Appearance is what sells. That is quite true when it comes to the way Mexicans are dressed. I walk the broken walkways of Mazatlan and greet the locals ďHolaĒ as they pass me by. People seem to be very friendly as in most places in Mexico. Though Iíve spent already four weeks here in Mexico so far, I havenít added more than a dozen words to my Spanish vocabulary and I am ashamed of myself in how bad Iíve become in learning a new language. But there is no hassle in understanding them when it comes to basic communication. With hands and feet you can achieve a lot. Once they realize that youíre a foreigner, you receive much more attention. Besides, there seem to be no shortage of people who speak English and in worst case scenario I can pull out the dictionary. From the very first day I entered Mexico, I learned that Mexicans love to show their hospitality to foreign visitors. A smile goes a long way and it sends good vibes and brings out the good in many.
The streets get busier as I get closer to the city square. This being a Saturday, there seems to be lot more going on than just the usual folks hanging around the small garden benches. I see the church yard is full of people, a wedding, perhaps? My suspicion is confirmed by the photographers and then the glimpse of a woman in a white dress surrounded by the dressed up crowd.
Then I see the shoeshine stands, probably a couple of dozen in this small square. In each corner of the square there are at least three or four stands. The men donít seem be short of work. Some men sitting on the high chairs watch in admiration as the worker gives his best to get those dirty shoes back to their glory. Some read newspapers and others just enjoy watching the pedestrians walk by. I ask myself, why donít they polish those shoes at home and spare some money?
Well, I guess the answer to that lies in the dusty pavements. What if you are going to some important meeting and just before reaching the office or meeting place, your dirty shoes wonít give that big impression youíre trying to make? So, it makes sense to get your shoes cleaned and polished just five minutes before the appointment. Hats too, seem to be a very important part of the dress code among men, especially older men. But I have never seen anyone wearing a dirty hat here in Mexico, or a hat that seems to be an old one. They are always immaculately clean and in their proper shape. Mexicans pay a lot of attention to their appearance and I ask myself what must they think when they see me? Most of the time, Iím getting off my motorcycle with faded and worn motorcycle gear. Not only are they worn out, they are dusty and dirty since I spend so much time riding these dusty roads.
Among all the shoeshine stands, my eyes catch one slightly different from the others. This fellow repairs shoes! Iíve been waiting for this moment since a couple months. At last, I could get my broken Army boots mended! You may wonder, why does a motorcycle rider wear Army boots. Thatís another side story.
When I reached West Timor last December, I camped on a quiet beach on the south end of the island. I spent about three days there enjoying the beautiful warm, crystal clear water. There was a fishermanís village about half a mile to the west of the bay. During the day there were people walking up and down the beach. As it was low tide, every morning before day break, the women came walking across the waist deep water catching small fish and collecting mussels. During the day there were a handful of local people, who came from the city of Kupang to swim and walk down the beach. Most of those folks had a small chitchat about me being there on a big motorcycle which aroused their curiosity. On the third day of camping however, I discovered that my riding boots were gone. Since I did not have too much space in my tent, I had left them at the entrance. I guess there must be a happy rider somewhere in West Timor riding his small scooter with a pair of shiny riding boots. Fortunately enough, I only had couple of hundred kilometers to ride until I had to ship my bike to Australia. Nevertheless, I was quite annoyed by the loss, but it wasnít that devastating.
When I reached Australia I had to wait for about a week before I could get my motorcycle cleared out of the port. I spent the days idling around the city of Darwin, hanging around with the people I met in the hostel. One of those nights, I was sharing the stories of my travels with a group of young people in the hostel. When I mentioned the fate of my riding boots, one of those men, who happened to be an Australian soldier, offered me a brand new pair of army boots, which fitted me perfectly. Since then, those boots have seen some serious adventures, and as a result they were beginning to fall apart. I cannot possibly buy another pair of riding boots. Though I tried on a couple of occasions to buy a pair of cheap riding boots, they never felt comfortable enough for wearing the whole day and every day.
I approach the shoe repairer and show him my shoes. The sole around the heel is starting to open up from the upper in both shoes. He wants 100 Pesos for the repair and is overly keen to have me as a customer. The price seems to be high for Mexico and I have serious doubts about him being able to repair the shoes for long term use. But I feel pity for the poor man and sit down on the bench and hand him one shoe and he begins his work. From the moment he starts applying glue on my dirty and dusty shoes without cleaning it, I realize that my shoe wonít be lasting too long. But I wait there patiently till he finishes his work. There is a man reclining on a bench a few yards away from me. He has fallen into a deep sleep. Probably the plastic bag on the bench is his grocery shopping. Does his wife worry about where he got to? Maybe the busy street provides him a quieter surrounding than his home. I keep myself amused while my shoe is being repaired and 10 min later the repairer hands me the shoe and waits for the other one. But I pay him 60 Pesos and tell him that one shoe is good enough and wish him ďprospero anoĒ.
I start my walk through the streets away from the crowd to take some snap shots of the old colonial style houses. Itís so beautiful here. Each house tells a unique story. Some looking really fancy and well maintained and others show red bricks through the broken plaster and are dilapidated but equally beautiful for a photo.