After my mocha, I put my giant pack on my back in search of Yolanda Sanchez Reyes, a kind lady who offered me a place to stay a few days earlier. Unfortunately the phone # she left me was incorrect, and she didn’t leave me a street address, only the general area. I knew her name and the fact that she has a “tienda” (small store), nothing more. I walked the entire avenue asking after her, with no results. I was about to give up when a store owner told me that she lived further up the hill in a green house. Directions are usually given in a vague manner here: “a la vuelta” (around the corner) can mean 10 blocks, and “adelante” (ahead) can be 1 mile. Also, people will say that they know something with certainty when they have no idea. I pressed on, up the hill, and asked again, finally in the neighborhood. I found the green house and rang the bell. A reluctant young woman answered, and explained that her aunt Yolanda was away and wouldn’t be back for several days. As it had started to rain, I felt a bit desperate, and asked whether it was possible to call her and ask her if I could stay. As I didn’t have a correct number, I was dependent on her assistance. Luckily she complied, and soon Yolanda told her that it was fine for me to stay. I spoke with her briefly as well, telling her that I’d left several messages with her daughter but hadn’t heard back.
Yanelle and Enrique let me in and we put my things upstairs, away from the yappy snack dogs, as a good friend liked to refer to small dogs. After some formalities, I showed Enrique a puzzle I have on the computer, and he impatiently started to try to solve it. We did several together, then I bid them farewell, heading off once again towards Tetempla (the countryside). Of course, it started to rain within 15 minutes of my departure, and within 30 seconds my shoes and bottom of my pants were soaked. I took refuge under a small awning, using my umbrella as a protective shield against the slanting rain. After 30 minutes I tired of waiting and struck off on the dirt road now more a river than a camino. I walked and walked, heading down the hill where I found a small chapel with the words Corpus Christi on the facade and a small village. I bought an elote (corn on the cob) and some pan (bread) from various vendors, and wandered down various lanes, some alongside corn fields, others lined with trees (these are few – people cut most of the trees for wood). I’m still curious to find out about ejidos, collectively guarded forests which supposedly are the most effective way to keep the trees from being cut illegally. I’ve been told that ejidos still exist, but don’t know where.
I fell in love with Zacatlan. I’m writing this from Puebla and wishing I were back there. Friday I went to Chignahuapan for their ferria, the procession of the caballeros (horseback riders) and dancers through the streets from Iglesia Santa Honguita to the main church in Chignahuapan. I practically ran to Santo Honguito (saint little mushroom that grows in the woods), whose saint day is July 25 (the day of the ferria). On this day, every year, there is a peregrinacion (procession) of Santo Santiago del Campo (a farmer and horseback rider) popular with many campesinos and caballeros. As I ran to the site, I was passed by men and boys on horseback carrying cornstocks with “elotes”, corn on the cob. While the actual procession only took about 20 minutes, it was proceeded by 1 1/2 hours of mass, outdoors, while impatient horses stomped, bucked, and occasionally kicked fellow parade goers. Meanwhile, masked monster-like creatures bearing whips (cracking them at regular intervals) made a ring around the colorful dancers wearing sombreros ringed with ribbons of every color. I snapped tons of photos and a few films of the procession. I got called “la gringa” (a bit embarrassing), but that was the point of the “huehueys”, representing viejitos (elders). Many of them had various taxadermied animals on their persons: minks, racoons, mice. They would ask females to pet their animals and then act like the animals were alive. I don’t understand the symbolism of these characters nor the dances, but they appeared to be clowns of sorts, making fun of the crowd and of eachother. They ended up entertaining the crowd from the start (10am) till 5 or 6pm. I found out that the people playing these characters were friends and came from a town called Pueblo Nuevo, near Zacatlan.
I saw my little friends Brenda and Mario, who were prominent in the parade, along with their dad riding in a horse-drawn carriaage with statue of Santiago. Following the dancers and hueyhueys came the horseback riders, who were impressive. Many carried corn stalks, some of which were eaten by hungry (or just ornery) horses. One stallion was particularly impressive – much bigger than the others and kicking like a horse in a rodeo show. I practically tripped on people as I followed or skirted the parade – Mexicans in general saunter, particularly women. It’s annoying when you’re trying to get somewhere, as they also will take up the entire sidewalk and rarely move out of the way. As a result, I was often jumping onto the street to pass people, while similtaneously avoiding oncoming cars (coming from both directions) as well as delapidated streets riddled with holes and other dangers. It’s always a challenge here, and if one momentarily falls asleep on the job, woe to you. I almost sprained my ankle daily, and it has become second nature for me to watch my feet as I walk.
After the procession, there was of course another mass. The priest’s assistant had to break up the entertainment, since everyone was watching the hueyhueys vaulting over one another and falling on the cobblestones like Jackie Chan rather than attending mass. I am tired of the religiosity here, of people crossing themselves whenever they pass a church, temple, or chapel (even when they are on the bus, driving, on bicycles), removing their hats for outdoor mass in the blasting sun, forgetting that their indigenous ancestors built these churches for the friars, and continue to support them with their measly earnings. I have found out that the minimum wage differs in each state of Mexico, and that it is lowest in Puebla (2.50 USD/day). The couple with whom I had gone to Tetela a few days earlier, particularly the wife, was quite concerned when I said I was not religious. She visibly moved away from me, was much less warm, and asked me whether I at least believe in god. Under pressure, I said I believe in anima, in the living spirit of the planet. I don’t think that went over well.
I spent the rest of the day at the ferria – there was comida tipica (local food), dulces (sweets of the region, especially ground coconut with sugar), fruit (I love the cut up papaya, mango, watermelon that they cut up a sell for 80 cents with lime and chili powder on top). I wandered, darted the heavy rain pelting down (comes like clockwork at 5 or 6pm and sometimes lasts hours, but more often 20 minutes). Tired after a long day, I returned to Zacatlan on the combi and stopped by Luis and his mother Maria Concepcion before returning to the house of Yolanda and Margarito Sanchez. I asked to switch rooms, as I didn’t sleep the night before because of a smashed window in Jason’s bedroom (Yolanda’s son). I wondered how he’s able to sleep, as I was using earplugs and even with those was unable to sleep.
Saturday I spent the morning talking with Yolanda about colleges for her kids. I emailed her daughter Nicole a link to a website describing free or economic universities in Europe. We had a lovely breakfast of blueberry (they grow here!) pancakes, and I drank my yerba santa tea. We went for a bike ride (Nicole, Margarita, Enrique, and Pinky, the dog who thought she could) – I took them on a tour of Tlatempa, a beautiful area of corn fields and trees in the rural area of Zacatlan. I thought we were going to have to carry Pinky home – we tried giving her water but she wouldn’t drink it until we splashed it on her face. As usual it wasn’t a walk in the park to go on a bike ride. We were acosted by several motorcylcists and crazy drivers, and I thought I’d have to return with the bad news that one of the kids (or the dog) had been hit by a car. Too much responsibility. I don’t want to be a parent in the US, let alone Mexico. No wonder people have so many kids – security in case one gets killed under an oncoming bus.
We walked for hours in Piedras Encimadas, or rather climbed, as there are tens of natural rock sculptures. Ricardo told me about the politics of Mexico now, the selling of Tehotihuacan to Americans (!?), and other sad stories about the privatization of Mexico. As if on cue, the fog started rolling in at around 5:30pm, when we got back to the car. Concepion wanted me to try lamb (mixote/barbacoa), and so we stopped at a small palapa, where the man told us of the variety of corn that he tended (blue corn, strawberry corn, etc). I ate 2 tacos and then had consumme, and immediately regretted it. I felt like I had a knife in my stomach. By the evening I was vomitting everything I had eaten, and ended up plagued by diarrhea for the next 5 days. I dragged myself down to the zocalo for a lovely poetry reading/story telling/theater presenation organized by Sergio, a lovely man who works for Casa de Cultura in Zacatlan. He is a treasure. Unfortunately I missed a few hours, but enjoyed the rest, including being asked to speak (in Spanish as usual) about my view of Zacatlan. I talked about the importance of preserving the water and keeping trees from being cut in one of the few areas of Mexico, the Sierra Norte, where trees can get big if left to their own devices.
One of the participants invited me to join her in the morning (Sunday) for an event, but I declined, as I was pretty wiped out. On the way back to Yolanda’s that night, I happened to walk by the Museo del Reloj at 9pm and got to see the munecos dance to regional music. It was very picturesque – a doll dressed in the regional costume of 8 Mexican states danced to regional music, preceded by an appearance by the founder of the clock factory. Lots of lights and colors, very colorful. They offered a free flashlight tour afterwards, and I went for a few minutes, but my stomach was hurting something awful. So reluctantly I made it home and got really sick. It took me a week to recover from the “borrega borracha” (drunk lamb).