Media Sensationalism

Please don’t let the sensationalism in the American media color your picture of the entire country of Mexico.

Here in Puerto Vallarta I have walked the dark streets alone after 11:00 P.M. and before 7:00 A.M. I’ve ridden public transportation into the poor burrows surrounding the town, and got off the bus and walked alone down dusty streets … the only gringo in sight. I’ve stopped many times to ask local folks for directions, and they usually do their best to understand my limited Spanish – and if they cannot understand me, they often call to others for assistance.

I’ve carried money and a digital camera in my pocket, and no one has stuck a gun in my face, or kidnapped me, or beat me up, or tried to rob me. I have not felt fear since I have been here.

There are a thousand acts of kindness for every one act of unkindness in the world, but the media likes to sensationalize the occasional act of unkindness. Sensationalism sells newspapers, brings in magazine subscribers, fills the airwaves, and draws web traffic.

Don’t ignore the news, but read the news with an eye toward empathizing with the harmed or marginalized … such as victims of a tsunami, exploited children, or those hurt or killed by a suicide bomber.

Avoid being tantalized by weird, wacky, wild, and woeful stories … but instead give your attention to the way-out, whimsical, wicked, and wonderful things God is doing in and through people. (“Wicked” in the contemporary vernacular, you old fart).

Could something bad happen to me here? Of course, the world is filled with sinners. But consider that I could leave my house in a nice neighborhood of Salt Lake City, and walk for about 10 minutes and be in neighborhoods that put me at as much risk as the neighborhoods here in Puerto Vallarta. I could also leave my house in Salt Lake City, and drive for 10 minutes and be in neighborhoods that would put me at as much risk as virtually any neighborhood in Puerto Vallarta.

Would I wander through any neighborhood in the border towns of Tijuana, Laredo, or Juarez? Probably not, but the purpose of this article is to undermine some of the hysteria … and maybe color your picture of Mexico in a new light.

P.S. The H1N1 world map at will show you that this flu is not limited to Mexico, and in fact the cases in Mexico make up a tiny percentage of the cases worldwide.



Dalia is a sweet child who is nine years old, and recently came to live at the orphanage.

Her language Teacher explained to me that she is far behind in her language studies, and asked me to help her with some simple exercises. Basically, I was asked to put 2 letters together and have Dalia pronounce the sound.

La. Ca. Ma.

Su. Tu.

Vo. Lo. Co.

We did fairly well with 2 letters, although when she regressed I went back to one letter before I could resume stacking the second letter onto the first. Over and over again.

I noticed that she would often read the sound backwards, especially when I added a 3rd letter.

Los became “Sol.”

As I leafed through the book looking for simple words to use, I found a page with the words uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, …

And then Dalia took off in flight.

With rapid fire succession, she whipped through the numbers faster than I have ever heard anyone count … Blowing through 100 and beyond … unwilling to stop. She knew this was her strength, and she just kept going.

I let her go for sometime, however at some point I felt that I should call her back to the lesson. Language is her weakness, and I finally got her back on task.

Very interesting … so week in language, yet so strong with numbers.

Dyslexia came to my mind almost immediately, but her Teacher said that they don’t believe she has that condition since she does not mix her numbers. In fact, she is always the first one with the correct answer in Math class. In any case, they have asked the State to do some testing on her, and hopefully she´ll get the prognosis she needs.

Up to this point they have been focused on making sure that her emotional needs are satisfied, and once that process is well established they will develop an educational plan just for her.

She may have had a rough start, but she has landed in a good place, and is now surrounded by very capable people who can help her heal and learn.

Muchos gracias to those of you who asked me to carry a donation to the orphanage, I gave them a check before I left today. They were most grateful, and I am sure the money will be put to good use.

Public Transportation in Mexico

I thought old town Puerto Vallarta woke up earlier in the morning, but when I headed out today at 6:45 A.M. the streets were still dark and not many people were out. I walked about 3 blocks until I found a street where 3 busses sat idling, and then approached the bus drivers standing on the corner. I uttered the magic word “Wal-Mart,” and one of the drivers pointed to his bus and said “Un momento” (one minute).

When you enter the bus you hand your pesos to the driver, there is no fancy coin machine that processes your bus fare. The driver stacks your coins neatly in the wooden box to their right.

The seats are hard plastic, which you really feel bouncing across the cobblestone streets of old town. And if you happen to hit a pothole while sitting in the back of the bus, it’s almost enough to knock a tooth filling out.

This bus is like most of the others in town, it is quite old and does not have any air conditioning. It comes to a screeching halt every time it stops, however I could tell by the sound of the engine, and by the way the driver moved smoothly through the gears, that this bus was well maintained.

I had assumed that this was one of the busses that would take a direct route from old town to Wal-Mart, but when he took off he drove through the tunnel and headed out into the burrows that surround the town. When I had boarded the bus there were 2 of us, but gradually we started picking up more passengers, so I moved over to the window seat. We kept stopping so that more and more people could get on. Then the driver asked those standing in the aisle to scrunch to the back of the bus, and more people got on. We were packed in there like sardines, the aisle was completely full all the way down to the last step with the door open. Then he stopped again and let still more people on … and I was the only gringo. When we finally got to the Wal-Mart I expected the bus to empty, but only a few people got off and then the bus started filling up again. I had to squeeze past my seat-mate, then squeeze down the aisle, and finally squeeze down the steps sideways until I popped out.

So here I was at the Wal-Mart, but I still did not know how to get to the orphanage. Bus maps are hard to read in Spanish, plus I am not at all familiar with this end of town. So I decided that the prudent thing to do was approach the taxi sitting there at the bus stop. I showed the driver the address of my destination, and asked “Cuanto cuesta?” (How much?). He said “50 pesos,” and I jumped in. I thought that was a pretty good deal, for about $4 he took me the rest of the way and dropped me off at the gate of the orphanage.

I arrived at the orphanage around 8:15 A.M., and walked up to the door, where I found a man standing and waiting to get in. I asked him, “Usted trabaja aqui? (Do you work here?). He said “Si,” and then said a bunch more that I did not understand. But he motioned to a door on the other side of the building and said something about “diez horas,” which I understood to mean that I should return at 10:00 A.M.

There is a wide alley, probably about 30 yards wide by 100 yards long, which leads from the street to the orphanage compound. And within that alley there is a makeshift “restaurant” (there are lots of those in PV), with a plastic canopy overhead and plastic chairs at card tables. I sat down and the chef immediately wiped off my table, and then placed several plastic bowls on the table before covering them with a towel. There’s no menu, but I figured out that we were having meat tacos for breakfast. A few other patrons showed up, and we waited together for the “carne” (meat) to cook. When she brought my meat taco to the table, she removed the towel that was covering the plastic bowls … each bowl had something different in it, pico de gallo, spicy carrots, marinated cucumbers, hot sauce, etc. All that for a mere 9 pesos (about 75 cents), so after I ate I gave her a 20 peso bill and said “gracias” before walking down the street to find something to do for the next hour and a half.

When I returned at 10:00 AM the door I expected to be open was still closed, and all the other doors were closed as well. I was a little surprised by that since many people in PV leave both their doors and windows open … you can be walking down the sidewalk in old town and practically be in the living room of some of the residents who are sitting just inside. I finally found a doorbell, and was greeted by a Spanish-speaking member of the kitchen staff. I could not pull any Spanish out of me that made sense to her, so I showed her a copy of the email I received from a specific person on staff. She recognized the name, and walked me through the kitchen and led me to Aurora.

When I entered the room, Aurora was surrounded by about 5 kids standing next to her looking over her shoulder. Another 5 were sitting at the table watching what she was writing on the pad, and about 10 more kids were sitting at tables working on their lessons. She said “Hola,” but did not remember that I had (1) corresponded with her, or (2) planned to be there that day. She asked me to wait for a bit (the second time that day I heard “un momento”), and so I just kind of milled around the room for awhile. Then the kitchen staff person brought me a phone and said something about “Hablas Ingles” (speak English), and I felt relieved to be able to explain why I was there. I spoke with a very nice lady who asked if I could return tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. and spend at least 2 hours visiting. I told her I would be happy to return.

Then I started the long journey back to old town, this time all the way by bus. When I finally got back to my room around Noon, I felt like I had been beat up. It was good for me to experience firsthand what many of the working class in PV experience on a daily basis, the daily commute on public transportation to support the tourism industry.

Cien Pesos

Before starting this journey, I mentioned that I would like to walk around PV and give as many 10 peso coins out as possible … and I invited anyone who was interested to participate by sending me money to give away. Thanks to each of you who donated, and I’d like to tell you about some of the people you blessed today.

But before I do that, let me just say that it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all, to get overwhelmed by how many people are in need. Bill Gates could liquidate his entire estate and give it all away in small increments … and barely touch the world. So today I tried not to feel overwhelmed, and I just gave to the people who I encountered that seemed to be needier than others.

One young man appeared intoxicated, but in spite of that I dropped a 10 peso coin into the Styrofoam cup he held to his chest.

As I walked along the boardwalk next to the beach, an older man with a walker in front of him was sitting down but he had fallen asleep with his head in his chest. I placed 10 pesos beside his pack of cigarettes, unbeknownst to him.

While walking down the sidewalk I came across an older woman in a simple dress walking very slowly. I reached in my pocket to give her 10 pesos, and she immediately launched into an animated display in Spanish while gesturing with her finger over my shoulder. I shook my head to indicate that I did not understand what she was saying, but I sensed that she was referring to other people she knew and was asking for more money. So I reached into my pocket and gave her another 10 peso coin, but she continued to gesture and ask for more. The one thing I picked up was “cien pesos” (100 pesos), which she repeated several times. Then I cowered out and lied to her by saying, “No le entendi,” which means “I don’t understand.” I may not have understood most of what she was saying, but I did understand that she was asking for 100 pesos. So then I reached in my pocket and gave her another 10 peso coin, and told her “Vaya con Dio” (Go with God) and walked away. To her that may have sounded like the empty blessing mentioned by Jesus, the thing he told his disciples not to do; Jesus cautioned his disciples not to refuse help to the poor while telling them “Go and be well fed.”

In my defense, I did think about spreading the 10 peso gifts around, that I did not want to give too much to any one person. However, as I walked along I felt increasingly guilty, and just as my self-flagellation grew more intense I came up behind an older man, hunched over, walking with a cane. His feet seemed swollen and he could barely walk. I reached in my pocket to give him a 20 peso bill, and he raised his head up slightly and with brightened eyes said “gracias.” I also said to him “Vaya con Dio,” but the knowing look he gave me revealed that he knew more about going with God than I will ever know … and that maybe God put him in my path at that moment to be a salve for my soul.


Since I am on a low budget adventure, I decided to forego a taxi ride from the airport to old town Puerto Vallarta, and instead walked out of the airport in search of the nearest bus route. It’s actually fairly easy to get around PV on the bus, and cheap too – only 5 pesos (about 30 cents) for a ride across town.

As I walked down the sidewalk away from the airport, I must have had at least 20 taxi drivers offer to give me a ride. While I appreciated their offer of help, I just kept saying “no gracias” and kept walking. I finally found a bus stop about 5 blocks from the airport.

When we were here in January we learned that the Wal-Mart was midway between the airport and old town, and it is the main transfer point for catching a bus one way or the other. As we approached Wal-Mart, I expected the bus driver to turn into the bus transfer area … but he kept driving past. Immediately I thought about getting up and requesting to get off at the next stop so that I could walk back to the Wal-Mart, but something told me to just go with the flow. I rode along for awhile, and then asked the kids next to me “Hablas Ingles?” (Do you speak Spanish?). They shook their head “No.” Then I walked to the front of the bus and discovered that the bus driver also did not speak English. But as I made my way back to my seat in the back of the bus, a young lady spoke to me in English and asked if I needed help. As divine luck would have it, I just happened to have boarded one of the cross-town busses, and the young lady explained that if I just stayed on this bus it would take me all the way to old town.

She and her husband got of the bus at the next stop, but on queue a gentleman got on and sat in one of the only available seats … at the back of the bus next to me. He spoke to me in English and asked where I was going, and I told him old town and mentioned the name of the street. He said that he was going to work at a hotel, and that I should get off the bus with him because the stop he gets off is near my destination. When we got off he pointed me in the direction I should go, and then said “Adios” and walked away.

I walked about 3 blocks but still did not see my street, so I stopped to pull out a map. Just as I was about to open a map, a man stopped by with his 8 year-old son and asked, “May I help you?” He explained that he likes to walk around old town with his son to help people find their way. I gave him the street address, and I was escorted to my destination by Abel Sr. and Abel Jr. The younger Abel got to keep the tip.

The property management associate was waiting for me, and he gave me a thorough introduction to the property. However, one thing he forgot to show me was the safe, and when I found it I inadvertently turned the lever that locked it. Then I found the “Condo Manual” that explained I should set a passcode before locking the safe. So I called the property management company to explain my predicament, and they said the office was now closed and I would have to wait until Monday. About 30 minutes later I got a call from them saying that someone would be there tomorrow instead. About 30 minutes after that I got a knock on the door, it was the owner of the unit who just happened to be in town from Canada, and he was staying in the unit next to me. He said that he had received an email about my predicament, and promptly opened the safe and gave me a passcode to use.

I love that feeling of wandering along and seeing God in all the people who show up in your life to help you at just the right time. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see God showing up in your life when things seem to be going your way. Faith is the assurance of things un-seen, it’s believing that God has a purpose for your life even when things don’t seem to be going so well … when the row gets tough to hoe.

One last thing for now: Before you get too impressed by my Spanish, last night I went to the supermercado (grocery store) and could not find any associate that spoke English. The bagger knew at least one word, however, for when he was done bagging my groceries, he asked “Taxi?” I said, “No gracias, yo cocino.” He smiled, and I walked away thinking that I was able to communicate one more time in Spanish. However, a few blocks later I realized that I had told him, “No thank you, I am cooking.” No doubt “camino” (walking) would have been a better choice.