Puerto Chiapas
(logbook of May, 2011)

by Mark Stephen Meadows

Table of Contents

PART ONE: The Little Port Captain, the Baby-Pig-Man, The Taxis, The Visit To Hell, and The Motor.

PART TWO: The Return To Hell, and a Conclusion on Customs, Righteousness, and Mexico

The following are events from my last day in Mexico. It has been three years. Today is Sunday, the 1st of May, 2011.

After crossing the dreaded Tehuantepec, where winds can reach well over 100 miles per hour, we had dodged a storm and our motor stopped, apparently out of diesel. I couldn't fix it underway, despite bleeding the valves and checking what little I know about fuel lines, so we arrived in Puerto Chiapas, anchored, and checked out of the country with immigration. With our dues to Mexico paid we still need food and water for a week. And a repaired motor. And fuel.

PART ONE: The Little Port Captain, the Baby-Pig-Man, The Taxis, The Visit To Hell, and The Motor.

04:00. I wake up, have coffee, check the water depth, check email, and continue working on a series of articles and illustrations that are due this morning. Amelie's got articles to turn in today, or maybe she turned them in last night. She works in the evenings.

06:00. I finish my work and get everything off. I put a vacation notice on my email and ..

06:30. There is an idling motor immediately next to our boat. Boats do not normally hover next door and so it means something is about to happen.

It is a government inspection vessel. Inside is one very official looking port captain - a very short port captain - smartly dressed in olive green, with fringes of black and white, and two downcast panga fishermen, his employ, driving the dinghy around for him. They look so sad and broke, these two, smeared in grease and scars, they are like two beaten dogs, but they drive the boat so that he can attend to his papers. The short port captain asks me to move the Goose because the shipping vessel "Desiree," out of Singapore, will be coming into port and since it is about a quarter-mile long and they are going to spin it in the middle of the channel, he is concerned my boat will be in the way. This is his job, but this is also absurd, and I can tell from his face that he knows it is absurd, but some bigger port captain somewhere above him needs to have his paperwork performed, so the little port captain is nice enough to tolerate a little grumbling from me and then a few minutes later I pull the anchor.

As I pulled the chain up into the bow of the boat the day, somehow, came up with it.

About a dozen miles north from the Guatemalan border is Puerto Chiapas (also called Puerto Madero). It's a small town of about 2000 people. I don't know how it got started, originally, but because it has deep-water access the town was intended to be a shipping center, Mexico's gateway, Chiapas' southern-most receiving room for nautical packages. This effort got kicked off by building a huge series of docks in the northernmost corner of the bay. It housed some shipping facilities, like cranes and big tankers would come in and conveyor-belt their semi-beds of cargo, then lumber back out to sea. But the shipping industry never took to it as the town council had hoped, so they started using it for the large industrial fisheries - the tuna and shrimp fleets. Around that same time they built some more heavy industry docks, and those were for petroleum processing AND fishing, together, which seems like a fine combination if you like a little gas with your bass. Then, in the 1980s, during the tourism boom, the town council decided Puerto Chiapas would make a better tourist attraction than industry center, so in what did not seem at all a contradiction to them they gave some tax breaks to restaurants to set up on the other side of the bay, which they did, and now, today, you have (on the right) the large industrial fishing / petroleum industries, and (on the left), some palapas with families and music and restaurants.

In the middle, between them, at anchor, is me, pulling up my chain under the watchful eye of the little port captain.

The anchor, laying on the bottom of this bay for three or four days, has been sitting in a thick sludge of filth. But because Puerto Chiapas is at a large river outlet, it has not only petroleum by-products and fish guts, but all of the sewage that comes from all of the houses of all the people in all of the towns upstream in the Sierra Madres. Puerto Chiapas is a kind of gutter. There is nothing happening here. It is empty, with a heavy vibe, and people are poor and there is a revolution in the mountains and trash all over the place.

As I haul on the chain, hand over hand, piling it into the chain locker, I notice that the chain is, oddly, black and slippery. My legs and feet are getting spattered with a thick viscous saliva of grey goo and my palms and fingers are turning grey with this spatter. It smells like rotting butter, diesel, detergent, poop, and cotton candy. I don't know why they are putting cotton candy into this bay, but it all makes for an unholy combination.

About a quarter-mile away the "Desiree" docks and some 10 police and army cars surrounded her for entry inspection.

The guys in the panga drag me back a bit and I drop the anchor again, a little closer to the beach. They leave. I wash my hands five times. Then I get my coffee and go back outside to stand on deck for a look around. It's nice to stand on-deck with a cup of coffee in the morning. You can see everything and everything can see you. It's sort of like being born.


On the beach, or rather on the west side of the bay, where the tourism scene is set up, is a flank of greyish brown sand. It is about a quarter-mile long and juts out into the bay just far enough to collect all the trash that is washing into and out of the bay. This shank of sand is littered with hundreds of various articles that Mexicans commonly throw over their shoulders; styrofoam cups, plastic forks, plastic coke bottles, plastic packages from snacks named Doritos or Negritos, and the ever-present glisten of petroleum. There are no people out yet, save one, and at first I think he is a huge baby. It is a man, very obese, wandering among the trash. He has the proportions of a baby, but with a smaller head. He is so fat his arms stick out a bit. He is just walking through the trash, kicking at the occasional plastic coke bottle.

I go back inside to finish my coffee and work and as I sit down I hear the music begin. Corridos, all polka-style Mexican beat, complete with the tuba and accordion going at cocaine-speed. Amelie and I both put on our headphones.

10:00. We row in to town for some groceries and water. About once a week we have to go get groceries and water. To do this I take my large black canvas bag, wallet, and four big blue five-gallon bottles of water that I tie together with a thin rope and toss into the dinghy. I row the dinghy to shore. As I row I look over my shoulder at the beach. There are people here now, families in fact, and little kids chasing each other and the sun is weak in a hazy sky. I've had a sore throat since I got here. I'm not sure what's up, but the kids seem healthy enough.

Baby-Pig-Man is standing on the beach waiting to greet us, his arms sticking out at that obese angle. He is smiling.

We hit the beach and he's there to help. He continues to smile and when I grab the dinghy to drag it up away from the water he helps and says, "This dinghy is very heavy. It is very cute, a very nice dinghy, but it is very heavy."

The man has a lisp of sorts, or perhaps it is a malformation of his mouth, and he asks us where we are from and what we are doing, smiling all the time and making pleasant talk. We wrap the painter line (the line off the front of the boat) around the oars, gather up the blue five-gallon bottles, grab my bag and flip-flops, bid Baby-Pig-Man adios, then turn to walk away. I wave and he stands next to the dinghy and waves back, so child-like, happy, and innocent in his obese retardation. I decide he's off to a good start. I don't feel so happy, myself. Not for any reason in particular, but that's what's mysterious about him. He's simply happy.

I've left my dinghy unattended on the beach over a hundred times, at least, and I've stopped worrying someone will steal it. Maybe Mexicans are too honest, or maybe Mexicans don't like dragging a conspicuous 200-pound hard shell Sabot around. In any case, I throw my four big blue five-gallon bottles over my shoulder, and Amelie and I walk up the beach towards town. About half-way up the beach I stop and turn around and Baby-Pig-Man seems to have been waving all this time.

I need to stop for a moment and back up to tell you about Patience and The Three Amigos.

We've been sailing with another boat of surfers for a few days now. The boat is appropriately named Patience, and the owners, captains, and crew are two Austrian twin brothers named Daniel and Jacob. and with them is their buddy Paul, a stout Floridian with a haircut like Jim Morrison's. Since they are all professional expedition guides and surfers they, scruffy, sunburned, tattood and muscular, make a pretty arresting sight for the average Mexican. Especially the girls. Daniel is thin and sort of like an over-sized Drow elf with elaborate tattoos that turn his shoulders into magic plates of armor. Jacob, ruddy and earthy, seems straight from the woods of the Black Forest, and the two of them, despite their differences, are clearly brothers. The three of them are some of the nicest, fun-lovingest and simply easy-goingest fellows I've met in a few years. They're blank fucking crazy, too, since they've been playing with crocodiles and have only had their boat a few weeks before sailing it down the Baja. I like them, and so does Amelie.

The sailboats Blue Goose and Patience (or "Patients" as I like to call them) have been sailing and surfing together now for the better part of a month and it's a nice change to have company. They have their life and we have ours, but there is enough overlap and fun that we all make efforts to coordinate.

So Jacob and Daniel and Paul get in their dinghy to come with us to get groceries and they, too, meet us on the beach and they also get a chance to meet, and be helped by, Baby-Pig-Man.

10:30 The taxi in to town costs us each about 5 pesos, or about fifty cents. It's called a "collectivo" and it picks people up a bit like a school bus does, stopping along its route, each person paying as they get out. A family of four gets in and we all stand in the back together as the truck hurtles and bangs down a dirt road, then a paved road, and past a beach, and we laugh as the wind blows in around us. Then the truck slows down and a woman with a bag of potatoes in one arm, and a baby in the other, gets in, then another stop for a man with a collection of dolls. Then another stop for town. Daniel, Jacob, Paul, Amelie and I all get out of the truck like five cattle, left to roam where we will.

In the center of town there are more cars and even more wonderful little three-wheel bicycles that dominate the road. These bicycles all have the same design. In the front is a seat for a passenger and in the back is the bike's saddle for the chauffeur, who peddles. If you sit in the front you pay the man in the back to peddle you where you want to go. I got out of the collectivo, thinking it would be fun to try one of these, but with my head in the clouds of moral issues about having someone pedal my bike for me a small chihuahua comes running at my ankles and barks and scares me so badly that my skeleton jumps out of my skin and does a little jig. At first I want to golf-club the chihuahua with my blue five-gallon bottles on a rope. The chihuahua has a ferocious attitude, which I admire, and I tell him as much.

Near by was a tienda that sells water and we ask if we can leave our bottles there and come get them later. The woman running it agrees, and I obligingly buy a few items from her.

10:45. Standing at the tienda door, we filled up the water bottles then looked out at the street. It was full of maddening oranges and blues and silly pinks. All the buildings are crazy colors.

Mexicans are insane.

The camino is full of people. Old people, a man with a big propane bottle, two children (brother and sister?), a young chingon, looking tough, a couple holding hands, someone honks and waves. It's a typical little Mexican town and everyone knows who's up to what all the time. Between the bike-taxis passes a motorcycle with a family of four on it. The father is driving and behind him is Mom with a kid on each knee. A clown in one of the bicycle-taxis yells over his shoulder at his driver, and the driver does a circle in the road, then another. Some guy using his bike-taxi to move three bottles of propane is followed by another with a passenger and his single bottle of propane. Why is there a clown? Why is there so much propane? Why does it smell like cotton candy again?

Everything is bright colors and nothing is making sense.

It feels like a drug trip.

None of us pinche gringos have any idea what is going on, so we walk down the street and buy groceries from the old women sitting on the sidewalk, under umbrellas, eating fruits and gossiping. They have nopali, some enormous avocados (which were easily sold once we were given a sample), a pineapple (the woman working there told me the way to identify good pineapples is by their smell), tomatoes (of course), onions (of course), some peanuts spiced with chiles and salt, a gatorade, and a bottle of tequilla. There are so many good things in Mexico, and they all seem to be sold in the street. The Three Amigos went their way, we went to eat a barbacoa taco which was served in a dirty little tent that was run by a stinky old man with a big white moustache and a pink apron. I've never gotten sick from the taco tents, and in a way I kind of hope some day, that I do so I can justify what everyone seems to think, that they are dirty and bad for you. But only the large markets, the super-markets, make me sick now because they have to store so much food, I guess. Certainly chain restaurants are less clean and unmotivated to make good food.

We went back to thank the grandmothers that sold us the groceries, and they asked if we were from England. We said no, but they complimented us on Kate Middleton's wedding ring anyway.

We hailed a collectivo and put our groceries in the back.

12:30. The beach is now a cacaphony of competing parties. Each restaurant has its own sound system. One system is playing the simple, throbbing polka of Mexico. The accordions and tubas, mixed together in a curious combination of rock and country. Next to that system is playing the Red Hot Chile Peppers and both restaurants are empty. It is as if they are saying, from a half mile away, "We are partying here! Come join us! We have food and drink and cocaine and revolution!" This music usually starts somewhere between 7 and 7:15, when they open in the morning. They play it all day and the volume of the music sort of blows Amelie's hair around her head as she walks past one of the speakers.

The beach is still littered with trash out in front and Baby-Pig-Man is now watching some kids play a game of "foot" (also known as soccer). Baby-Pig-Man comes over to see how we made out with the groceries. He helps us drag 'Ti Goose back to the water and along the way he comments that the dinghy of The Three Amigos is lighter than 'Ti Goose. He's right and I don't begrudge him this observation.

13:30. Back on the Goose the motor is not working. It stopped running as if it were out of fuel just as we were crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec, about three days ago. This isn't a big deal on a sailboat but it makes some things, like entering and exiting harbors inconvenient and at times impossible. It helps if there is a storm. We use it if the solar panels aren't bringing in all the electricity we need. So the motor's good to have. Plus anything that takes up that much space should work.

I had dumped in our reserve tank (a red five-gallon bottle we carry spare diesel in), which we keep on deck, and that didn't do the trick so I bled the fuel lines and that didn't do any good, either. This cost us a night and a day at sea, which was fine, and by the night we got in to Puerto Chiapas the wind was shutting down. So we called Patience and The Three Amigos on VHF channel 16 and they were nice enough to come give us a tow into the harbor (sailing in at night was up for consideration, I will note, but logic prevailed over pride, probably keeping us from running aground). The motor is an important part of the boat, so since some of the tank is gravity-fed, and I couldn't determine why the valves were not bleeding as they should, I decided to go get more diesel. It was either a $20 taxi ride or else I could sail our little dinghy over there.

Since there is plenty of wind moving around the bay I rig the sail, drop her in the water, throw my red five-gallon bottle in, and off I sail toward the petroleum processing side of that foul bay, about two miles away. It is tucked into a tributary, a sub-bay of Puerto Chiapas' main bay. After crossing the center of the bay I enter into the tributary and sail past the military installation, (men sitting under trees, feet up in the crook of a branch, rifle propped up against their chair), I sail past the first line of docks (a large Pemex station where a security guard stands, arms crossed, staring as I silently glide past), and then past the huge dredge, an enormous crab-shaped blue structure about four stories tall.

As I sail deeper into the tributary the water gradually turns brown and murky, then grey and murkier. The sun is out, and the air is hot and stinking, and the banks of the channel seem populated with phantoms. Clusters of people look down at me, all of them huddled under the rare shade of trees, all of them hidden from the sun, and those silhouettes all point at me - and I see their heads nod and turn to one another, then back to me. The water turns blacker and the air is rich with a stench of that sickly sweet scent, like cotton candy, but acrid, more like sulphur. And the wind, full of that scent, pulls me deeper into the tributary, to the end, where the refinery plant is rooted.

'Ti Goose is a tiny sailboat, very fragile, and water gets in from time to time if it's a little windy. She's a bit of a batchtub, really. only about eight feet long, with about six inches of freeboard, but we like her and she does a good job as our to-shore transport. But arriving at such a large dock in such a little boat presents a problem of scale, and intimacy. There are tractor tires lashed with chain to the concrete dock, so I sail 'Ti Goose up, grab the painter line, and prepare to climb up one of these tires with my red five-gallon bottle. The tires had become a thing of wonder.

Imagine a sandwich in which you start with two slabs of tire. On these, like peanut butter, you smear sewage and run-off from the cows and cities that are up-river from Chiapas Bay. On another tire you slather, like jelly, the petroleum and the fish by-products from the factories and slaughter machines. Then you haul these two tires into the air and let them bake in the hot sun. Then you lower them into the water again, and get them saturated again, then lift them into the sun. Your poop-and-petroleum sandwich is now ready to be climbed upon.

Climb I did and as I laid hand on these diseased things I gagged and I noticed that the water was black from all of this pollution. It was grey on the way in, but here it was a sickly black - an obsidian that did not ripple or fold or giggle as water normally does. As the waves slowly rose up onto the dock the water did not run back down, but slithered, serpentine, oily, and slow. I carried my red five-gallon bottle on my back with a rope. The tires were about as big as me.

Up on the concrete dock things were comparatively clean. The men that worked at the filling station - specifically for boats to come and refuel - were old and cracked, with a yellow hue to their skin. They had slow-moving eyes that saw things from far away. They didn't give a shit about anything. And all of the phantoms under the trees continued to stare and point.

I filled up my red five-gallon bottle and noticed, as I did so, that the smell was collecting in my throat and chest.

A man with a motorcycle drives up and his gas tank is a plastic milk jug. Another man, maybe 19, fat, with very dark skin, and illegible Indian eyes, asks me how my boat works, and why I do not have a motor. He asks what the cloth of the sail is for. "Puro Viento" I explain. Simple wind. I could sail it anywhere in the world, for free, I tell him. He seems uncomprehending, and scratches his stomach. I cannot blame him. After all, I do not understand many things, either.

15:00. It is very hot now. The sun has a withering gaze, and I'm realizing that I have stumbled into Hell's own homestead.

I tack back up the channel, past the huge crab-like dredge monster, past the other filling station, and past a small canoe with two Indian men. They are throwing a net into the water to catch fish. As I slowly pass them I wave and yell, "Como estamos?!" (How we doing!?) They wave and say "Good, good!" and a small boy with a tan t-shirt raises his head from out of the canoe to look at me. It looks like his job is to take the fish from the bottom of the canoe and skewer them on a piece of rebar. He is maybe 6 or 7. He smiles and waves, too. My trusty little sailboat brings me back home, three hours after I left, and as I step back on board the Goose I look inside my world and am happy. I have a drink of cool, clear water and try to calm myself. I feel like Dante's son.

16:30. The diesel is in the tank, but the motor still does not work. We decide that we will leave Puerto Chiapas with a working motor, and tomorrow, as planned. So I row back to shore to look for a diesel mechanic and Amelie comes with me. Her Spanish is better than mine, and we have fun on such absurd searches.

As I row up and enter shallow water I nearly row over a couple that is involved in some heavy fondling, hidden by the dirty water.

At the shore, Baby-Pig-Man comes up again. He is dressed as he was before, just in black shorts, and he seems as fresh as he did this morning. His stamina for wandering the polluted beach and smiling impresses me. He asks me what I am doing. He asks me about why 'Ti Goose had a sail a few hours ago, but now does not, and I try to explain to him, too, how the principles of sailing work. But with the sun dropping like a yellow bag full of trash, I apologize and we scramble up towards the restaurantes to start our search for a diesel mechanic.

17:00. Rodrigo, the outboard mechanic near the fishermen's boats, tells us about a possible specialist for diesel motors, but then says, no, that guy can't help because he had too much to drink that morning and was totally slouched out for the afternoon. The tuna boats, he considers out loud, might have an available mechanic, but, no, again, each of those boats have their own diesel mechanics that are full-time booked, and he finally concludes that he didn't know who to talk with. Maybe go visit the drunk guy.

Mexicans are amazing for many reasons, but like Arabs I have found such generosity and hospitality that my own behavior has been forever altered. Helping people is key to living well.

We thank him and run off to continue our mechanic hunt.

We take a collectivo into town and walk up to his shop. It is closed. An abuelita, small, smiling, sweeping in front of her house, small ratty white dog there to keep her company, grandchildren at hand, hair in a bun, is across the street. She asks what we're looking for. She says there is another diesel mechanic, but his shop is closed today (it is, after all, Sunday). We thank her and start to walk on, not sure where the next lead will come from.

Maybe thirty seconds pass and then Taxi-Man arrives. He drives up behind us and flatly asks if we are looking for Miguel Angel, the Mechanic. Another amazing thing about Mexicans is how social they are. If you know the right people you can get anything done. I have no clue how the outboard mechanic at the beach communicated to this taxi-driver where we were, nor how he found us, let alone why he was in this part of town.

We didn't know what his name was, and yes, we are looking for him. Taxi-Man said he could find Miguel Angel for us. So we got in his taxi and he takes us up the beach, along a dusty road to a little blue house with two kids in the yard. There are chickens and flowers and lots of dust. A beautiful woman of about forty walks out of the house and Taxi-Man introduces us. The entire family has a handsome and clear-eyed look. Miguel is at the docks, working on the shrimper Gosamar, she says (the docks being at the same Hell I had earlier visited) and she tries to phone him, but gets no answer. He is, she said, evidently repairing a motor in one of the big metal tanks, where there is no cell reception. She says something close to that, but Amelie has to translate for me. We ask if we could go find him, and she said we would have to pass the pirate taxi and get permission from the guard and the captain of the boat. Again, I'm confused, but so is Amelie and we agree, in French, that this is what the woman said. Pirate Taxi? Guards? It all seems quite sophisticated but I have determined to find this guy Miguel and when I turn to ask Taxi-Man if he can get us as far as the "pirate taxi" I surprise both of us because he is quickly snorting up a rail of cocaine out of his cellphone (he keeps the coke behind the phone's battery). He snaps it away, sniffs, and says sure, let's go.

Let it be noted that small towns are as intricately connected as they are lethally boring.

17:00. To cut the yarn short, we navigated the gauntlet of pirate taxis, guards, and captains and finally found Miguel Angel. Miguel, handsome clear-eyed, drove with us to the beach, walked down the the water's edge, takes off his shoes and socks, gets into 'Ti Goose, and we three all row out to Blue Goose where he asks me for my tools and gets to work. With our departure happening in the morning I was hoping he knew what he was doing, and it was certain he did. He asked me some questions, pulled the fuel line, held it in the air, asked me for some diesel, poured it into the fuel line, and told me to start the motor. It started right up. He smiled, said it was my fuel pump, and pointed out that it was a standard automotive fuel pump and finding one on a sunday, even, shouldn't be a problem. He smiled and when he did his eyes wrinkled up and he seemed to me to be the kindest man in the world and if I were some beautiful Mexican woman I would marry him, too.

"Autozone is open today, they'll have it there. Just take the collectivo in to Tapachula. No problem."

"How much you think it'll be?" I ask.

"400 pesos? Not much." He says.

"Thanks. A ton." I pay him 170 pesos, about US$20.

"My pleasure. Hey, you know what?"

"What?" I ask wondering if he wants to get married. I'm so glad the motor's fixed.

"You were sailing over near the docks this morning, right?"

"Right. That was probably me."

"Everyone saw you. Caused quite a fuss. Most people have never seen a sailboat. You must be a good sailor to tack upwind out of there."

"A desperate sailor, is more like it. I really wanted to get that fuel."

But I felt like a good sailor when, a few hours later, after we'd bought the pump at AutoZone and I had gotten back on board, and installed it, the motor started.

We were clear for take-off.

PART TWO: The Return To Hell, and a Conclusion on Pollutants, Righteousness, and Mexico

It is now the next day, and we are on our way out.

14:00. Blue Goose is in hell, and I am with her, leaning over her gunwale with a diesel pump in my hand. Filling up the fuel tank in a petroleum refinery is a bit like going to have a hamburger in a slaughterhouse. The reality of what I am doing is unnervingly close. Below me is that slimy black water, sick and stinking, and as the fuel enters the tank I watch a couple of drops splash out and land on the water below. I have no worries about polluting, as I normally would. It is already polluted, so why bother?

Careful not to top off the tank (heat in the tropics can make for interesting fire events), I hand off the huge hose, as big as my calf, and the pump head, to the workers on the dock.

One of the men that works there, that big Indian fellow I met last time, who asked me about not having a motor, does not talk to me, though when I say "Como estamos?" to ask how he is he gives the standard reply of, "Bien, bien," drawn out in that almost Southern drawl that many Mexicans have. But he doesnt otherwise talk with me. I wonder if he is embarrassed for not knowing what a sail is. He seems to remember me.

An old man I didn't meet last time tells me that the refinery has been in operation since 1972 and he is proud to give me two of their annual calendars, which he has rolled up and bound with a rubber-band.

"How much is it?" I ask.

"No, no, It's free. A gift."

14:30 I fill up with six more of the blue five-gallon bottles of water, top off my single red five-gallon bottle of diesel, get a gatorade, some tostadas, pay, thank everyone, and cast off. The Goose and us now have liquids to survive the coming week's sail south.

I'm glad to be leaving Mexico. After three years here I have found a destitute and uneducated group of filthy people that are killing, poisoning, and over-developing what was once a beautiful country. They are being overpowered by industrialization, enslaved by American conquest, and I've found that they have a residual culture of morbid servitude that will break their country far more profoundly than drug gangs. But this is all for another story.

I'm anxious to leave Puerto Chiapas, this dirty pit of a port, well behind me.

As we slowly motor our way out of the tributary I light a cigarette, curse, squint, and feel like spitting.

15:00 To starboard three small children are playing in the brack and sludge, under some bushes at the water's edge. They yell and jump up and down, splashing, and yell again, and wave to me. I wave back.

To port that filthy little canoe with the two men and the boy continue to throw fishing nets. They, too, yell and wave. And I reluctantly wave back.

We turn and head out the channel into open water.

I'm sick of Mexicans.

18:30. The sun's getting low, sending nuclear flames out in all directions, piercing the clouds. The water is calm and clean and the wind is solid, and about 8 knots. I've spent the lasst two hours picking up bucket after bucket of clean salt water and rinsing and scrubbing the deck, the cockpit, the forecastle, the transom, the rails, and am dragging the halyards in the water behind us, letting the water wash Puerto Chiapas off of my house and home.

Patience and The Three Amigos is visible off on the horizon.

It'll be good to get away from this place.

19:00 The last person I see in Mexico is a fisherman, just before sunset, who buzzes by in his panga. And he, too, waves and hollers out the most Good Evening and Good Luck I have ever heard. He's a real one.

Mexicans are weirdly friendly. The fishermen and dock workers are some of the most solid people in the world. They'd die for a neighbor, or even a stranger. It's a mystery for me.

22:00. It is night, we're out at sea, 10 or 15 miles off the coast, and I'm again alone at the wheel. Amelie is sleeping down below getting rest while she can. We'll take turns every four hours at night, doing what is called "Dog Watch." We're headed to El Salvador and it will take three or four days to get there.

If I look up the sails are full and grey in the dim light of the evening. The water chuckles and whispers, otherwise the night is silent. A line makes a small groan. After the scrub-down the Goose is alive again (a boat is a bit like a genie in a lamp). The sail is connected to the mast, rigid and strong, held by the spars, spreaders, and shrouds. Against it the stars above spin and wheel in a figure eight as the boat slowly lumbers her way along the coast. I take another swig of coke, finish the bottle and am tempted to throw it in the water.

Mexicans are ok with littering up their seas, why aren't I? They want their water to be polluted, otherwise they wouldn't pollute it. As some Americans have said to me, "They like a little shit in their water, here in Mexico." After all, if you're surrounded by people that are littering, who is more stupid? The person that is littering or the person that isn't? If everyone's committing a crime it stops being one. If the water is already polluted then there's no harm done.

There are, I have read, seven islands of floating plastic that have collected around the world, where the plastic gathers in oceanic current pools. The largest is about the size of Texas, and it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I have neve seen these things, but I've also read (I think it was National Geographic) that there is now no longer a beach in the world where plastic particles cannot be found.

Being too righteous, I put the plastic bottle in the trash inside the boat.

But what righteousness can I justify?

I think about the fishermen in the canoe. I assume that their fish is dirty because they catch it near a lubricants and combustibles factory. I also assume the fish I catch, from the Goose, is cleaner because I catch it off-shore. Why do I think my fish is cleaner than theirs? I cannot say if the fish that I am catching is clean or not. Especially not with islands of plastic in the middle of the deepest seas. How can I determine if my fish is cleaner than theirs? What makes me think my life is any more 'propre' than theirs?

Then there are those kids that were playing in the channel, the couple fondling in the petroleum mud, or any of those families at the trashy beach that I thought were so disgusting as to be wading in their beach-side pollutants. People have waded in pollutants since there were people. We're like that. It has happened in Paris, in New York, in London. So how can I assume that my life or culture is any cleaner? I play with computers and airplanes and phones and radios and there is no way today of saying how bad or good those things are for my health, on whatever level. Science learns new things all the time and we humans remain, constantly, ignorant. Those families on the water's edge, enjoying their Sunday together, all seemed happy and healthy, and it was only my eyes that sickened what I saw.

Then, finally, there is Mr Baby-Pig-Man. Who else was happier, who else seemed more at peace? Who else of all the people I saw in my last day was more curious and open-eyed and willing to help other people? He was maybe the most Mexican of all the people I met. Perhaps, that last day in Mexico, I met the Buddha's new incarnation. I hear it is getting hard to reincarnate in Tibet, after all.

Perhaps Buddha, nowdays, is Mexican.

The stars wheel overhead in figure eights, drawing clusters of infinity symbols, and a dolphin appears to starboard and spits then disappears under the keel. The relativity of cultures is an abyss and probably best not considered lest action's motives become vague, and morality's true north gets lost in the morass and pollution of thought itself.

It should be in the next hour or two that we'll cross.

We'll leave Mexico, and head south of the border.

Written near N13°39, W90°23 on Cinqo de Mayo, 2011.

This chapter is an excerpt from a book. Please point all inquiries, suggestions, or glamoroous compliments to mail a/ markmeadows dot com.