Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Crabs & Squatters

Ibis had yesterday off and we spent the afternoon driving around town and just hanging out. He works so many hours that it's been almost a year since we had an afternoon to just be with each other. After one little errand (our toilet paper holder fell apart a couple days ago) we drove to Ixtapa to get ice cream. Then we walked out to the beach.

Zihuatanejo has a bay, but Ixtapa is a straight beach and gets pounded by bigger waves. I'd say they were between 8-10 feet high, so we stuck to the shore. While standing there we noticed little crabs popping out of their holes and scurrying around in the sand. They disappear amazingly fast, but before I could stop him, Ibis tore after a particularly large one. I looked around, wondering where my grown husband went. All I saw was a ten-year old boy chasing crabs.

He managed to catch one - it didn't pinch him, even when he started playing with its eyes - and we got an up close look at yet another local creature. After a few minutes he put the crab back in the sand, then chased it all over again. I crouched down to watch the sand because every few minutes at least ten crabs would spring to the surface, scramble around, then vanish back into their holes. Very cool.

Next we drove to the opposite end of town, towards the airport, for dinner. Along the way we passed almost 100 cars parked along the highway. They were on both sides of the road, and there were also several police trucks. My first thought was they were searching for a missing person, but then we noticed a lot of them had shovels and long pieces of wood.

"They're squatters," Ibis declared.

My knowledge of squatters is they move into abandoned buildings and claim them for their own. Parking along the side of the highway didn't fit into that equation. But he went on to explain that occasionally people get together, and as a group, pick out a piece of government land to claim for their own. They offer a small amount of money (we're talking a couple hundred dollars), then set up their homes.

It all seemed very organized - the police were mainly keeping people on the shoulder of the road since they were on the HIGHWAY. I'm curious to see what the papers report and if they actually got to take the land.


Janna Qualman said...

Interesting situation with the squatters. So that's done often down there?

And how funny to imagine a 10yo Ibis running amok on shore. :D

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, I think it happens often enough that he knew what was going on. The hills that surround the town are mostly uninhabited, but some people build small shacks and live without utilities, etc, in the hopes that someday it will be theirs. They recently kicked a bunch of people out of one area because their "waste" was running down the hill into other neighborhoods and the canals.

Yes, he was having a ball. :D

ac said...

Funny. The mention of squatters is in my WIP. That's how my grandfather came to own one thousand acres of land in Puerto Rico. He didn't pay a dime for it, tho. He just staked the land.

Years later many of my family members built homes on property that wasn't technical thiers. A few years ago, everyone received the deed to their plot.

That is after much killing and family in fighting.

The above info served as a muse for portions of my WIP.

I can't wait till I finish the nonfiction book that is under contract and get back to editing Mija.

Rachel Burton said...

Sounds like a lovely day! And some of the squatters in Peru would build their tiny shacks literally one brick or salvaged piece of wood at a time over the course of months or years. There is so much we take for granted here.

Melanie Avila said...

AC, that's so interesting to me that your family has lived this. We know several people who have family members who've staked property not far above our place, and one of Ibis' coworkers wants to do the same thing.

Good luck finishing up and getting back to the fiction - it sounds fascinating!

Melanie Avila said...

Rachel, same here. It's amazing to me how much we take for granted in the US. I think back to a couple apartments we looked at that I thought were "awful", but compared to some of the living conditions here they were mansions! I'm so glad I've had this perspective in my life.

WendyCinNYC said...

Isn't Ixtapa a government-sponsored planned resort town? What happens when/if developers (or the government itself) decides that's a great place for golf course or resort? Do they have a claim to the land?

Melanie Avila said...

Wendy, I was just reading some things yesterday about the founding of Ixtapa. Did you know the government established two "tourist destinations" at the same time? The other was Cancun.

Ixtapa and Zihua are not the same place - they're about 5km apart - and I don't think people can squat over there. It's much fancier and the government seems to have a closer role in managing the city. Now, that's just my observation, I don't know if it's true, but they spend a lot of time to keep it appealing to foreign tourists.

The land beyond Ixtapa - both between there and Zihua and the surrounding areas - is more open and I'd say susceptible to squatting.

Melanie Avila said...

Oh, a personal story - one of Ibis' coworkers squatted in the building we now live in before it was finished.

ac said...


My mom calls the land my grandfather staked "The Devil's Playground" - which is the original title of Mija.

Lots of murders occurred on that property. The last was in 2000.

I'd love to write about the true happenings in that place but fear my life and that of my parents would be in danger. Who knows, when my uncle (who's only 5' ft'' and very dangerous) dies I may write about it.

Melanie Avila said...

AC, that's just crazy. I know things like that happen but to have it so close to your family. I agree that waiting til certain people have passed might be safe.

spyscribbler said...

Playing with its eyes???

Um, what does that mean, LOL?!

That's fascinating about the squatters. Kinda cool. I wish I could find a place as cheap as that!

Melanie Avila said...

Ha, Spy. I'm cracking up that you're the only one who commented on that. I was sure it'd spark an outrage.

These crabs have eyes that stick out from their body on little... appendages. Kind of like the crab in The Little Mermaid. In fact, I think it's the same type of crab. Ibis calmed the thing enough that he was able to touch the eyes (gently) and watch it lower them against his body.

His shell had little indents that the eyes fit into perfectly, so Ibis just encouraged him to demonstrate.

Turkey Lurkey said...

Wow.. another interesting look at how things are done in Mexico.

I actually enjoy catching sand crabs for the munchkins to look at. They tickle you hands when you scoop them up. :)

Melanie Avila said...

Turkey, I'll have to take your word on that. :)

colbymarshall said...

Hm...and here I thought "squatters" had something to do with peeing in the bushes :-)

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, given the terrain and lack of running water, I think both definitions apply here.

Robin said...

OK, who wouldn't play with a crab's eye stalks if they had the chance? I mean, I would! Hello?

Actually, I find the thought of all those crabs scurrying around horrifying. It's like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. What if they decided to eat you? I would have run to the squatters for help.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, I couldn't believe how CALM the thing was (well, after Ibis chased it all over Mexico, dropped it a couple times, then clamped it inside a finger cage). He just sloooowly lowered his eyes, then popped them back up.

Having many of them scurrying about was freaking me out a bit. I kept imagining them realizing that they could take me if they joined forces. Ugh, can you imagine having to run over them? *shudders*

Most of them were teeny tiny, but some were as big as the palm of my hand. Well, again, Ibis' hand, lol.

Robin said...

Oh, man. Just hearing that gives me shudders. They damn well could have joined forces! Don't ever go there again. Promise!

Rick said...

The crab and the squatters hd something in commorn - scurrying about for a home.

Allen said...

We had squatters here in Virginia. It all started when my ancestors were hanging out at the beach and along the bay. One day, a group of squatters came along in a few boats and simply grabbed the first piece of land they could find.

My ancestors thought, "Well, its just Jamestown. What harm could that few people cause?"

Later, they helped them by giving them food. Next, they offered to help with shelter and gave them a guide.

Next thing you know, they took everything. Well, except the 300 hundred acres next to the trash dump.

I can't wait until the squatters' government recognizes the land as belonging to the actual owners. I'll bet we have the best casinos in town.

"You stole our land. We give you poverty and a tobacco addiction."

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, lol.

Rick, I hadn't thought of that but you make an excellent point. I love it when two seemingly random ideas come together.

Allen, omg, what an awesome comparison!

WendyCinNYC said...

"Did you know the government established two "tourist destinations" at the same time? The other was Cancun."

I learned that when we visited Riveria Maya last year. Did you know "Cancun" was Mayan for "snake pit?"

Melanie Avila said...

I did not know that, very interesting... and perhaps telling of some of the people there. You know, like guys who prey on drunk girls, nothing else.