If you travel down to the state of Nayarit, Mexico, the last in that country to accept colonization, you will find several worlds. There are luxury resort hotels such as the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, gated and secure. There is the world that the elite magazines tout as well as sleek websites, celebrating the rebranded Riveria Nayarit, a 200 mile stretch of purported immaculate surf and sand from Puerto Vallarta as a starting point, to San Blas at the north end, with the surfing town of Sayulita in the heart of things.
For the most part, the people living and working in towns like Sayulita who are natives, are poor, living underneath buildings, almost always as a family, in what we would call hovels, or in half destroyed old buildings with their laundry hanging off make-shift balconies. The roads are not paved, just dirty old cobblestones, which the locals hose down in the morning to clean the soot, creating mud to transverse. Wild roosters, birds and monkeys screech all night long in the jungle above, and hundreds of stray dogs that roam the streets by day, bark all night as well, creating the most plaintive and loud symphony I’ve ever heard.
Some folks are surfing but most are not, as raw sewage is dumped into the ocean all day through a filthy stream that some local children play in and a stray donkey or horse enjoys. Trash is dumped in large green bags everywhere on the streets, then burnt by individuals who dump from their trucks directly on the side of the road, or dropped off at the dump, which burns trash several times daily, usually with copal incense to offset the smell.
Yet, I’ve never seen such happy people in all my travels, smiling, in the present, the here-and-now. Their Huichol art is exquisite, their music uplifting – folk art and street performers with songs and crafts from their indigenous roots, such as the tribe who come into town from high in the mountains above.
There are no homeless people here. Everyone works, young and old, selling what they have made, some up and down the beaches all day, some with small shops where they paint or sew or cook. Everyone seems to have a special niche, painting “Day of the Dead” skulls or corazon earrings and hundreds of other creations as well. The colors throughout the town are vibrant yellows and blues and reds; their faces are vibrant too and they always are talking to each other or to tourists in buoyant tones.
There are serious problems in a repurposed state like Nayarit, which is of course thrilled to get a piece of the tourist pie from other, once popular destinations now being shunned because of the crime and drug cartels. There is much that needs to be done, but seemingly not much being done to address their modern era dilemmas.
But I have also seen first-hand, the phenomenal joy in abundant creativity as a vital factor of daily life.
It has brought me back to my community and my work with new appreciation and vigor.