As Deep Travel compiles an anthology of writings by our wonderful workshop alumni, we are excited to share some of their work here on our blog. This time, we have an entertaining essay by Brenda Wilson who joined a workshop in Mexico. You’ll be able to read this and work by over 40 contributors in the finished anthology in August. (Release date: August 7, 7 pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA) Meanwhile, enjoy….
The Lords of Dog Town
If you have not loved an animal, a part of your soul remains asleep.
—Proverb found on a signpost in Yelapa, Mexico
In the heart of the jungle and along the seashore, on the Bay of Banderas, the dogs of Yelapa tell a different story than your average, mangy, starving Mexican dog.
A few years ago, author Michael Pollan theorized in his book, The Botany of Desire, that seemingly-unconscious plants enlist heart the and minds of humans to further their own agenda to thrive and multiply. Pollan cites examples of tulips that seduce us with their beauty, apples that endear us with their sweetness, and marijuana that intoxicates us with its heady compounds. I was reminded of this theory as I witnessed a similar, suspicious scenario playing out on la playa de Yelapa between the enormous stray dog population, the locals, and the affection-starved tourists.
I picked up the scent when I noticed that all the typical arch-enemies of dogs were vanquished and abolished. In Yelapa, there are no cars, no cats, no squirrels, no kennels, no leashes, or collars. There are no masters, no silly names, no license tags, no territories, no aggression, no dog catchers, no starvation, no diseases, no fences, no doghouses, no tethers. There are no problemas!
As I became aware of this canine cosa nostra phenomenon hidden in plain sight, I marveled at the stellar health of the Canidae. All the woofs were well-fed with shiny coats, white teeth, and bright eyes—suggesting that they get plenty of guacamole, fresh fish, and pie! There is even a town vet who offers free services to the strays: deworming and neutering them twice a month. Wait, that is more healthcare than Americans receive!
The locals rise in the early mornings to wash the sidewalks clean of all the doggy and donkey debris that accumulated the day before. The dog-spotting touristas y locales provide hand-fed sustenance, while the pups crouch and pray to the local patron saint: Our Lady of Doggy Bags.
These Good Boys share a variety of duties around the tiny Mexican hamlet. After an initiation and a vow of silence, they are assigned a beat. They became the greeters, grounds-keepers, escorts, guides, clean-up crew, beach companions, fish dogs, cantina entertainment, plate patrol, port authorities, and bar bouncers. Some are even guides!
Case in point: I once got turned around in one of the Yelapa byways, trying to find the Yacht club. A sleek German Shepard mix was napping on dried palm leaves at her post at the intersection where I stood perplexed. She opened one eye, rose from her nap, and began walking down the path. I followed and was then guided to the Yacht Club by the shepherdess. I am still unsure how she knew where I needed to go or how I found the trust to follow her. But the fact is, I was lost and she led me all the way to the hostess station. Perhaps most tourists get lost and she was merely performing a habitual task of guidance and kindness. Nonetheless, I gave my guide some pats of gratitude, and she smiled, wagged, and returned to her post in the crossway.
Since the dogs do not have official homes, they snuggle up under the cerveza tables on the sandy beach, or on the knoll to bask in the warm sunlight. The look in their eyes in the dawn light says: would love to cuddle with you!
On my last night, I dined at the BBQ joint where the dogs were working the scene, methodically sitting under every table to collect scraps and pats. This was a preferred eatery, and there were plenty of doggy bags on hustle. It was obvious that the dogs working joint preferred to skip the doggy bag routine altogether and go straight for the hand-feed under the table. Mi amor, Tim, and I made friends with the silky, buff, male terrier with a blonde mustache and underbite sitting under our table. The Wiley Woof was suave and even perhaps psychic. Noticing his polite and attentive demeanor, Tim joked “at least he is not begging.” On cue, El Suave sat on his hound hind, paws up, begging, and posing for a picture with a deadpan stare. Cheeky.
Later, at the nearby bar, I noticed a small black fluffle-weiner with a tough attitude and a golden snaggle-tooth. He was The Heavy, packin’ heat, running at a fast clip to nip the heels of an unruly patron. He escorted the wiseguy to the door. The success of the bounce sent El Doggo into a happy tailspin as he rejoined the fiesta in full wag. He accepted many a belly rub on the dance floor before dashing away to the kitchen and out of sight. I believe him to be perhaps Don Yelapa, the Hefe, or El Capo.
There is a rumor that even “kept” pooches elect to stray and go on the lam. Because what dog doesn’t like to roam and comb the beaches and cantinas in search of friends and Scooby-snacks? The Yelaperrosseem elevated in status—perhaps even part-human and probably part-angel. They are self-possessed, un-mastered, and self-mastered. By all appearances, they have achieved enlightenment and doggie-nirvana. They roam free without tether or strangle. They do not bark, snarl, growl, or struggle. They are fed and pet by many hands. These Doggy Boys have remastered the “man’s best friend” idea and flipped it to make their bones. Akin to Pollan’s musings about the wiley-ways of our botanical friends, the Canidae have become road-kings instead of road-kill. Indeed, in Yelapa, the old saying holds true: All Dogs go to Heaven.
BRENDA WILSON presents us with a fun fusion of eclectic gifts from distant corners of the galaxy. She is a creative writer, by way of being a naturalist, herbalist, botanist, anatomist, astrologist, and massage therapist. She is a servant and observant of the wild creatures. She has worked with wild birds, wild plants, wild gardens, and wild humans of the best kind. She found herself whisked away to Yelapa, Mexico, by some of her favorite wild humans to serve and to write. She produced this story of beasts (during a wolf moon, in the year of the Dog) while doing massage service for the group of highly skilled travel writers. Brenda is honored to be included among the creative talent presented in this anthology. Her educational background includes an associates degree in English and Creative Writing, with a six-month, in-depth study in Cambridge, England into Shakespearean literature.