self-quarantine for weeks already, leaving home only to pick up groceries – wearing masks and gloves. That is not the case in the streets here.
We chose to live in this neighborhood of Vallarta precisely because we love the local color, culture, flavor, sounds and the warm friendly people we live among. But since Mexico is currently behind the world curve in Corona Virus case numbers and deaths, that will soon change. It’s heart-crushing to consider that in the next weeks, our Mexican neighborhood could be dead silent.
We have the technology to Skype or FaceTime our friends at the other end of town for Happy Hour or communicate in real-time with our family and friends in other countries anytime we want. Plus being from the Pacific Northwest where 'social distancing’ has always been an acknowledged thing, we don’t feel as isolated as we otherwise might. We’re safe and have all we need on the 6th floor of our condo where our neighbors who live here in this building full time are doing the same thing.
But down on the streets just below us, people are not used to huddling inside their mostly small, hot, dark houses filled with many people. Children usually play all day and into the night directly in the street and neighbors drag their chairs out most evenings to socialize and eat together. All this has come to an end, mostly.
There’s a distinction that cannot be escaped. At least it’s a distinction quite clear to me. Although the Coronavirus itself does not distinguish between race, age, gender, color, religion or political leanings as it ravages across the globe, what becomes obvious in its wake is that one’s class makes a significant difference in what occurs in the aftermath.
We’re uninsured Americans in Mexico, but if we should become ill and have to go to the hospital, though not at all ideal – and believe me we are acutely aware of that terror and are completely isolating hoping we won’t need to - we can afford to pay for a private hospital down here if we have to. In the public regional hospitals, a family member or friend must accompany a patient 24 hours, bring food, medicine, clean and care for their loved one. It’s not the same as in the States where if one is uninsured or underinsured, they can still receive treatment. But even then, because of class status, medical expenses will likely overwhelm most families there as well.
Last year it was a novelty for us to experience the all-day shopping excursion, taking the bus out to Costco, Home Depot or La Comer and then Uber home again with our bags. We recently bought a car so we don’t have to cram ourselves into crowded busses like most of our neighbors, or even take taxis or Ubers and expose ourselves to infection anymore. These days we don’t leave our home at all.
The beautiful wide Malecón along the waterfront and beaches where we used to take our daily walk is closed now. This first weekend of Holy Week, the streets in our Colonia belong to the nationals. I’ve taken to grabbing my bungee pumps and walking around our condo and down the breezeway to the elevator and back over and over. (I never could handle walking or running on a track, but I realize now how the mindnumbing repetition drains my brain, at least for a little while. As I come back into the house and through the rooms across the balcony, I have an unencumbered view of the ocean. It would be a sin to complain about that.
We live in a comfortable and beautiful condominium with a magnificent view, but other than today, in the last two weeks, when I look over our balcony into the neighborhood below I rarely see anyone. No children as before. No neighbors chatting or hanging out laundry. No one going into or coming out of Liali’s tienda.
And no one is working since in this city, most are employed in the tourist industry. That means many people are already going hungry. Many restaurants, and service groups including #VallartaAbuelos, the one I participate in that formerly focused on supporting our local kids to go to and stay in school, have pivoted to supplying food and necessities – called dispensas – to our local families. We donate what we can to these causes and others that identify families in need since there is no government-funded welfare or unemployment compensation in Mexico. So far we are able to. And so far there hasn’t been an appreciable uptick in petty crimes. But there likely will be and probably also government crackdowns and curfews will happen as people become more desperate.
Yes, it’s Mexico, an incredibly beautiful diverse country and depending upon where you are, it has first world cosmopolitan cities such as México, Guadalajara or Pueblo. Or it can feel like a second world country with charming but questionable infrastructures in cities like Puerto Vallarta. And it can feel like a third world country for the many uneducated indigenous people who have always been here. And everyone has heard about México’s notorious cartels. We only hear about them. They are not visible to us in Puerto Vallarta. Not now, anyway.
In the meantime, it’s spring and empty of tourists, a very early beginning of low season, when unemployment tends to become the norm as shops and restaurants close down for the hot wet summer months. This time is usually our favorite time, a quieter time, the best time of the year, fiesta time in Mexicio, with many music and dance festivals and sporting events. All canceled now.
Can we go back to America? Yes, we can. Eventually. But not yet. Not now. We’re American citizens living as residentes permanente here in paradise. Our hope is to return to the northwest in June, but that depends on so many variables. The virus, the border, travel restrictions and the still many unknowns. So though our Corona circumstances are as ideal as they could be, I still have to make an effort to remember that Gratitude is truly my Easter salvation and only fiesta this year.
Semana Santa ~ Holy Week in Puerto Vallarta 2019
Semana Santa ~ Holy Week in Puerto Vallarta 2020