Gone swimming

The next day I woke up after a good sleep and talked with Yolanda and family, and did a bit of house cleaning to help out. I packed my things, thinking that we were going to drive to Puebla that day (they were going to Mexico City to pick up a friend from New York). Margarito was madly trying to finish doing the body work on 2 trucks that had been shipped him from the US. Speaking of the capitalist way, that is how things work – the lowest price wins, even if you have to ship the things to be fixed 3000 miles or more. Their niece was having a birthday and the other families decided to go to La Ceiba, a small town in the tropical area of Xicotepec, in the coffee growing area of Hidalgo near Veracruz. The drive there was frightening (to me), as I am still recovering from a very serious car accident of a year ago. Margarito likes to drive fast, and a mile from our destination his truck started running off the road, and he swerved mightily in the direction of an oncoming car to recover. I reacted fast, my adrenaline soaring and said that I wanted to get out of the car, that I didn’t want to die in Mexico. He said no one was going to die, but I had my doubts.

The arroyo, or river where we were headed, is one of the few clean rivers in the area, according to Ricardo. It was a 2 hour drive from Zacatlan – a scary thought that in an area so clean, that was the closest clean river. Unfortunately, more than a few people were soaping up and bathing in the river, while others drove their trucks across. The appearance of green algae on the sides of the river belied the beginning of nitrification, which may have been initiated by run-off from fertilizer (or assiduous bathers). It was amazing to see the change in vegetation from Zacatlan, at 7500 feet, to the lower tropical zone of La Ceiba, closer to Veracruz and lower in elevation. It’s hot and muggy here, and the landscape is riddled with banana, mandarine, coconut, mango, and chirimoya (guayaba) trees as well as coffee plants in great abundance littering the steep hillsides. I marvelled at the muggy air and was chafing at the bit to explore but out of politeness stayed for hours with the family, floating in the cool waters of the river. Finally I started getting cold and got out. There was an assortment of food, including frijoles, rice, tortillas, tinga (shredded chicken, usually white meat), and a very delicious looking cake.

I was hoping to hear Las Mananitas sung to the little girl, but missed it. After waiting for what seemed like hours, I politely asked if it was okay to go for a walk. Permission granted, I hiked up the river (huge boulder strewn fields) to a soccer field, which I crossed to catcalls from players. I felt particularly tired of standing out, and called out “Que?” (what), and then walked quickly across. The village, which looked to be made up of about 50 families, is situated along the river. I walked a stony path, seeing people at work outside their tin-roofed shacks, some with goats or sheep, others with chickens. I crossed a small stream of very clean water, coming straight from the mountains, and saw a couple filling containers with water. Further on I saw 2 men and a woman sitting outside on a step, and explained to them that I was exploring for a few minutes as a tourist (paseando, which means more than looking – more like conocer, getting to know a place). I figured they problably thought I was a missionary ;> I noticed a 7th day adventist church and marvelled at the trajectory of missionaries – they seem to end up in the most remote places. I pity the indigenous people that have to contend with them. I thought back to Chignahuapan, where I encountered mormon missionaries in one of the most catholic parts of Mexico I have yet encountered.

I continued and finally decided to turn back, as I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. I passed the 3 people sitting outside their door and they called out to me. We started talking, I telling them about my trip, them joking about drinking beer because they won the soccer game. I said that they drink whether they win or lose, and they laughed and nodded. They said they work in the coffee fields, maintaining the plants and harvesting the berries when ripe. They were such kind and lovely people, and told me that if I ever wanted to come back, I was welcome to stay with them. I didn’t want to leave, and at the end of our conversation, they offered me 3 very ripe platanos machos (the kind that you fry). They must have weighed 2 pounds, and I hauled them back to the family, happy to have had such a lovely encounter.

I also discovered a limestone lined pool of sorts, that looked like it had been made for tourists but not finished. There was a swing made out of a large piece of bamboo, which I swang on with pleasure. Finally the family was ready to leave, and we packed up our belongings. Unfortunately, a few trucks weren’t able to get back up the bank on the other side of the river (as in life, people cross, not thinking about the trip back). After many attempts, Margarito and his brother in law made it back up the bank. It was dusk to dark at the point, and I had asked to go home with Ricardo, as I was still very afraid about the near accident earlier that day. We were about to leave when a man asked Margarito to tow his truck up the hill with a rope, as he hadn’t been able to successfully cross the river. He, as all Mexicans seem to be, was very kind, and obliged. As he attempted what seemed like a very dangerous thing (he tied the truck to his toe and gunned the engine with all his might, tires spinning and apparently not making any headway), I looked across the fence and saw fire flies, which I love (muciernagas). It brought back memories my mom and Bob’s renting of a villa in the hills above the Italian riviera, and my discovery of fire flies there as well. I plugged my ears to drown out the excessive tire spinning and engine racing, and drifted into a world like Pan’s Labrynth, magical and surreal.

Finally, we were ready and embarked on the long journey home. There was a truck that was going 5 miles an hour on a 1 lane road, so it took an hour longer than normal to get home. Such is life here. I saw people riding their bikes or walking on the very busy road, some carrying bananas, others parcels. I marvelled at the small shacks along the road, some located on hillsides, others tucked into glens. I enjoyed the ride home, talking with Ricardo’s son about physics, Einstein, Tesla, astronomy. It was a challenge trying to explain my ideas in Spanish, but we were able to communicate.

Home and sleep. I awoke the next day with the expectation of getting a ride to Puebla with Yolanda and Margarito. I waited a few hours, then asked whether I could head downtown and call in an hour to check in. I did so and Yolanda didn’t know when we would leave. Of course, Movistar (the cell phone company that I have) decided to repair their network and so there was no signal. I had to pay people to use their phones to call the house. I did this 3 times, and in the meantime went to the Casa Marquez (named after a man who fought in the Battle of Cinco de Mayo so valiently that Porfirio Diaz later decided to name Zacatlan in his honor). This was the house where the poetry presentation had been held. As I took a look around, a tall, kindly gentleman welcomed me and asked me if I wanted to see the upstairs.

I replied yes and he proceeded to give me a tour of his mother and grandmother’s home (!). I took pictures of the original dining table, furniture, as he told me the history of the house and his family. He even showed me his mother’s bedroom. I have seen the inside of perhaps one other casona or hacienda, and none that had preserved the contents so effectively. He was very kind and gave me a card. I asked whether the government helped to support places like his, and he said no. He was heading back to Mexico City and comes back to open the house for the weekends. He sponsors many events there, I’m guessing for free, while others probably pay to use it for weddings and such. I felt honored and lucky to have seen it, and thanked him and the universe for such a rare and special treat. I then went to my favorite cafe, El Che, and had a latte and read a literary magazine about Octavio Paz’ Nobel Prize in literature and other worldly matters.

I was lucky to get a 10 minute peek at the regional museum, which is normally closed on Mondays. I had tried to see it 3 times during normal hours but the woman was gone, and I knew I’d be in Puebla Tuesday. I particularly liked the pre-hispanic figurines and remains from the area near Las Paredones, where I had the good fortune to discover (including the fertility stone, which is still onsite).

Late in the day, around 6:30pm, Yolanda told me that they were not going afterall due to a bent axle (payment for their kindness in towing the truck out of the river), and that I could catch a bus from the station. A 1 hour car trip is a 2.5 hour bus trip. She accompanied me to the station and I reluctantly left Zacatlan. I wasn’t thinking clearly, otherwise I could have moved to a hotel or cabana (I’d scoped out a few nice ones, sort of like camping in the countryside). I had one last goodbye with Maria Concepcion, Luis’ mother, the Argentinian owner of Empanadas El Che, and my one-armed friend who wanted me to build a factory a few days before leaving Zacatlan. He exhorted me to return for their 2 week ferria featuring lots of big acts (mostly singers) performing in an area just outside of town. There’s controversy about whether they should continue to have all the acts in the Zocolo, even though it’s really crowded.

Bleary-eyed, I got into Puebla, took a municipal bus from CAPU, and walked to the hostel, arriving at 10pm. Unfortunately, all the dorms were full, and the only room left was expensive and literally 5 meters from the very busy street with doors that didn’t close. So I was awake all night, and in the morning decided to leave for Ixtapaluca that evening. I wanted to see Los Fuertes (the museum of Guadalupe) after watching the movie about the Battle of Cinco De Mayo. Unfortunately, while I was in the cathedral (I made a last trip to the cathedral and the Capilla del Rosario, guilded in gold), I had a very severe bout of diarrhea, a reminder of the borrega borracho incident. I walked as well as I could back to the hostel, took a shower (my room was still available as it was just 12pm), and changed clothing, then headed to Los Fuertes.

The building of the museum incorporates the iglesia de guadalupe, which is the only remaining building. The museum was informative and gave me a better idea of what happened before and leading up to the battle. Afterward I wandered up to the regional museum for the state of Puebla, and took lots of photos. There were a lot of pre-hispanic remains, as well as a lot of material from the Christian Era and regional festivals. I particularly loved the carnval masks and costumes. I then wandered up to the interactive cinco de mayo museum but it had just closed, so I enjoyed the dancing fountain (changes patterns to classical music).

I headed back to town and met Daniel at the hostel. He is a musician that I met in Puebla before, and a very kind person. He was just returning from 8 hours of teaching back to back classes in jazz guitar. I was hungry and wanted to try a cemita before I left, so we walked to the market where we’d walked with Fernando 2 Sundays before. Sadly the place had just closed (7pm is the witching hour for markets, as well as mom and pop restaurants). We walked toward the bus stop, and I saw another place and ordered a milanesa (fried chicken sandwich with all the usual cemita trimmings: onion, chile, avocado, melted cheese). Daniel and I talked, then we took the bus to CAPU. I really appreciated him accompanying me, and as it happened, I just caught the last bus at 8:30pm.

I love looking out the window on the bus. It’s one way for me to see a lot of countryside quickly. Because of the rain and milanesa, however, I was unable to do so. Ruben, the father of my friend in Mexico, suggested that I disembark at the casetta San Marcos where he met me. I was happy to see him again and we walked on muddy rutted paths through a field to his car, and home. Exhausted, I fell asleep and slept well, though not as long as I would have liked. Sleep deprivation seems to be an ongoing challenge for me here. Between being awaken by noisy trucks and cars, hard beds, dorm rooms with people coming and going, I look forward to an appointment with lincoln, blinkin, and nod.

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