The Yucatan Yenta
Sisal is an isolated fishing village on the northwest coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
It’s Tough to be Poor
Since we’ve fallen in love with Sisal, the news in the Diario about an angry conflict over land shocked us and we decided to go there to see what was going on. The disagreements are between locals and SEMARNAT, a federal agency. We enlisted the help of our friend Elda, who lives there part-time, to help us check out the situation.
There is a piece of land near the Sisal inlet (where all the fishing boats come in) that is owned by the federal government. Since it has been unused forever, locals have slapped together some block houses on it. They have no running water or electricity, but the houses are shelter. They work on the fishing boats and there is virtually no free land left near there to build houses legally.
Last week, Federal officials came to town and ordered people out of their homes. They said the houses would have to be torn down. The residents responded by “kidnapping” the federal vehicles and becoming angry. They returned the cars at 4 p.m. and the Feds left.
A few hundred yards away is a row of about a dozen tiny block houses (perhaps 700 square feet) built by the Federal government for people who can’t afford to buy a home. They too, lack electricity and water. On the day we drove around, we saw people going into a pumping station and carrying buckets of water out to use in their homes. A tired looking woman told us that they couldn’t get electrical power unless each household ponied up 10,000 pesos (about $8700 USD). This is just about as possible for them as is flying first class to Washington DC.
Today (Monday 12/20) there is a meeting in Merida between Sisal officials and representatives of SEMARNAT to address these housing and land issues. SEMARNAT says that they don’t want houses built on the land for ecological reasons, but apparently the villagers think that is a pile of doo-doo and that the issue has more to do with politics.
Shell Art – Inexpensive, Unique and Beautiful
Juan Renee Lopez Velasco has been making shell jewelry in his house near the Sisal pier for eight years. Before that, he was a fisherman for ten years. There’s a stand outside where the occasional tourist might stop and buy something. Today I bought a ring with a rose on it, made from a conch shell for 70 pesos. And for 35 pesos per pair, I bought earrings for friends in the USA.
Juan’s little stand supports him, his wife, his daughter, his ageing mother, and his three grandchildren who all live in a little green house right in back of his table, steps from the sea. He hunts for shells after nortes (stong weather systems that come from the north). and the whole family helps.
My friend Jessie went a little nuts and bought a “bowl” and fork, several rings, and some great pendants. We went back later, after the usual great lunch at La Palapa, and she bought a necklace of shell rosettes. She and Susan are visiting from Seattle, and they said these were the best gifts they’ve found to take home for friends. (Although they did score a rosary with the chain made of coffee beans in the mercado the other day.)
Juan Lopez does beautiful, tasteful work.
You can find Juan almost every day with his table of wares, near the end of the main drag, a few hundred yards shy of the picturesque pier. He is on the left. If you don’t see him, ask a neighbor to knock on his door (the little green house). He is usually accompanied by several family members.
I was trying to take a picture of my shell rosette bracelet but I was rudely interrupted.