Category: Searching

It’s Not About You

December 30th, 2021 by

When you’re looking for a job, it is both essential and quite difficult to keep in mind that the search isn’t about you.  This can be difficult because, you’re driving the process, you are selling yourself and, at the end of the day finding a job matters most to you.  However, it is essential in that, when you talk to folks about opportunities they may have, the opportunity is all about meeting the need they have, taking care of their problem, and this has almost nothing to do with your personal fulfillment.

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The Virgin of Guadalupe, Human Sacrifice

December 12th, 2021 by

Chicen Itza, a couple hours into the interior from Playa del Carmen, is one of the major Mayan ruins sites and was privately owned for many years – an American entrepreneur planned to build a major hotel here in the 1800s when the area was still very remote.  The Mexican government bought the site in the ‘70s and it is now a well managed archeological location and part of Mexico’s patrimony. 

Mayan culture developed around 2000 BCE and flourished in the mid 1200s CE, and was arguably in decline when the Spanish arrived and steadily crushed it.  The ½ a dozen diseases Europeans brought with them aided in this task.

El Castillo

Maya stretched from current day Guatemala to a few hundred miles of Mexico City (Mexico City was the heart of the Aztec empire which the Spanish conquistadors, looking for gold, vanquished in the 1500s), and was comprised of several, often warring kingdoms.  It was highly sophisticated with 100s of miles of causeways between sites, government and religious buildings that survive as ruins today and a sophisticated agrarian economy.  Society was run by a high level warrior and priestly class and used slaves, often captured in battle, extensively.  The Mayans farmed irrigated land extensively and their diet was semi vegetarian.

Chichen Itza is dominated by a 30 meter high ziggurat / temple – called “el Castillo” by the Spanish – which was constructed over an earlier pyramid and has a number of associated structures, whose connecting paths are now populated with locals selling souvenirs.  The ruins have the partial remains of administrative buildings, housing for priests and ball courts.  The ruins show sophisticated carving, detailed bas relief and archeologists have figured out that buildings were painted / dyed in bright colors, now faded.

We got to the site just before the gates were to open – there was already a lineup growing and as we walked around the site, souvenir sellers were setting up their stalls.  By the time we left a few hours later, the entry area was humming and the tropical heat of the day was building.  Selfies, Instagram poses and souvenir vendors ready for another day of transactions.

When we toured the site it was quiet and still cool.  Vendors were setting up, working in a relaxed and steady fashion, chatting with one another as we might at the office when getting coffee. I would love to know the pecking order and how they originally got access to the site (Other sites we have been to were quite intentional about keeping vendors 1 or more KM away from the actual ruins).

The structures on the site made me think about how fleeting our existence is – this is all that remains of a culture that flourished for 3,500 years. What physical traces would ours leave?

The Mayans viewed blood as suitable and necessary nourishment for the gods and would regularly sacrifice individuals – often senior leaders from defeated armies – through a ritual decapitation in which draining the victim’s blood and “feeding” it to the gods via temple fire was part of their worship, having disemboweled and skinned him first.

Additionally, the priests might remove the victims fingers, nose and penis and extract his / her heart while he was still alive – they did this with surgical precision, using razor sharp obsidian tools. Several Spanish captors fell victims to this fate during their conquest of Mexico.

The Aztecs, located in Mexico City basin, would flay a man alive and dress a priest in the victim’s skin as part of the sacrifice ritual.  They sacrificed thousands of individuals – often children – to placate the sun god.

Hundreds of human skulls have been found, along with gold, jade and crafted objects in the bottom of a Cenote (A freshwater sinkhole) near Chichen Itza that archeologists think indicate sacrifices made to appease the gods during times of drought.

Humans sacrifice is a common thread running through many early cultures, along with slavery, war, famine and a short life (e.g. the early Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Asante) and one can find references to sacrifice (often child sacrifice) in the Old Testament, sometimes with the proviso that a first born animal could substitute for a first born child.  The story in the book of Genesis about God instructing Abraham to get his only son Isaac ready for sacrifice, in which Abraham expresses no surprise or confusion and in which God spares Isaac only at the last minute, suggests that child sacrifice was an idea that Abraham had at least passing familiarity with.

Abraham and his peers would have been inured to death and loss through the incredibly high infant mortality rates they suffered – 30% of babies would not survive their first year – and low life expectancy (35 – 45 years) so the value of a life was not what it is now back then. Additionally, food was scarce and famines were common, so providing a key source of protein to the temple as a burnt offering would be very costly, a significant sacrifice.

Blood sacrifice was at the core of both the Jewish faith, through animal sacrifices in the temple, and its follow-on Christianity, through Christ’s crucifixion, now memorialized by the bread (Christ’s body) and wine (His blood) used in the Eucharist.

I am on my way home now and have spent two days driving about 1,000 miles West before making any progress going North – the Yucatán protrudes into the Caribbean a long way.  I am staying in the river town of Tuxpan in a slightly tired and half occupied low rise hotel with a pleasing brick facade, a good sized pool, and surrounded by greenery and cobbled pavement. The indifferent internet access and an earnest staff are a good fit; the housekeeping lady, with gold teeth and a white smock proudly demonstrated the AC for me and tuned the flat screen TV to wildlife show. The African Savanna in the Mexican tropics in Spanish. I am content.

The start of my return drive has taken me through wetlands, along miles of sandy beaches, by banana  and coconut plantations and through the dozens of towns and villages that feel languid, poor and steady.  Occasional views of oil platforms a few miles offshore (Pemex has extensive offshore oil reserves).  A different feel / sensibility than the Yucatán or the Pacific coast around Puerto Vallarta. Warehouses, trucks, factories, juice processing plants. The working tropics.

The last couple of hundred miles through hilly uplands with large orange groves, along carretera libres – local roads – with scrums of full size semi trailers high tailing it down a narrow and difficult asphalt strip, pockmarked, and runneled by the heavy traffic.  A toll taker called out my California plates and asked me if I was from San Francisco, she said she has always wanted to visit the city.  Hustlers by the roadside pitching stacks of oranges, pineapples, sweet coconuts, and nearer saltwater flats, large fresh shrimp.  In a couple of towns, a dozen guys holding sticks with several colorful parrots nonchalantly perched on each, the birds looking calm and perhaps a little perplexed – it felt like they were part of a circus act and this was all in a day’s work.

On the highway, clusters of pilgrims wearing Virgin of Guadalupe t shirts and flying banners with her visage, either cycling on their own, some with a chase car, and others crowded into the back of pickup trucks.  And fellows pedaling with what looked like ⅓ scale models of the Virgin herself, shrink wrapped, perhaps with offerings, tottering precariously in small backpacks they each carried. Today, I saw a garbage truck with a big banner of the virgin on its side, acting as a chase car for several cyclists.  I am sure the Virgin would approve.

The Virgin showed herself the Juan Diego (a campesino) 5 times in December of 1531.  She spoke to him in Nahuatl, the language of local indigenous folks and, when the local bishop insisted on a sign to validate Juan’s vision, made the Castilian roses on a nearby hill bloom.  Her basilica in Mexico City is the most visited shrine in the world and her appearance is considered one of the three most important visions in the history of the church.  It is not an overstatement to say that the Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico’s patron saint – she was followed with messianic fervor in the country’s founding and war of independence.  Her feast day is December 12th, hence the pilgrimage. You feel her presence here and it is quite humbling seeing people express their faith through the simple (and physically demanding) act of pilgrimage.

The Subaru, with 150,000 miles and 10 years on her frame has, like me, creaks and groans and joints that do not work as well as they used to.   Random pieces of interior trim have cracked or disappeared. The seats are stained from wayward cups of tea. A few dings and scrapes and shake downs from many Mexican speed bumps.  Her beverage of choice is 20w50 motor oil which she sips steadily through the day.  I have a gallon that I purchased in Playa del Carmen and I top her up every morning. My beverage of choice is strong tea – so strong it could strip paint – with which I fill a thermos every morning and sip throughout the day. Were we able to, the Subaru and I would toast one another – as it is our mutual respect remains silent and unwavering.

Cruise Ships, Migrant Labor

December 5th, 2021 by

I like to sit on our balcony and watch cruise ships appear as they make their way to the pier at Mahahual.  Evanescent, weightless, first as a small dot on the horizon, gaining size steadily with remarkable speed.  Like large spacecraft, white objects set against a thin horizon.  They seem comfortable with the dramatic Caribbean sky behind them, storm clouds forming, tufts of cumulus, sunlight catching some clouds and not others.  Soft, almost pastel colors as befits place so welcoming, warm and peaceful.

The Mesoamerican Barrier reef defines the coastline in this area and so the docking area, a mile or two away, must have been dredged or blasted to enable the ships to come in so close to shore.  As a ship slowly turns to back alongside the pier, you see how narrow and tall it is, presumably the weight of the engines and fuel storage keep the center of gravity low.

A cruise ship approach the pier with a slow, almost graceful confidence (How you maneuver something so large, so carefully is beyond me). They are massive.  At night the ships sparkle in the distance like small, complex LED lights – as they approach the shore their lights become more defined and the craft begins to look like an oblong birthday cake with countless candles lit, its reflection shimmering on the calm ocean. Finally, when docked at the pier, the cruise ship appears like a warm and festive, multi-story party hall, welcoming all comers.  Who could not enjoy themselves there?

Cruise ships are remarkable constructions – hosting thousands of guests, churning out meals, drinks, entertainment and sporting activities, giving travelers the experience they dream of (the cruise industry has identified more than ½ a dozen market segments including luxury, budget, adventure and romance.)

Of late, the industry has become more environmentally conscious – it’s ships used to dump untreated sewage wherever they went and power their engines with bunker oil, a remarkably dirty fuel used by the entire shipping industry until last year.  Many are now treating their waste and a number of cruise ships are powered with natural gas (not green but a step or two up from the former fuel).

The ships depart as quickly as they come, not staying for more than a half a day, shrinking to a speck on the horizon and then disappearing as they move with purpose to their next port of call.  

I wonder about the crew working on them, a ratio one to every three passengers (1.8 MM employed in 2019), mostly from the Philippines, India and Pakistan, at sea for long stretches, wiring their pay home to families who rely on the money they earn.  Stateless in a way, their exit at any stop limited both by length of stay and strict immigration regulations. A lonely life.

The cruise ship industry has bounced back this year, with demand for berths far outstripping supply, after a disastrous 2020 (6 MM passengers that year, versus 30 MM in 2019).  You will no doubt remember stories of passengers stuck on ships as the pandemic took hold, being refused entrance at multiple ports and then, even more sadly, crews on ships unable to get home for months, forgotten about by the West once tourists had made it off the ships.

Mahahual is a beach town whose presence is driven solely by tourism and some fishing and is accessed through the low mangrove jungle about an hour east of the main highway, and about 4 hours south of Cancun.  Although the beaches are sandy, the sand is mixed with coral and rock and from its defining reef, making actual swimming a mixed affair.

We were up one morning in time to get to the beach and watch the day begin.  The black night quickly becomes deep red at the horizon and the light expands and extends quickly, filling the vista with light.  A chorus of birds fire up, singing with great intensity, flitting here and there as if acknowledging another rotation of the earth.  A few fishermen tending their boats and the town begins to come to life.

The town is quiet, working at about ¼ capacity – the tourist trade has been badly hit here by our friend the virus.  A trim and organized fellow at a small table with 3 – 4 sweet coconuts doing his best to make a sale, a fish seller on a bicycle with horn he toots to get your attention, masseuses in official looking white tunics and massage tables in the sand offering to straighten you out or soften you up, the slow languorous feel of a tropical spot.  

Restaurants spilling onto the sand, some rocking it out with dance music, others thankfully quiet.  The kitchen crew setting up at one spot first thing in the morning listening to plaintive Mexican love songs accompanied by bumping tuba and flighty accordion. It is difficult for my ear to find tuba and accordion romantic but the music is clearly moving to its listeners.

Street sellers with tables of shells, beads, jewelry making gentle pitches as you walk by; they know enough to do this only once, saving their energy for the next set of newcomers.  Dive shops with lines of tanks and regulator rigs, nobody in a hurry.

A bakery with remarkably good coffee and pastries – the place looks well enough organized that it is likely setup by someone with an operation in Mexico City or another major tourist area.  The gal behind the counter is tiny, she can’t be a few inches more than 4 feet tall and not weigh more than 80 lbs.  Her baker’s cap makes her look like an elf.  She makes a good latte though, reaching up to the machine like a mechanic working on the underside of a car on a hoist, steaming the milk just right.

The weather, while pleasant, can be warm for a pale, bald visitor from the North and so in the middle of the day I am drawn back to the condo and lulled into a semi-conscious state by the quiet rhythm of the overhead fan and the relative coolness of the space.

Dinner one evening at a quiet hotel – we were one of only a few tables of dinner guests – that was elegant and simple.  Fresh ceviche, shrimp tacos with a fresh salsa and pink red tortillas made so with added beetroot.  A habanero sauce that lit your mouth on fire and a tasty guacamole made with just ripe avocados.  Jennifer had a margarita she said was fine and afterwards we went for a walk and had some ice cream.

“Cruisers” – folks who like to tour by cruise ships – make it in dribs and drabs as far down as our section of the beach, some in large trucks fitted out with bench seats, now stopped at a souvenir shops to buy tokens of their visit.  Jennifer meets a boisterous crew of African American ladies from Houston who ask her to take their photograph, they have the joy of folks who have been released from everyday worries and routines for a time.

I misspoke in an earlier post when I said Mexicans no longer head north for work.  As the chart below indicates, they continue to do so but are now about a ⅓ of the total migrants, down from nearly 100% in 2000. Remittances from Mexicans in the U.S. to their families back home topped $43 BN – a significant Mexican export that is about ⅓ the value of automotive production or tourism.

The Philippines receives $35 BN in remittances annually from its nationals working on cruise ships like the ones I’ve been watching, service jobs elsewhere in Asia (lots of nannies in Hong Kong) and the Middle East.  Middle Eastern states use very large volumes of migrant workers on long term contracts almost as a shadow population, without rights or redress – they are sometimes mistreated – to do construction and service jobs that locals do not want.

Globally, remittances are equal to just under half of foreign direct investment (the money put into businesses in a country by foreigners). They are a highly personalized way of providing assistance to folks in poor countries and remarkably effective.

Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Haitians and Cubans are trying to get into the U.S. these days via the Mexican border.  Many pass through the Darien Gap – the untracked jungle that separates Panama from Colombia, paying smugglers to take them across. Then make their way North through Central America, a slow and dangerous trip, and finally try to get into the United States via Mexico’s Northern border.

As the global population grows and its concentration shifts to Africa, migrant pressure will increase, especially on Europe, which is separated by a relatively small body of water from the continent. In the next 50 years, there will be an additional ± 2 BN young Africans looking for work, eager to improve their lot and Europe will be an attractive destination.

Cenotes, Bacalar

November 28th, 2021 by

Cenotes, from the Nahuatl word d’zonot meaning water deposit, are found all over Quintana Roo and have acted as a source of water for the region since before man settled here.  They are formed when rainwater, made slightly acidic when falling through the atmosphere, collects on the limestone substrate and slowly erodes the rock, over thousands of years.

The limestone itself is made from the skeletons of trillions of small marine animals that formed the sedimentary base of a prior ocean millions of years ago.  Carbonates, the major component of limestone, are slightly soluable in water, all the more so with an acidic reaction.  Additionally, the decay of organic matter in the forest floor creates acidic chemicals that interact with limestone, eroding it steadily

The Yucatán peninsula is flat and at a very low elevation so fresh water in Cenotes forms a “lens” that sits on the underlying seawater, creating two quite different ecosystems.  The boundary layer between the fresh water of the Cenote and saline water from the surrounding ocean is called the Halocline and erosion is most pronounced at this location.  Both bodies of water can move and change in shape, so the Halocline can be quite dynamic.  What results are deep holes in the rock, often interconnected with one another, forming networks of caves and sometimes underground rivers.

Over hundreds of thousands of years the global sea level has changed dramatically as various ice ages have come and gone (as things get cooler, water collects as ice at either pole, reducing the total volume of water in the oceans thus lowering the global sea level.) When the sea level lowers, some Cenotes are left as dry holes / cave systems.

The outline of the Chicxulub crater created by a massive meteor that struck earth 66 MM years ago and wiped out all non aviary dinosaurs, is marked by the “Ring of Cenotes” that scientists think may have been caused by water pushed from underneath the meteor strike area, crystallized and made impervious by the incredible pressure and heat the meteor created, to the line around the impact where rock was still permeable.

The Yucatán Peninsula, which includes some of Belize and Guatemala to the south, has several types of forest – a moist and a dry one in the North, and pine forests in the south, and areas dry enough support only cactuses.  The peninsula is protected from several ocean swells to the east by the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, an extensive coral structure. The Yucatan is home to hundreds birds species, many of which migrate – the Ocellated Turkey, Plain Chacalaca, Red Throated Tanager, Olive Throated Parakeet, Keel Billed Toucan to name a few. Fine names all of them.

A sequence of satellite photos show significant deforestation on the Peninsula since 2001, with the area losing about 80,000 hectares of forest annually (+/- 300 square miles) from large and small scale agriculture and commercial and tourist developments.  As the global population continues to grow, peaking in 2050 at about 11 BN people (up from 7 BN today) this is likely to continue – poor folks have to eat and their drive to escape poverty will stress the environment more, even if larger scale projects are well managed.

Today, folks swim and dive in the Cenotes, which have pure, clear water and are often beautifully set in the jungle with stalagmites, stalactites and tree roots reaching down dozens of feet, driven by the organism’s need for water.  Most are run by local folks – you pay a small entrance fee to swim – some are tricked out with change rooms, cafes and equipment rentals – others feel much more primitive.

Jennifer and I swam in one that was a bit of a production to get to and didn’t have a whole lot in the way of facilities – we settled for using the cardboard carton paneled change room – but was remarkable in its own way.  We entered through a narrow spiral staircase that took us to a platorm in a cavern about 40 feet below ground where we could access the crystal clear water, the entire cavern lit by a single, generator powered lamp.

We went with the kids to a couple of more organized Cenotes right off the toll road one afternoon.  Things were quiet, there were only ½ a dozen other visitors at the Cenote which was more open than the one that Jennifer and I had visited. It sparkled a clear blue and green in the afternoon sun. Very peaceful.

After Liam left we drove south with Lexie about four hours to the town of Bacalar which is a stop for backpackers traveling north from Central America or south from Mexico to Guatemala, and is about 1.5 hours north of the border with Belize.  

A big sky with dramatic clouds, roiling thunderheads that indicate intense rain showers somewhere nearby, seen only through the slit in the jungle canopy created by the highway disappearing into the horizon before you. When the rain comes it does so without warning and heavily, overwhelming us and eliminating visibility even with the wipers on on high. Without the knowledge that you have a lagoon-side destination, the drive would feel claustrophobic.

Bacalar has a loose feel and is laid out on a grid and looks like as though it acts as a minor center for the local area.  There is a brightly lit central square where vendors make and sell “Marquesitas” – light waffles wrapped around bananas and Nutella, or sometimes cheese – from crisp stainless steel vending wagons.  Along several streets are dotted restaurants, yoga studios and tour services and crafts shops.

We stayed in a small hotel on the shore of the Bacalar Lagoon, a freshwater body of water adjacent to the Caribbean Sea, with a focus on ecological exploration.  Snorkeling, swimming, birdwatching, only small, quiet powered boats.  It felt like a tropical version of the cottage country north of Toronto – a big, clear blue sky with roiling thunderheads in the distance, a flat expanse of water with a line of jungle along the opposite shore, occasional docks jutting out here and there.

The hotel had few cabanas tastefully outfitted with fans, comfortable beds, mosquito nets and showers with lots of hot water, its feel made me think of Sri Lanka.  We were next door to a hostel that catered to French folks and so we heard a steady patter of French (The Gauls have a lot to discuss) with only occasional spurts of English. Nubbie and Lexie went standup paddle boarding and spent a lot of time on the dock chatting about this and that.  Lexie had a massage in the evening under twinkly lights in a clearing by the water.

I got talking the the owner of an attractive restaurant that we ate at in town, with tables spread on gravel under a large shade tree and tasteful lighting and music, on an otherwise unremarkable street.  The food was simple, tasty and beautifully presented. Greta was dandling a baby on her hip and keeping an eye on things, she is from Switzerland and had set the restaurant up four years ago with a Mexican partner from Monterrey who is a chef.  His brother, an architect, designed the place which carried that strong Mexican sense of design that is at once contemporary but grounded in the local culture and environment.

She explained that most of their clientele were European or Mexican – Americans and Canadians don’t get further than Tulum, about three hours North of here.  Last year with the pandemic had been very difficult, with almost no tourists and their attempt to keep the entire staff on the payroll.

This is another remarkable story – how ideas and expertise spread in a region and then around the world.  Someone Swiss partnering with a Mexican chef in Mexico.  The aesthetic is something you would see in Bali or Goa or Thailand and I expect that in 20 years this will have been absorbed into the market as yet another market segment.  I wonder what will come after it?

I am writing this as the tropical sun disappears at the end of the day, which it will do suddenly, leaving us in the dark cloak of night.  A local dog is barking and has been doing so steadily for several hours.  A barking ultra marathon.  The occasional silence (perhaps she is gathering her thoughts) and then starts again. What is this desire that dogs have here to bark relentlessly?  To vocalize their – what – feelings? News of the day?  Tips and tricks for living with humans?  My diary of life as a dog?  I guess we’ll never know.

We have been going for walks along the beach in downtown Playa del Carmen first thing in the morning, stopping for coffee, and then returning back along 5th avenue which is set up as a pedestrian mall. Cigars, tequila, American brands, generic prescription meds, low key touts pitching tours, souvenir stores blasting AC onto the street. Shopping as an adventure sport – folks on TripAdvisor rave about this place. Large trees make canopies with restaurants tumbling out onto the street below them. That loose tropical feel that we tourists long for.

Tulum, the Beach Vacation

November 26th, 2021 by

We had several days on the beach with Lexie and Liam in a hotel near Tulum, about an hour South of Playa del Carmen.  They went snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding, and because Liam wanted to stay on brand, he took Lexie jet skiing.

Tulum is a town of 45,000 people which feels a step down in intensity from Playa del Carmen and has a peculiar and somehow attractive mix of standard small town Mexican street life and shops and restaurants catering to tourists, much of it spread on either side of the main highway.  There are some beachside Mayan ruins just North of the town and the spot is a popular place for Instagram Influencers to visit so as to be able to document the perfect (and completely unreal) lives they are pursuing. You can see that this area appeals to a somewhat younger crowd, folks who want something local and a little scrappier but still having access to good coffee, good local food and Wi-Fi (that pretty much describes us, except for the younger part.)

We were told by a restaurateur that Tulum is about as far south as Americans and Canadians come and, as he predicted, we didn’t see or hear many of them in our travels closer to the border with Belize.

Our hotel was right on the beach so that we could access the water and go for walks with ease. There were some Russian guests at the hotel, looking swarthy and prosperous – I immediately assumed they were oligarchs and when not suntanning on the beach were laundering money made in illicit arms, oil and gas or human trafficking operations, probably converting it into crypto currency on the dark web. In actual fact they were polite and reserved and we exchanged respectful greetings.

A crew of hotel folks raking the beach and looking for stones to remove – we need our beaches clear and pristine (seaweed has been an issue in the Caribbean of late, large blooms of Sargassum, likely because of excess nutrients provided by agricultural and human runoff.)

The manager had arrived as a one year old here 30 plus years ago with his parents in a RV that they had driven from Utah. They were into skydiving and skiing and his dad had gotten an order for 30,000 Velcro wallets (he had been making a few on the side in his garage) which he was able to spin into a business that he subsequently sold.  They liked to scuba dive and spent several years the area, including diving in the myriad of cenotes.  One thing led to another and Josh’s parents built a small hotel, originally a spot for diving, fishing and exploring denotes.  It is now a full on hotel.  His parents were mostly retired and he liked to invest in cryptocurrency. I love hearing this kind of story – the world we live in is an amazing, variegated place. You couldn’t have made this up.

The beach vacation – now so much part of our consciousness that we take it for granted – is a peculiar cultural artifact.   That you would take considerable time and effort to get to a place far away so that you could spend a lot of time in the blazing sun while doing nothing seems odd when you think about it. And, for those of you in colder climes, the fact that you get into a flying metal tube in the middle of February and be lying on a tropical beach within 24 hours of departure, making your winter that much more bearable, is nothing short of fantastic. Fur trappers in 19th Century Northern Alberta mostly had to put up with the winter they were dealt, though I suppose access to lots of rye whiskey helped.

The idea of a beach vacation started in Britain in the early 1700s, prior to this the ocean and the seaside were seen as dangerous, isolated places. The English upper class started going to spas that were located by the seaside and then began to see the seaside as itself somewhere healthy to be.  In the mid 1700s, the upper class would ride in “rolling bathing machines” – covered wagons – into the water so as to be able to bathe without exposing themselves to public view.  What a great name for a conveyance!  What would the modern day version be -something on tracks, with GPS, air conditioning and a really good sound system? Elon Musk may be working on one.  As late as the 1930s in Britain police were arresting folks for bathing in clothing that was too revealing or too close to the opposite sex.

The love of nature, closely embedded in the romantic movement, made getting away to places of natural beauty, particularly as Britain industrialized, developing its “dark satanic mills” which made cities dirty and unhealthy, an attractive goal.  The Romantic poets (Shelley, Wordsworth and others) looked to nature for inspiration and as a kind of ideal and this raised folks’ awareness of nature’s beauty (and fragility), not unlike the environmental movement today.

Things developed steadily in the 1800s with the expansion of the railway which made getting to the seaside easier for even working class folks, and the construction of towns dedicated to holidays (e.g. Blackpool, Brighton).

The French came up with the bikini in the 1950s, which was a scandal in itself – the Pope called it sinful – but, as is now evident, it gained wide acceptance in sunnier climes and pretty much eliminated the desire to have sexually segregated swimming areas.  More modest cultures – much of South Asia, the Middle East and some of Africa – continue to find the way folks in the West expose themselves beachside somewhat loose, promiscuous and decadent.  Women (and these edicts typically restrain only women) should be modest, chaste, demure.

I thought you would like to hear the results of a careful study your diarist is undertaking on speed bumps in Mexico, whose results he hopes to publish in a peer reviewed journal once the data is in.  Like 40 degree below zero winters in Winnipeg or young children, these cannot be avoided here and often demand your attention when you least can offer it.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of speed bumps, each with a couple of variants. Any can be signed or unsigned, and signage when it occurs can be well in advance of the bump or right at it, or can be a “false flag” – a sign with no bump present.  The latter can be especially confusing when driving at night, which I try and avoid.

The first and most common speed bump is a additional layer of asphalt laid in a half round shape with a 5 – 6” radius.  This type is often unsigned, shows up randomly, even on tollways and will give your shocks and springs a solid work out if you are not able to slow down in time to meet it.  These are especially popular in Chiapas – I ran over dozens of them during my drive from the highlands to the coast and they felt there like a political statement.  “You have taken advantage of us for too long, we will make you pay.”  We got slowed up by one on our drive south of Tulum on a deserted stretch of road… as I rapidly downshifted several locals came running out of a nearby lean to proffering snacks and drinks for purchase.  That is taking service to a new level.

An unusual variant of this first type of bump is a very thick piece of rope laid across the road…this is not as effective as the asphalt bump and I think truck drivers might risk having it picked up by their tires and tangled on an axle.

The second type is a double line of semi spherical, 6” in radius metal objects embedded in the pavement with the convex side up.  You experience these most often in towns and cities on major thoroughfares, often with no signage or notice.  If you do pass over them at speed, they provide a shiatsu-like massage to your tires but not a lot more. Sometimes these have been driven over so much that either some of the metal hemispheres have collapsed or they have been torn out of the road surface. In this case, you steer your wheels to the areas closest to the surrounding road surface so as to minimize the bump.

The third and final type is most challenging if you do not see it in time to downshift.  It is a 6 – 8 foot slab of concrete with inclines on either side leading to a flat top, which is raised 1 – 2.5 feet above the roadbed, like a feature in a skatepark.  Not slowing down for these would result in launching the car like a stunt driver in the Fast and Furious franchise, with disastrous results. Fortunately, everyone takes these seriously and locals know where they are, signed or not, so when you see vehicles ahead of you slowing down, you know to do the same.

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