June 24, 2018 | Chris Blandford
I wake up to the subtle sounds of promise. Far beyond the outmoded screen windows of our little jungle chantey, I hear hammers driving roofing nails. Hand saws cutting through raw lumber. Masonry chisels chipping stones. Shovels plunging through top soil, moving earth.
I throw on my swimsuit and a t-shirt and head downstairs to make coffee. My two friends—the couple I’m traveling with—are just waking up as well. Our dwelling—booked conveniently on the internet, of course—is beautifully simple. It’s made of stone and wood, capped with a thatch roof and finished with simple openings. The wall studs and ceiling rafters are exposed, revealing the hut’s obvious handmade quality. Mosquito nets drape over the bed frames.
This little Mexican town in which we’re staying is busy, but quiet. Bustling, but slow. I’ve never visited such a place. In recent years, hip foreign tourists have begun herding to this coastal community to experience its flourishing restaurant and retail scenes. The town—by all accounts—is thriving. That said, it’s also technologically primitive. It’s quite cut-off from the rest of the country. There’s electricity, but much of it comes from generators. There’s running water, but it’s not potable. There’s no sewer system. A couple of the small hotels have spotty wifi. The town is a strange mix of peasant and Prada. I’m sure there are some social concerns to be had in reflection of a place like this, but that’s not my interest at the moment.
Right now, I’m noticing something else.
All the development going on, like that outside our windows now, is being done entirely by hand. With actual tools. Hammers and hand saws. Chisels and shovels. No heavy equipment. No power tools. There’s not an air-compressor or jackhammer or circular saw within a hundred miles.
As I boil water for the coffee, the sound of all those hand tools continues to echo through the trees outside. It’s still early, and last night’s Mezcal-induced headache hasn’t yet worn off. I should be finding all of this construction noise off-putting. For some reason, though, all that hammering and sawing and chiseling and digging isn’t annoying at all. It’s natural. It mixes with the chirps of the birds and distant collapsing of the waves, like it belongs. It’s sound, not noise. Men building things. Chatting and laughing while they do so. Making something.
Author's note: I wrote this story while building—ironically—an electric-assist bicycle for myself. You can see the completed bicycle, here.