We rented a car at the airport and have been using it to explore the city and surrounding areas, and each day that we have driven outside of the area of our condo complex, I have become overwhelmed, feeling hypocritical and guilty.
One of the residents in our condo complex mentioned to me that there was only one paved road in Cabo San Lucas 20 years ago, but its difficult to believe if you stay on or around the Tourist Corridor?, as the main resort area of Cabo is called. The nearly 20 miles of high rise condominiums, hotels, and acres of perfectly manicured golf courses that stand today make it difficult to conjure a Cabo any other way.
But after staying in the Tourist Corridor? the first few days, we finally made it to downtown Cabo San Lucas yesterday and I realized, as we were driving through the city can it be a city if most of the roads are poorly maintained dirt or ancient cobblestone?- that the sociologist in me never sleeps.
Rush hour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We have decided to drive north of the city center to the largest grocery and clothing store in the city, the equivalent of Kmart in America. We make the mistake of leaving the city center and tourist area just after 4:30 pm, Matt navigating our tiny rental car through the ancient cobbled and dirt streets off the main highway, onto the paved 4-lane Avenue Constitution. We have traveled the road several times since coming to Cabo a few days ago, but never at rush hour and not on Friday afternoon. We realize our mistake almost immediately, our little car required to sit through two cycles of the turn signal before we can turn onto Avenue Constitution.
At the light, a man in his late 40s or 50s approaches our car and all of the other cars waiting to turn left. He carries a small box of what look like granola or energy bars and in Spanish, offers up the bars for purchase. He shoves the box toward my husbands window but before the man can get close to the car, Matt raises his hand dismissively and says firmly, No, gracias, por favor,? and the man moves to the next car in line. But he is not the first, nor is he the last person who tries to sell us some novelty item as we wait for a stoplight to change.
We spot a truck several cars ahead of us loaded with 15 or 20 men standing in its bed; the ones on the edge with a railing to hold onto as the truck speeds down the highway, those in the middle with nothing but the shirts of men around them to hold if the truck brakes suddenly or, God forbid, crashes.
Although this is common practice in Cabo, from what we have seen, this is the first truck so heavily loaded. We follow the truck for several miles and reach speeds of 50 or 60 miles an hour, and still, the men stand effortlessly and fearless, their daily commute commonplace. I cringe at each light and unconsciously make sure my seatbelt is fastened tightly when the truck changes lanes rapidly, praying the men make it home to their families.
The signs on the highway that lead to the grocery store attempt to guide us in the direction those who run this country want tourists to travel and not travel: Zona Comercial, Zona Tourista and Zona Residencia. Avenue Constitution is the border between the zones and as we follow the men packed into the truck on their commute home, we disregard the Zona Tourista? and instead, follow the road north and skirt around the Zona Residencia? to the store and a little restaurant across the street that serves the best carnitas on the tip of Baja. We have made the trip several times before, but at rush hour, the drive is slower and for the first time, we pay attention to the Zona Residencia?.
As we sit in nearly stopped rush hour traffic, we watch cars and trucks veer off Avenue Constitution at each cross street we come to and enter Zona Residencia.
The Zona Residencia, the only residential area I have seen in Cabo but I am sure there are others, begins just to the north of the Avenue Constitution. It is probably 5 miles wide and extends many miles into the foothills of the nearby mountains, all one story wooden shacks with no grass, no sidewalks, no pavement on the streets, and a top each house, a 250-gallon water reservoir. Utility poles run the length of the area, but I wonder at the reliability of the electricity or telephone lines that travel between each pole.
I have seen similar shacks and neighborhoods other places: Tijuana, Juarez, a few isolated streets in California. But the sheer scope of the poverty we see as the cars exit Avenue Constitution into the Zona Residencia slows my thoughts, makes me realize I will never be able to understand what it is really like to live in poverty.
I have heard people in the States say, They choose to live like that,? or They don’t know any better,? but seeing the Zona Residencia in north Cabo, I understand that those people have never seen this. Even if they do see it, they will never understand the depth of desperation the people who live in the Zona face each day.
I am one of those people; I do not understand.
I will never be forced to ride in the back of an overcrowded truck, hold on for dear life, just to get back and forth to work. I will never be forced to stand on a street corner at rush hour and offer granola bars or plastic chicken eggs with pop-up chicks to passing cars. I will never, unless it’s by choice, live on an unpaved street. I will never run out of water and not be able to drink from the tap. I will work, yes, but never as hard or as long as those people I saw in Cabo. I may have times when money is tight, but my children will always have Christmas presents and birthday parties.
We didn’t make it to the grocery store that Friday night; whatever we needed, we realized we could do without until another day. We didn’t go out to dinner. Instead, we drove back to the condo, ate leftovers, again.
We were lucky; we are lucky. We don’t understand.
Zona Residencia was originally published at www.norcalblogs.com.
Marianne Paiva, recovering paramedic and adrenaline junky who comes to Ethnography.com after 4 years driving ambulances very, very fast. When she gave up life in the fast lane, she decided to study paramedics instead, and wrote the book, Breathe: Essays from a Recovering Paramedic, which every trauma junky and ambulance chaser should buy multiple copies of from Amazon.com.
A professor told her after she finished her B.A. at Chico State in 1999 that she could study paramedics as a vocation, if not a living. This she has done off and on for ten years or so, while also teaching Introduction to Sociology, First Year Experience, Sociology of Stress, Population, Ethnicity and Nationalism, and other courses for California State University, Chico. On slow days in class, she wakes students up with stories about ambulances, and funny stories about freshmen. In her spare time, she gardens, tends to her children, and writes creative Facebook postings, and Ethnography.com blogs. You can connect with Marianne at her website www.mariannepaiva.com and also purchase her collection of essays here from Amazon.com. Marianne Paiva is a lecturer in the department of Sociology at California State University, Chico. Currently an inactive author, awaiting a poke with a sharp stick.