Tales from the Stoop (or, Life in San Pancho, Part 1)

This week, I was planning to write a quick post outlining my new “average day” to both give readers a glimpse of my life here and check my progress towards my “perfect day” goal.  Before I knew it, however, I had several pages of text covering my first, seemingly most mundane, activity: “Wake up and drink coffee outside.”  It turns out that the everyday life I see and encounter while sitting on my stoop can be quite interesting, so I think it’s best to make “My Average Day” a multi-part series.  This first part will cover my first activity of the day, which is also my last activity of the night; in later posts I’ll explore what I do in between.


10:30AM: Wake Up, Drink Coffee Outside

Mornings are peaceful here.  El clima esta fresco (the weather is nice and cool), and if I’m up early enough, I don’t hear any mobile ads.  That is to say, there’s no cars rolling by with speaker systems the size of the car itself strapped to their roofs, amplifying pre-recorded audio or the driver’s own dialogue.  It’s as much effective as it is hilarious.  There are no newspapers here, no local news broadcast, and the Internet is patchy at best.  So how does the community fill the information gap, learning of upcoming events, fresh fish, or gas deliveries?  Giant speakers tied to car roofs, of course! 

The Mobile Ad Lineup

At first I got frustrated with the noise pollution, but quickly realized I was still thinking like a stuffy American.  After shedding that mindset, I realized the messages are actually valuable, convenient, and relatively infrequent.  A fruit truck comes by once a day with fresh “Mangoslimonsfresasaguacates!!!,” natural gas deliveries occur about three time per week (“GASSSSSSSSSSSSSSS”), fishermen peddle their latest catches a couple times per week (“CAMERÓNES!!!”), and an occasional car informs the youth of nightlife events in Sayulita.  Since it’s Mexico, everyone has a good humor about it, too. 

One time, the fruit truck guy was driving up the road, blasting shouts of “Manzanas!  Mangos!  Limons!” and more.  I was sitting alongside the road reading my Kindle and, still in the American mindset, sent a stern look his way.  After all, I had never once bought fruits from this guy (they’re cheaper at a small shack about 10 minutes away), had been quietly reading, and there was no one else around.  However, this guy was still shouting into his mic, and as he passed me at about 5mph, he gave a, “Aguacates, aguacates, AGUACATEEEEEEEEEEES!” drawing out the last syllable with a smirk, looking directly at me.  I couldn’t hold my stern face once he hit that last syllable; I started cracking up and gave him a friendly nod.  

So, as I was saying, if I can get out to my stoop before about 11AM, I’m usually in the clear with the mobile ads.  It’s just me, my Kindle, a cup of coffee . . . and basically all the other people in the town.  I say that because Paula (my landlord) frequently sits out there with me – it’s her front stoop, after all, since she occupies the apartment facing the street, and she also occasionally sells trinkets and earrings to passerbys.  (Now that I think about it, though, I’ve never seen her make a sale.  I think she likes the excuse of sitting outside with her table of products, though with me out there now, she often joins me without her table of wares.) 

The Mexican Internet

Anyway, when Paula sits outside with me, every passerby – meaning anyone in eyesight, in a car driving by, or across the street eating tacos – gets and gives an “Ay! Buenas dias!  Que Pasa? Adios!” to Paula and I.  (Well, it’s usually first directed to Paula, but after I respond with a smile and some Spanish, I get a grin, eyebrow raise, and a warm, approving response.) 

Paula and I hanging out by the stoop.  We actually sit to the left there, in the shade, but when we took a picture there it turned out too dark.

In fact, while sitting outside working on this very post, Paula, her daughter Chello, and dog Estrella joined me with lychee (a sweet fruit), and we spent the next two hours talking about an upcoming color run in Vallarta her daughter was training for, reminiscing about the previous night’s adventure in Puerto Vallarta (more on that in a future post), and discussing an upcoming trip I'm taking to Canada with my family.  During this time, Paula had conversations with most everyone who walked past.  I even had some of my own with some people I know from volunteering at the community center or seeing around town!  My Spanish tutor tells me this is the “Mexican Internet,” and unlike the actual internet, it always works. 

Ok I guess this isn't actually that dark.  

Maybe you’re wondering what community members think of a random gringo (me) who now regularly sits on the stoop talking with Paula or reading a book.  Well, first they eyed me with intrigue, though always giving me a friendly and polite “Hola, buenas dias.”  The more time I spend in town, however, the more people recognize me, which in turn results in a more emphatic greeting and sometimes even a conversation.  I’m not sure I’ll make it to Paula’s level, though.  She literally knows everyone who walks by.  To get the pictures included here, I got my camera and we waited for someone to walk by to photograph us.  It took all of 3 minutes for a woman and her son to walk by, and before I could ask Paula if she knew them, Paula had already issued her “Ay! Claria!  Ven!”  (Hey Claria – come here!).

Getting set for the photoshoot.  Gracias to Claria (I think that was her name), the photographer, and her patient son, who received a lollypop for his time.

The other night I went to a soccer game here in San Pancho, where I was given mucho ceviche by some of the women cheering on their cousins / husbands / brothers / friends.  (Sidenote: The “cheering” had me cracking up the entire game – since it’s all friends and family, the women spend the entire game chirping at guys when they lose the ball, dispute a foul, or miss a shot.  And if someone falls down and feigns injury, well, let’s just say they get an earful.)  I ate four tostados – pancake-sized toasted tortillas with globs of ceviche dumped on top – and did my best to communicate my thanks and compliments.  After I left, however, I realized I had forgotten to thank one of the women.  As luck would have it, though, that same woman, Lilly, was having breakfast across the street from my stoop the very next morning.  I didn’t recognize her until Paula gave her a yell, prompting her to mosey over.  We immediately recognized each other, and I conveyed my gratitude for the soccer game ceviche.  Moral of the story: don’t underestimate the speed, reach, and availability of the Mexican Internet.

Empanada Deliveries

Another form of mobile ads is people simply walking by with products or food for purchase.  On some evenings, a mother and her daughter meander around the neighborhood pulling a cooler filled with empanadas, little pastry-like rolls filled with delicious goo (I have no idea what the goo actually is).  The first time they came across me, the little girl approached me with a “Hola, buenas tardes,” followed by a flow of rapid Spanish I didn’t understand.  After conveying that I only spoke a little Spanish (but was learning!), she and her mother explained that inside the cooler were fresh empanadas available for purchase.  I said I’d like to buy one, asked the price, and the mother responded with quick Spanish I didn’t catch.  When I gave a confused look and prepared to respond with my customary “Repetirlo por favor, mas despacio” (Repeat it please, slower), the observant little girl – all of about 6 years old – caught my confusion and gave a “uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, SEITE!” twirling 360 degrees and showing me seven fingers as she arrived at the final price of an empanada.  The mother and I gave each other a surprised eyebrow raise and we both started laughing.  I responded to the fearless 6-year-old who knew more Spanish than me – and wasn’t afraid to give an impromptu lesson to a random older stranger – with a “Ahh muchas gracias! Entiendo!” (Ah thank you very much!  I understand!)

Flan Deliveries

Another day I was sitting outside when four girls (probably 4 to 8 years old) and a mom came by carrying trays of flan.  As they approached, not having seen me yet, I heard them discussing something about “ingles” (English) and “lecciones” (lessons).  They stopped all conversation when they saw me, and one girl launched into a rapid Spanish speech, presumably about the flan, whether it was for sale, and the price.  I didn’t catch it (you may be noticing a trend here) and responded with a guilty “Lo siento, no entiendo…estoy estudiando espanol pero ahora, hablo solo un poco” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand…I’m studying Spanish but now only speak a little bit).  The mother’s ears perked up and she called out to one of her youngest to [something in Spanish, something in Spanish] practicar ingles” (practice English).

In an adorable scene, the cluster of five parted in the middle like the Red Sea, and a cute little girl nervously approached me.  All eyes went to her as she took a moment to remember the English she learned, stood up a little taller, and went for it:  “I . . . have . . . flan.”  I tried not to burst into laughter, and responded with an emphatic “AHHHH entiendo!! Que bueno!  Si, quiero!”  (Ahhh I understand!  That’s good!  Yes, I want!”)  They all started laughing, and the tiny girl beamed with pride as she served me up a plate of flan for 15 pesos.  After they left, I took a bite of flan and laughed, too.  Life on this stoop, here in San Pancho, is good.