An Old Trip to Mexico 2006

July 27, 2006                            


Stoic Gringa Meets the Aztec God of War 

As I boarded the plane in Memphis I was unsure what I was going to do or how I was going to handle the whole trip. With very little planning and a tinge of uncertainty of what was to come, I bought my tickets a week before with only the knowledge that I needed to go. My doctorate advisors wanted me to travel to both Mexico City and San Cristóbal de Las Casas to get a better feel for whatever the hell it was that I was planning to do with my dissertation. For me the thought of Mexico City was a scary prospect. So I entered the plane at Memphis, Starbucks in hand, with a touch of fear and heavy feeling of melancholy. I was tired and was a gringa traveling alone to a strange city.

Any time you travel somewhere, anywhere, I believe that you are altered slightly. Places and people leave impressions with you and with any luck you in turn leave an impression. At the time, little did I realize the truth in this statement.

My connection in Houston proved to be more than switching planes. Sometimes the cosmos aligns and chaos theory suspends long enough to allow people to meet. Of course we often miss those moments and then the cosmos offers us another chance… hence why you sometimes see people that you don’t know over and over again, but never know why. In this case, a chance meeting would prove fortuitous.

I was mentally okay for the flight to Mexico City, but when the plane began to land and as I looked out over the expanse that is Mexico City my body went into shock. I was for sure that I was going to hyperventilate and pass out on the plane. I seriously thought about just getting off of the plane and boarding one back home immediately. I said to myself (as I talk to myself often), “Autumn, this may just be one of the crazier things that you’ve done. Either you are incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.!” I chose to be brave.

Luckily, chance pushed and the immigration lines were unbelievably short and that is when Huitzilopochtli offered to be my guide.

To be continued…

If This is a Dream, Then Don’t Wake Me

The smell of tacos on the street near the airport called to me like a snake charmer. Had Spanish music been playing at that moment I just may have floated away towards the origin of the scent. As we sped past a taco stand I exclaimed, ¨Damn that smells good! ¨ Huitzilopochtli replied, ¨You have no idea. ¨

My introduction to the Centro of Mexico City was a rapid cab ride filled with political conversation between Huitzilopochtli and the cab driver. Of course I only understood bits and pieces, which didn’t really matter, I was like a kid in a candy storewide eyed and fascinated with my new surroundings. We passed parks, statues, and multitudes of the little green VW cabs that all tourists are warned against, sky scrappers and people everywhere. Traditional inner-city Latin American houses painted brightly were tucked in between modern buildings belying the anachronism that is Mexico City – old and modern smashed in together.

As we sped down Madero and crossed Avenue Reforma in the distance I could see the Catedral Nacional. Huitzilopochtli leaned in and said; ¨This is my favorite moment when I return to Mexico City every summer… Seeing the Zocalo for the first time. ¨

My body exploded with excitement as we turned into the Zocalo. I had long dreamt of this moment. The place where all of Mexico comes to make their voices heard, the heart of the political machine, and the place of the ancient past where the Spanish had entered the Aztec capital, a place of possible peace, but more often violence at least historically speaking. This was the vision that I had longed to see for years but was too trepidations to make happen. And now I was finally here. My pilgrimage had just begun.

The Zocalo is massive. It can and did hold a couple million people while I was there. Enclosed in colonial buildings and flanked by far more ancient structures, the Zocalo is a sight to behold. In the not too distant past the Zocalo was a park of sorts, but is now solid concrete making the view perfect for political rallies. A flagpole and an enormous Mexican flag anchor the square. Traffic moves in a one-way circle around the Zocalo flowing past the National Palace, the cathedral (which is sinking on one side), a grand hotel, and the senate building if I remember correctly. On that day the Zocalo was filled with people, cars, cabs, political activists, booths, Aztec dancers, venders, and signs protesting the recent credulous elections. To me it was very much alive, however I know that it was just a normal day. On other days the Zocalo would and could become electric. Huitzilopochtli was impressed when I told him that the beauty of the Zocalo reminded me in some ways of the Piazza San Marco in Venice. However, I maintain that the Zocalo is even more impressive.

To be continued…

Mexico City, Here I am

Thus far in my travels I had yet to stay in a hostel. Against much parental protests I decided to stay in a hostel in Mexico City. And I must say on this call I was right. After a far amount of wandering around, Huitzilopochtli located my hostel on the backside of the cathedral in the Zocalo — uncomplicatedly named Mexico City Hostel. It was a safe place secured by a gate. I had requested a private room for my first experience in such a place. I am glad that I did because they generously gave me a room with a balcony that overlooks the street that led into the far end of the Zocalo. I must admit that there are few feelings as grand as standing on a second story balcony that opens onto a view of the Zocalo where below people are hurrying by, venders are selling everything from food to music, and all the scary green taxis line up to take locals from one place to another. The sights and smells are amazing. Latin music booms from below and you feel alive. As I slept with my balcony doors open, I woke to a variance of noises and tunes every morning. One morning I was jarred awake to the sounds of someone screaming ¨Puta madre!!!¨And another morning I was awoken to the music of Extreme´s ¨More than words.” How grand.

I weaved my way through the vendors in front of the National Cathedral and wandered a bit above the Templo Mayor, which is located to the right of the cathedral if you are looking straight on. The ruins are an awe-inspiring sight. To think they were only rediscovered in 1980 when the city was digging more tunnels for the metro in pretty incredible considering that the ruins at one time had been taller than the cathedral itself. I stared at the remnants of the city of Tenoch, the city that Cortez and his small band of not so merry, hairy, and most definitely smelly men encountered and conquered. Stones from Tenochititlan were removed to build not only the cathedral but also the new Spanish city that would become Mexico City. The grandeur of the area with all of its modern vendors selling wares and remembrances to that earlier time is powerful in its celebrations and lamentations.

I want to take a moment to comment on the cleanliness of the Centro. I was told that a great amount of man power goes into keeping the area clean, which is amazing considering the astonishing number of people that move in and out of the Centro area in one day. When you juxtaposition the Centro with some of the areas that surround it you understand just how really clean it is. Areas that backup onto the Centro are piled with rubbish and are ripe with the smell of urine. But like New Orleans and its pungent smell of trash, horse pooh, and human urine it all adds to the ambience of the area. However, I greatly appreciated the tidiness of the Centro and that the smells of pastor and tacos were not overridden by the smell of garbage and human waste.

My walk through the Zocalo was exciting as I ventured between crowds of protesters yelling loudly into microphones, Zapatista booths, and vendors selling candy and t-shirts. I stopped for a long while and watched the Aztec dancers. Scantly clad in loincloths it seemed that their head were covered more than their bodies. As they bent over nothing was left to the imagination. Large elaborate headdresses were decorated with quetzal feathers, shells and beads. Drumbeats and the shells and small gourds on the legs added counterpoint punctuated their dances. An older man quickly noticed my interested and introduced himself as a curandero and the leader of the group. As we tried to speak in Spanish over the music and the megaphone nearby I found out that he was well traveled and had performed healing rituals all over Europe. At his insistence I talked with one of the members of the dance troupe, a Zoque Indian from Chiapas who spoke a little English. Of the bunch, I was for sure that I was the only one who had a full set of healthy teeth, which isn´t saying a great deal considering my love of sweets. Anyhow it was a good time, interesting conversation and a great opportunity for photo opts. After I graciously declined a dinner invitation at the grand hotel nearby I moved onto a booth that was manned by the Communist students from the UNAM. At this booth I talked with the students partly in English and partly in Spanish and tried to get their take on the recent election and Marcos´ participation in the Zocalo in the previous week. Interestingly enough they were skeptical of Marcos and his intentions. I contributed to their effort by purchasing a t-shirt for a protest with a large hammer and sickle at the top. The shirt is a little tight, but nonetheless an interesting topic of conversation.

Next, in a strange turn of events I met a guy who was suspiciously scanning the crowd in the Zocalo. After he inquired about my interest in the protesting he offered to show me around the Centro. I needed a little nudging so he flashed his government badge and promised me that he worked with security and that I would be fine. I decided ¨what the hell¨and went. Jorge showed me more of the Zocalo, the point at which Cortez met Montezuma, the Bella de Artes building, Garibaldi square, a bar called La Opera where Pancho Villa shot bullets holes on horse back while screaming ¨Viva Mexico!¨ and much to my delight Tlateloco. He was a great tour guide as he told me history that I didn’t know and explained where the government had stationed soldiers on top of the church in Tlateloco and the surrounding buildings to pick off the student protesters in 1968, a terrible moment in Mexican history.

During our walk, I found out that Jorge was an intelligence agent for the government. His job was to gather information on dissidents and political agitators and report back to the government. Like a 1950s spy novel, Jorge roamed around Mexico City taking photos of people and writing down their words. I believe at one point I (possibly naively) exclaimed ¨You are the enemy! You are a government informant! You perpetuate the suppression of free speech by informing on people!¨ I told him how ironic it was that I was walking around drinking coffee with him. I was slightly uncomfortable out of principle and strangely interested in his work and knew that I would work this fella and his work into my lectures one day.

After getting wedged between two large Mexicans on the city bus, we walked home through some seedier areas to get back to the Centro.

To be continued…

The View from atop is Grand, Especially with a Twisted Ankle

Life can be grand and so bizarre at the same time. For my second day in Mexico City I decided to ride the bright red doubledecker bus to get the mega tour of the city. The British type bus promised 24 stops in all for 180 pesos. Riders could jump on and off all day long (or atleast until 9pm) or they could just spend the day on the bus admiring the view from atop as the bus wound its way through all of the barrios. The cool thing about the bus was it came with headphone that could be plugged into the seat. Choose your language and you get a full history of Mexico City and its buildings. Traveling the full length of Reforma one gets a sense that you´ve stepped out of Mexico City and into France slightly. I remember reading that Porfirio Diaz created this street in the likeness of the Champs l´Eyse in Paris. I would believe it to be partially true. Having never been to Paris, me I just accepted it to be a close likeness. Lined with palm and other older trees the street was punctuated with the occasional statue to important people in Aztec and Mexican history, including a massive structure dedicated to the Mexican Revolution. Initially designed to be a train stop constructed was halted during the Mexican Revolution. Once things quieted down the structure became a memorial to the Revolution. Today there is a traffic circle that surrounds it.

My stop of preference for this trip was the anthropology museum. I had read that this museum was not only the largest anthropology museum in all of Latin America, but also the best in regards to artifacts and presentation. I was stunned. It was magnificent. It is situated around an enormous inner plaza and is presented in order of history and finally by ethnicity. The first room is a fantastic telling of human history full of skeletons of early man and interactive TVs explaining evolution. I was impressed and wished that my anthropology classes could see this room. That room made my job almost obsolete. After that the rooms told the history through artifacts of the Olmecs, the Toltecs, the Mixteca, the Aztecs, various indigenous groups from Central Mexico and Oaxaca and finally the Maya groups. Of course all of the stone workings were fantastic to admire, even the reproductions, but the crème de la crème was the Aztec Calendar stone. It was HUGE! I spent about 4 hours hobbling around on what I thought was a sprained ankle. By the end my foot was throbbing, but I was nonetheless a happy camper.

As I came outside to sit and rest my pulsing ankle, a student from Cornwall came up to me with a survey. He was doing museum studies and wanted to know what my profession was and what I thought of the museum, if it was any good. I told him that I was an ethnohistorian in training and the museum f#@king rocked.

Outside of the museum the voladores from El Tajin were flying. I had seen slide photos of the voladores that my parents had taken back in 1968 when they had driven through the coastal region of Mexico, but had never seen them myself. Clad in brightly colored attire and yellow pointed hats with ribbons of yellow, red and blue, the voladores tied themselves with rope and proceeded to climb the very tall pole. Five in total, the men scampered their way to the top. As one man sat on the top of the pole the other four wound the rope around their waists and balanced themselves backwards preparing to jump off. The man sitting on the pole played a merry tune on his flute as the other four threw themselves backwards off the top of the pole. Tied to rope, not bungee cord, the flyers slowly swung around the pole in perfect formation to the tune of the flute. They swung upside down with one leg extended and the other bent making a 4. The audience watched quietly in awe, me included. The whole process was very peaceful. The only sounds other than the flute was the occasional vender pushing his car by filled with dulces. They swung a lot slower than I had anticipated in fact it took about 20 minutes for them to reach the bottom. A dizzying feat since the rope was exactly long enough to bring the men to the bottom with only the tips of their hats touching the ground.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon riding the bus around town. We drove through a really upscale neighborhood where the streets were lined with Tiffany & Co. as well as other outrageously expensive stores. I made a mental note not to return to that part of town. I unfortunately opted not to visit the castle because of my ankle. I´ll do that next time. I figured I needed to recoup some. However, the top of the bus was blazing hot and I occasionally fell asleep to the rocking of the bus and woke just as I was about to fall over into the aisle.

I found myself around 5pm sitting on my balcony in the hostel overlooking the street. What a fantastic time of day to watch people leaving work picking up things in the shops as they headed where ever it was they were going. The sounds of music, people talking, and the smells of ice cream and pastor were tantalizing.

At 6pm I had a coffee with Jorge from intelligence. He arrived on time, which is unusual for Mexicans. UI had no idea that this was a ‘date’. I hobbled down the street as he told me that he wanted to take me dancing. I told him this was impossible, of course I tried to explain this in Spanish because he spoke almost no English. Obviously, my motions and hand gestures was of little matter to him.

My introduction to the metro (the subway) in Mexico City was an experiment similar to stuffing circus clowns into a vw bug. How many people can fit in the car before the subway door eats you. Plastered against the window like cockroaches, we laughed at ourselves and everyone else. Next I found myself in a grocery store in the barrio of Chapultepec buying a beer. I joked with Jorge and I exclaimed, ¨Why did you bring me back to Chapultepec, it took me two hours to get out of Chapultepec today on the double-decker bus!¨ Earlier in the day I seriously thought I was never going to make it back to my hostel before sunset.

Our date consisted of him bringing me to an office party. It was a party for parents in the office in which he worked. It was full of people who worked in immigration and in security. I had a feeling that he thought that I didn’t believe him when he said that he worked for the government; even though he had flashed every piece of ID he owned the previous day.

The main event for the party was to be a dance competition. Being the only gringa in the place, I was a little worried about shaking my booty. Stuffing my face with tacos, I politely insisted that I couldn’t dance tonight and again pointed to my ankle. At which point he seemed just satisfied that I was there with him. Mainly because men from across the room kept giving him the thumbs up as they pointed to me. We sat and talked politics as we watched his middle-aged office mates cut a rug. They were all fantastic salsa dancers and I felt completely inept. So I turned conversation to his work and his thoughts on the rebellion. Before we left the party Jorge wanted me to understand that the government for his silence had paid off Marcos and he insisted that he could provide me with proof.

As we walked back to the metro after the party, I tried to explain that I was very tired, slightly injured and just wanted to go to sleep. He begged to give him just two more hours. I conceded. The metro late in the evening wasn’t as crowded, however a woman hovered over me staring at my eyes and fair skin color. I had experienced this before, but still it was nonetheless unnerving.

Over dinner at the obligatory Sanborns, we discussed politics more. All in all it was a fascinating evening as I witnessed my first entry into average Mexican culture. By the end of the dinner Jorge had convinced me to let him rub my aching foot as we sat on a bench next to the metro. Somewhere between my foot massage and him saying that he’d like to bite my toes, I believe he asked me to marry him. It was at that point that I went home, alone and went to sleep.

To be continued…

Good Music and Passed Out Mexicans (A brief interlude in this writing process)

*point at which the author wishes to break the time space continuum in the telling of said travels and interject some tidbits of interest — well at least interest to me*

One would think that there is a distinct connection between a fun musical experience and being passed out drunk in the mud. Usually one can find instances where this so, however for this blog I simply want to talk about music and being passed out as separate subjects. ¿But it got your attention, no?

I come to Mexico for several reasons. One of the reasons (and possibly the best) is to experience the music. Here the music is alive with a hot and sweaty pulse. It pumps, it grinds, it sashays, it cha-chas, and it mambos. Simply stated it is done with such heart and emotion that your soul and body weeps and explodes with excitement all at once. Several people here have asked me ¨Why do you come to San Cristóbal? ¨ And before I can process a well thought out academic answer my mouth blurts out, “I come here to dance. ¨ It is strange how some answers just bubble to the surface. I come to Chiapas because I love the area, I love the people, the culture and the history. But recently I admitted to myself that I come here to experience life, the music and to learn the new ways in which my body can groove. I’ve always loved to dance. I did it all the time as an undergrad. And I’ve always loved hearing live music. However the marrying of the two here has given birth to a woman who loves to salsa, mambo, cumbia, meringue, and samba. Who knew? Last summer I threw myself into learning to just simply salsa. Now I wouldn’t say that I am good at any of the aforementioned dances, but I certainly give it a shot. But here is the key to all of those dances… you have to have a partner who can lead. Huitzilopochtli has told me that I am a soft dancer, meaning that I am easily to lead. I figure that is a great feat, because in order to dance well you have to be able to follow a good lead.

I have mentioned before, music boomed all over Mexico City. Huitzilopochtli very kindly made a list of “must have” Mexican music. I will be forever in debt to him for that two-page list. He said I needed to know who people were after I told him of my brush with the very famous. One day in Mexico City, as I was getting one of those world wind tours by the intelligence guy, I rubbed elbows with celebrity and had not a clue. In a restaurant, I met Café Ta Cuba. After recounting my ¨hello, how are you¨ of the day when Huitzilopochtli found out I had met Café Ta Cuba that day he nearly came unglued. He said, “Autumn, you only met the biggest band in all of Mexico!” I quickly redeemed myself the next day by marching to the nearest record store in the Zocalo. I bought a box set of Café Ta Cuba, as well as others.

Let me state a truth here. The music scene in San Cristóbal de Las Casas is unbelievable. For being in the middle of nowhere, you can get fantastic reggae and Mexican rock. Just look around town, this is a cool, very hip place. Youth culture here is very rich even though the people are incredibly poor. The people, colettos and Indians as well as the mix are beautiful people, especially, the thirty and twenty-somethings, as well as teenagers. Someone, possibly me, should write on the youth culture of San Cristóbal.

The best place to dance in San Cristóbal is at El Circo. It’s the hippest spot in town located on the andador. While a favorite spot for travelers, it is the primary haunt of locals. Let me tell you there is nothing like dancing in a tightly packed crowd of tourists and Mexican to the pumping live music of reggae or rock. Transcending language barriers, everyone knows the lyrics to all of the music, because those guys are there every night doing the same awesome show … and no one ever tires of it. Strangers dance together, lovers twirl each other around and new friends bounce up and down next to each other to the rhythms of the music. It is an experience that makes you glad to alive. I only hope that one day my daughter is able to experience such delights. By evenings end, people stumble out the doors at 3am to awaiting cabs and strolls home in the crisp clean San Cristóbal air. I myself have only “crawled” home once, damn those strong two for one drinks. Usually I am just worn out from bouncing and too many Latin gyrations. Before Huitzilopochtli left town, he and I ambled our way through the streets after a night of high energy dancing. One of the bands walked next to us and was very nice as they restrained their giggles. Huitzilopochtli hiccupped all the way home to the travelers hostel.

It would seem that the average Mexican also adores good folk music and the occasional drink. Today I visited Chamula. It was an eventful day with a tally of two chicken sacrifices in the church and two passed out guys outside the square in the middle of the day. Passed out may not be entirely correct, possibly a better description would be cataclysmically, passed out drunk, so passed out we had to check their breathing to make sure they were alive. Now this wasn’t my first passed out guy in the area of course. One day in San Cristóbal there was a lovely gentleman resting his eyes outside the coffee shop in the Centro. Sprawled out in Christ-like formation, this gentleman snoozed with his fly unzipped and wide open. Shoeless and oblivious to the people stepping over him, he had an impossibly pleasant rest in the middle of the day. Huitzilopochtli and I saw him there for two days straight, sometimes awake, sometimes asleep. Awake, he was agitated. Asleep he was a drunken angel. Huitzilopochtli began to refer to him as ¨his buddy. ¨ He’d say, “Oh there is my buddy! Would you like me to introduce him to you? Never mind we’ll wait until he wakes up.”

Chamula was a delight today with the two passed out guys. The first lay sprawled out faced down in the mud next to a table in front of a little bar. His three friends paid him no attention as they continued to drink at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Next, as we walked up to the old, hollowed out church at the top of the hill, another guy was passed out drunk, again faced down in the dirt, however this time this particular guy chose to take a rest between the graves in front of the church. I thought, ¨Hell, at least this guy chose to place is face in his hat instead of directly in the mud. ¨

Cheers to pleasant sleeps.

To be continued…

Juxtaposition this
Just after writing the previous blog I stopped in Caf La Revolucion for a break in cerebral work to enjoy some driving punk music. Did I fail to mention that there is an underground punk scene here? No? Well there is, some how I forgot. I don’t know how because I hung out last summer with a group of punks from San Cristóbal who own a record/t-shirt store. Oh well…Juxtaposition this… 

Anyways, so I stopped in to listen. I did the usual cram you into the crowd move and positioned myself up front. The music was awesome, raw but good. With deep guttural guitar playing the artists let the instrument speak for itself, very few lyrics followed the driving cords. As I stood there three little Tzotzil children (all under the age of 5) slipped in between the good patrons of the bar. They too positioned themselves up front. Clad in traditional dress the two little girls and little boy grinned ear from ear. Some guys seated near us gave the children some coins and shared their popcorn. As I stood there listening to the music I watched the children as they too enjoyed the music and wondered what it must be like for Tzotzil children today to grow up in San Cristóbal. Yes, most live in the villages on the outskirts of town, but I can attest that these children are in the city until the wee hours of the morning with their mothers selling their wares on the streets. These children come in more contact with an international crowd than the average American child. These children hear at least a dozen different languages spoken in one day as they approach travelers to sell clay figurines or colorful change purses… or my favorite to ask travelers to sign his or her name and contribute a few pesos to “their school.” What school I say? The school of the streets?

Don’t get me wrong; these children are the poorest of the poor here. These children relish it when someone gives them a half eaten piece of cake (Huitzilopochtli and I did this, you should have seen the face of glee that beamed back at us). Just today in Chamula I shared most of my Plantain chips with several children (better they get heartburn than me from the street chips, however I still LOVE them) and they were thrilled. Of course, some can get pushy. Yesterday as friends and I sat outside of a coffee shop some children walked up to sell us some bracelets, we all said the usual “Gras” and shook our heads. On child replied in Spanish… “Por nada!” Thanks for nothing. “Ha,” I said, “Now that is a smart child.” And of course most kids are bright enough to ask for money if you want to take their pictures. Before Huitzilopochtli and I left for Palenque a few days ago we crouched under an awning to shield ourselves from the rain. Nearby were some shoeshine boys who were giggling and wrestling following one of their business transactions. By the way, watching shoe shine boys work is in itself fascinating. There is a system where the boy taps the bottom of the shoe when he is momentarily finished working on the leather of a shoe, but I digress. Anyways, as I watched the young boys in their careless play I thought ´this is a photo opt!¨ But I did the right thing and asked if I could take their picture. One boy stepped forward and said “Cinco pesos cada, por favor.” I thought he drives a hard bargain, but he is a good businessman. So I have the four boys 5 pesos each, but said “I get two pictures for 20 pesos.” The photo is my favorite photo as of yet, because they are all crouched on their shoe shine boxes, a couple are looking at me and a couple are looking at each other and they are all laughing.

There, and in so many other instances, I realized that was witnessing a rich life in the midst of poverty.

Children in America have much to learn.

To be continued…

Current mood:  nauseated

In Mexico City there is a mercado that is above and beyond more famous than all the other hundred or so mercados. This mercado is so famous you can plop yourself in a taxi and just say “Take me to the mercado” and they will take you there. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t place it on a map of the city, but nonetheless I found myself in the middle of this cacophony one afternoon with Huitzilopochtli.

The mercado is enormous. Now I’ve been to my share of mercados in Mexico, but nothing in my mind rivals this one. This large covered, fairly permanent structure is full of everything one would need to buy in order to survive. Everything from socks, combs, clothes and movies to all sorts of meats and cheeses to flowers and fruits. As we entered the market Huitzilopochtli told me “My father and I didn’t do much together as I was growing up because he was always working or gone, but we always went to the mercado together to eat.” On this morning we too were here to eat.

The market is an adventure in smells. Acrid smells of raw meats and the sweet aromas of fruits, vegetables, and flowers all mix together into a cornucopia of olfactory confusion. As we walked the aisles my nose lead me to the left and to the right. Of course visually the market is a fantastic explosion of people and colors. Having walked several Maya markets, I have a great appreciation for the variance in colors, especially when you pass the man-size bags of beans and the buckets of fresh fruits and veggies. Even the colors of freshly slaughtered beef and chicken present an interesting, if not a nauseating color spectrum. The yellow of the chicken skin against the dark red blood that drips from the counter is a sight kept from most Americans. There was freshly chopped beef, chicken and fish everywhere one turned. And pork, one can never forget to mention pork, the staple of the Mexican diet. I was stunned to see fried pork skins as big as me. I question how would one even begin to consume a pork rind that big. I envisioned several people just standing next to it gnawing on the rind. There were chicken heads, chicken feet, gizzards, hearts, and an as sundry of other parts that I couldn’t identify because I was apparently asleep for that part of biology lab.

My nose twitched in delight as we passed taco stand after taco stand and finally Huitzilopochtli found the one he was looking for and we sat to make our order. Four tacos each and two quesadillas. I sucked down my pork tacos and we ordered horchata, a heavenly rice drink straight from the gods.

Now let me stop here to speak to the deliciousness of horchata. I will walk a mile for that rice drink. Two years ago when I was living in Querétaro I was the epitome of the stupid gringa who wouldn’t try anything. In that city I saw everyone walking around drinking from straws out of plastic bags some strange milk concoction. I turned my nose up to it. Oh if I could only go back in time, I would have spent that summer with my belly full of ochote. Now I drink it when ever the opportunity arises and will walk far to get it and I don’t care what flavor it comes in, I can nearly wait to gulp that sweet, starchy milk-like substance.

As I sat there drinking from what I gathered must be the teat of god, Huitzilopochtli slid a quesadilla my way and said, “Eat it.” With only slight reservations I took a bite and then another, then and only then did it dawn on my that it didn’t taste like cheese and only then did I think to ask what I was eating. He told me in Spanish first what it was I was eating and then the words in English fell out of his mouth and I sat there stunned. Cow brains. I tried to prevent my gag reflex pushing everything up. It worked, but I am sure that I turned several shades of green. With a huge smile on his face, Huitzilopochtli blurted out, ” I knew if I told you what it was you would never try it. It’s good isn’t it!?” It was sort of mushy tasting and the right side of my brain alerted my mouth that it didn’t taste all that good even though initially it wasn’t all that bad. Either way I slid the rest of it back to him. He finished his and mine with great joy while I tried to wash the taste away with my melon flavored rice milk.

Well I tried something new. I can at least be proud of that. Little did I know that later he would trick me again.

to be continued…

Now That is Faith. 
Current mood:  satisfied

Mexico City is the home of quite possibly the most visited sacred space in all of Latin America. Or rather, I should say the most sacred relic in Mexico if not all of Latin America. Of the top three places I wanted to visit in Mexico City on this trip, the Basilica to the Virgin of Guadalupe was my top site to see.

Huitzilopochtli and I jumped out of the cab in the northern part of the city to make a pee stop in a clean cafe (always an important decision) and so we could walk through the markets leading to the basilica. The corridor leading to the basilica is a space where faith meets capitalism. I know that this isn’t too foreign idea, but it is quite the spectacle of consumerism. Vendors line the way selling every imaginable variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. You can purchase medallions of the virgin, little plates; t-shirts, large plaster statues, or light up clocks of the virgin.

Dotting the path every twenty or so feet were men and caged canaries that do fortune telling. For about 10 pesos the man will tell the bird your name and the bird will pick four pieces of paper that tell your future. You just chose whether you want it to be about life, love, or money. Of course we got our fortunes told. The bird picked a paper that told me that people give me bad advice and that I carry that bad advice on my backside. Hmmm, I thought, well I am not sure how accurate that is cause my ass isn’t getting any bigger. The bird then told Huitzilopochtli that he would be taking a life-altering trip. In his case, this was true because he was planning to move to Japan for a year after his Mexico trip home to see family. We were also given some other papers by the little bird, but I will keep those to myself.

When you approach the basilica area is made up of three churches. On the far hill is the ancient church where the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego in the mid sixteenth century with the request that a church be built in her honor. It is a small chapel and was quickly outgrown. Beneath the hill is a larger chapel. By the twentieth century it too had become to small to meet the shear number of pilgrims. Today the basilica is this very large, round, unimpressive structure… I would go as far to say gaudy. If you look beyond the garish display of architecture one immediately understands the importance of the space. What struck me first were the pilgrims walking to the basilica on their knees. I had heard of this from my advisor, but had never prepared myself for seeing it first hand. People walk from god knows where on their knees to the steps of the basilica out of devotion and reverence. It was impressive to witness an entire family crouched on their knees as they approached the church and I seriously contemplated my own devotion to something and whether I could carry out a pilgrimage like that. I figured not, especially since I have bad knees. Shit maybe something like that would actually help my bum knee. Who knows?

Inside, priests were carrying out a mass. We quietly slipped around to the back and went below the large pulpit to take our turn on the moving conveyer belt to get a look at the famous mantle. It is truly amazing, I must say. I myself have a deep appreciation for the Virgin of Guadalupe. I carry a photo of her with me everywhere I go and I have to pendants with her face to ensure protection, but to see the actual mantle was awe inspiring. Like the Shroud of Turin, no one knows how it was created (scientifically speaking) much less how it maintained its color through time unprotected from the elements. Huitzilopochtli and I moved from the left an then to the right as we quietly gazed up upon the encased shroud. It was a moment of quiet reflection and of peace.

At that moment I was content. I had now seen what I had come to see.

As an interesting note, outside the basilica in the central plaza there is of course a cross, but to the side if you look hard because it is slightly hidden you will see a giant reproduction of the Aztec calendar. The virgin is not only a Christian saint, but she is also a goddess (specifically the moon goddess) to the indigenous people of Mexico. Think about that…

To be continued…

Yo No Soy tourista, I am a Traveler. 
Current mood:  amused

You cannot come to Mexico and not see some pyramids, if not at least the great pyramids at Teotihuacán. Well, this is my third trip to Mexico and I had yet to see any of the major archeological sites. So I was bound and determined to see Teotihuacán and Palenque on this trip.

The great thing about traveling is that it isn’t necessarily your end destination that is so important, but rather the journey and the friends that you make along the way. Huitzilopochtli helped me find the right bus to Teotihuacán, told me to have a good time and those 6 hours there would be a satisfactory visit. He promised to ride over from his grandfathers house in some town that I can’t for the life of me remember the name now of to pick me up that evening. With vague instructions that I just needed to wait for him at the gate for the pyramid of moon at 8pm, I was off on my own adventure.

As I located my seat, I found a guy speaking French to occupants around him. I sat down next to him and asked in Spanish what language he preferred. He leaned over and said that he spoke English and was American; he just didn’t want to be bothered by all the strangers. It would seem that I had caught him at a moment of panic. Frank, a professional photographer from Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University, was bicycling his way through Mexico and had on the bus slept through his preferred stop of Pachuca. He had woken up in Mexico City and was obviously freaked out at the prospect of bicycling through the city. He opted to stay on the bus and ride out to Teotihuacán, see the ruins, camp and start on his bike fresh the next morning and head to Vera Cruz.

Frank and I hit it off immediately, chatting and giggling at each other for most of the bus ride. With a quirky personality and a keen sense of humor, Frank was an absolute delight and told the best stories. As we passed cactus after cactus, Frank leaned in and commented ” Have you been able to find a descent chimichanga down here?” I almost fell out of my seat with laughter. For anyone who has lived or traveled in Mexico away from the touristy spots knows good and well that the Mexican food we get in America is not Mexican food. That is Tex-Mex. (for the moment I will save my discussion of Mexican food for later).

Frank and I spent a good hour talking about our experiences and made an interesting break through as we both realized that we had surpassed the label of tourist. We were no longer tourists. We were travelers. Ironically we were at the moment heading to the toured spot in Mexico. Nevertheless, as we dazzled each other with our individual stories we both emphasized that we preferred to go places that the tourists didn’t dare go. We wanted to live with families and join in Mexican culture. I recounted my experience with the intelligence agent and the office party. He was quite impressed that I was able to experience such a fiesta. He shared with me his stories of living with a widowed woman in Vera Cruz, solely as a rentee. He talked about how he would walk out in the city and would see the tourists at the beach and wonder at all of the experiences those people were missing by staying in the tourist spots. He and I both settled on the fact that travel means different things to different people. One way is not necessarily better for one person, but rather just different.

We talked of surreal experiences. Frank explained to me his most surreal experience in Vera Cruz. He said one time he stopped on his bike at a taco stand along some road. It was a taco stand that served goat tacos, but you had to wade through the live goats to get to the goat tacos. He asked, “What happens if you run out of goat meat while you are sitting there eating? Do you just pick the goat you want and they slaughter it there?” I suppose it is not so different than picking out your lobster in the tank. It still seemed a little barbaric to both our American sensibilities.

After a good hour of driving, I got the sense that we had missed our stop even though the bus had failed to stop. Luckily the bus was really full with people standing in the aisles. A very nice Mexican took pity on us and screamed “Son Gringos!” and told the bus driver that he had missed our stop. Frank commented that it is easier for a gringa to travel in Mexico, esp. alone, in comparison to a gringo traveling alone. He said nobody has offered to help him and he was amazed at all of my stories of people coming out of the woodwork to help me. So he happily rode my coattails and we found ourselves on another bus traveling back towards Mexico City. This time we made our stop.

With an hour and half left to visit the site and a brief interlude where we got separated following a disastrous search for the bathrooms, Frank relocated me somewhere deep in the ruins. It was good that he found me because he had lent me his only raincoat (a coat that he would no doubt need while cycling, I no doubt felt awful about having and not being able to find him to return it). But he found me because of that rain jacket. Apparently he got ahead of me and ran to the top of the Temple of the Sun and was able to locate me way down below by the orange rain jacket.

The pyramids were fantastic. They were so huge and expansive. I felt like an ant as I walked along the avenue of the dead and crawled through the sunken spots. As I was about to make an attempt to climb the Temple of the Sun, a guard told us it was closed. I was a little crest fallen, but felt that it would have probably made my foot throb oh that much more had I actually scampered up to the top. Either way I was just happy to be there to see them.

After the park closed, Frank decided to wait with me for my ride. He was planning to camp along side the road with the vista of the pyramids behind him. As he stated, “You can’t get a more impressive camping view than this.” With two hours to spare we opted to find some food and cervezas. Seated at a cafe practically in the street Frank and I shared more stories and discussion over a fabulous dinner of mole and goat. By the way, the mole I had in Teotihuacán was the best mole I have ever put in my mouth. The light flavoring of chilies and chocolate danced in my mouth and I made Frank try some. In addition to the good food, the guys working in the restaurant were great fun. They kept coming to our table to ask us to translate certain Spanish words into English for them. Words like ‘cool’ and ‘tablecloth.’ Speaking of tablecloth, I did a very American thing, something I am slightly ashamed of. During our dinner I was admiring our tablecloth. I admired it so much that I asked where I could get one for myself. The guys sold me the tablecloth then and there.

Frank then told me this outrageous story about the time that he joined the “Hot or Not” website. It would seem this was a site where adults could post their photos where they could get responses from other consenting adults. He said he felt a little embarrassed, but thought what the hell. He ended up talking for a long while with this woman from Africa; I can’t remember what country for the life of me. Anyways, after a month or so of talking they decided to exchange address with the promise of sending post cards from their respective homes. He said, “I immediately felt like a shmuck for giving my correct address as soon as I did it because she probably gave me a false address.” But nevertheless, he did it and a week later a box arrived in the mail from Arizona with the woman’s name on it. He said, “I was utterly shocked and immediately frightened! I had no clue what was in the box. I shook it. I even listened to see if it ticked.” He finally decided to throw it outside under some steps for a week with the thought that if it got rained on and/or exploded he would be safe. I waited with baited breath to find out what was in the box from some person allegedly from Africa. He waited to tell me what was in the box. He said, “Autumn, if I tell you what was in the box you will be disappointed in the whole story.”

I know what was in the box, but I won’t tell.

Our evening ended with us waiting along side the road at my arranged meeting place. Frank stated, “There is no sense in you sitting here alone along side the road. I am just going to make camp down the way. I´ll sit here with you.” So Frank, his bike and I sat crouch drivers drove back and forth to get a good look at the gringos sitting on the side of the road. Some curtious drivers stopped to ask us if we needed a ride or needed help. We waved them on. Others just honked and drove by repeatedly to get a good look at the silly gringos. At one point Frank made me a nice canopy with his bike and tent so I could take a whizz on the side of the road. With the pyramids to our back and the sun setting, Frank stood and flossed his teeth on the side of the road as I sat Indian style and fished through my bag for gum and water as we chatted and laughed at ourselves. It was a satisfying day of travel, friendship, stories and good food. This was the state I was in when Huitzilopochtli arrived, on Mexican time, at 8:45pm to take me to his grandfather’s house for a family reunion.

Frank wherever you are. I hope that the sun is to your face, the rain to your back and that you are welcomed once again in Vera Cruz by the goats.

To be continued…

Who am I to You? 
Current mood:  hungry

*I just want to make a note that this blog is a rewrite. I wrote one last night and it took me two hours to go through everything. Apparently I was giving away too many family secrets and some higher power decided to make my first go at this blog disappear. Technology sucks sometimes. I hope Huitzilopochtli appreciates my efforts to discuss his family, not once but twice. Anyways, I hope this one is as good as the original. Just keep in mind the first one kicked ass.*

I would imagine that it is seldom that a traveler and/or tourist is able to fully immerse themselves in familial experiences in countries they visit. I understand that many of us out there opt for the home-stay experiences with host families and that may offer us some insight. Others sometimes visit the family of a friend in another country to get the experience. Having had a marginally satisfactory home-stay experience I had still yet to immerse and really see what a Mexican family was all about. Such experiences are by invitation only. Lucky for me, I got that invitation. What made it even better was that I was invited to two different family reunions, Huitzilopotchli’s father’s side, as well as his mother’s side.

On Mexican time, Huitzilopochtli and his cousin picked me up at the arranged meeting spot, the gate for the Temple of the Moon at 8:45pm in Teotihuacán. Soon we were off, barreling down the highway towards a city in the countryside that for the life of me I can’t recall. I was totally unprepared for a stay over. I had brought nothing with me, no toothbrush nada, but I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to meet my friend’s family.

On a busted up street in town unknown, we arrived in front of Huitzilopotchli`s grandfather’s house after about a half hour’s worth of driving. The casa was tiny. With a concrete front yard and smashed up against two houses on either side, there appeared to be little room to put this family reunion. As we approached the casa Huitzilopochtli told me, “I am sorry you won’t be able to see the whole family. Not everyone could come, so it is sort of a small reunion, only about 40 or 50 people.” Shit, by my standards that is a big reunion! A tarp extended over the concrete front yard and beneath was tables, tents, and a bbq pit. Family members were seated at some of the tables engrossed in their card games. Of course there was the obligatory booze table stocked with tequila and brandy.

Inside, the house was modest with an aqua blue living room, one bedroom, a room that was used for a kitchen, and a bathroom the size of a closet, in fact I am not entirely sure that it was originally a bathroom. It probably was a closet. As we stood in the aqua living room, Huitzilopochtli introduced me to everyone including his parents. Every name went over my head as my nerves began to take over. The family offered me food, copious amounts of food and then made a huge faux pas. I decline the food offers, primarily because I was very full from my fabulous meal in Teotihuacán and secondly, I didn’t want to be a bother. To not eat food in a Mexican home is an insult I found out. Huitzilopotchli`s father with his venomous humor asked whether “I was too good to eat poor people’s food.” I later tried to redeem myself, but I had thus far learned two important lessons… always accept food that is offered and be gracious. Also, apparently Mexicans don’t get full either. When in doubt, keep eating.

Huitzilopochtli took me in to meet his grandfather. Despite being elderly and frail his grandfather was a sprite old man. He insisted that we sit and smoke a “marijuana” cigarette with him. I gave Huitzilopochtli a curious glance. “Don’t worry, he just likes to say that. It is really a non-filtered cigarette.” We sat on the bed and smoked with the old man. The cigarette was harsh as we listened to him mutter to us half in Spanish and half in English. Huitzilopochtli told me that he had greatly enjoyed his day with his grandfather. They had spent the afternoon talking over a bottle of brandy. Huitzilopotchli`s grandfather shared never before heard stories of Huitzilopotchli`s father with him. Apparently, his father was a hippie.

For a while I sat inside with the women listening to their conversations. Huitzilopochtli came over and told me, “They all say you should drink some tequila to loosen your lips and your Spanish.” It was then that his cousin began pouring me tequila spritzers. By midnight Huitzilopochtli, his mother, and I sat outside as his aunt and cousin fired up the bbq pit for chicken tacos and quesadillas. With tequila in my belly, I ate the tacos. Then Huitzilopochtli handed me a quesadilla. Having learned my lesson earlier in the day, I gave him a side wards glace. “Try it, it’s okay,” he said. I suppose I was a little drunk and was feeling a little brave. I ate a few bites and realized that it was mushy (not cheese like mushy). It also tasted different than my quesadilla from lunch. In fact it tasted worse. “You like it, no?” he asked. I turned a few shades of grey this time I am certain and pushed the quesadilla back at him. Huitzilopochtli then said, “It is goat’s brain. Again, if I told you before, you would have never tried it.” I swished my mouth out with more tequila spritzer.

Our sleeping options were either the concrete floor at his grandfather’s house or a nice comfy hotel room with his family in Pachuca. While the concrete floor was inviting, I hoped for a hotel. The caravan for Pachuca left at 3am. We drove for what felt like forever. Half-drunk and half-asleep, I awoke at 4am as we were parked next to a park. His father was outside of the car trying to come to a consensus with the cousins as to which hotel was the most agreeable. As I woke, I looked out of the window and asked, “Are we sleeping in the park tonight?” and then promptly fell back asleep. Huitzilopochtli and his mother found my question rather amusing.

The next morning we returned to the grandfather’s house for breakfast and goodbyes. Apparently his grandfather was feeling quite chipper that morning. As he rolled his wheelchair out through the house to have a smoke he greeted us all with obscenities in English. I smiled and figured, hell he had earned the right to say whatever the hell he wanted.

Next we were off to Mexico City for Huitzilopotchli`s mother’s family reunion. As Huitzilopotchli`s father drove at break neck speed, Huitzilopochtli and I joked about how wonderful it would be to brush our teeth. Giggling he said, “God, wouldn’t flossing just feel great right now?!” (We hadn’t planned to spend the night we were going to catch a ride back to Mexico City that previous night)

Huitzilopochtli was very excited to show me his grandfather’s apartment. It was, in fact, the apartment he had grown up in in Mexico City, just off of Reforma. The apartment was located on the third floor of an apartment building and took up two apartments really, however it was still quite small. His grandfather and his grandfather’s new wife greeted us at the door. Huitzilopotchli`s mother is the only girl of 29 children and his grandfather’s new wife was not all that much other than Huitzilopotchli`s mother. Huitzilopotchli`s grandfather had had many wives, some of them simultaneously and the children were spread out amongst those wives. This wife was his 8th. (this is very Mexican… Huitzilopochtli told me of the second families that also existed in his father’s family)

This family reunion was an important one. Some of the family members had not seen one another in many years. Apparently there had been a rift between the grandfather and several of his children. We were sitting on the couch when one of the estranged sons of 17 years walked into the apartment. Huitzilopotchli`s grandfather smiled as he sat contently surrounded by his family.

A massive dinner was served in the extended apartment and the variance of people arriving for the meal was very interesting. Huitzilopochtli was excited for me to meet his aunt and uncle, organizers for the PRD. They had helped organize the silent march in the Zocalo that day (remember I mentioned the 2 million people). I also met his uncle/aunt, a transsexual. Knowing machismo and Mexican culture all sorts of questions generated in my mind to ask regarding his tio/tia.

I made sure to eat past the point of feeling full. As I ate the stew, Huitzilopotchli`s father teased me that it was hot, hot, hot. By the end, my lips were on fire. I gulped my drink and then reached for Huitzilopotchli`s out of desperation. As I reached Huitzilopotchli`s cousin, clad in a pastel colored shirt opened to his navel and seated across from us, gave me an inquisitive glance. I noticed the glance and made a note to ask about it later. And ask later I did, because I received the same glance by his aunt when I offered to make Huitzilopochtli a cup of coffee the next afternoon. In Mexican culture, men and women do not share food or drink unless they are married or a serious item. The glace was “Who is this woman to you?”

After dinner, I joined the family at mass a block away from the apartment. This was my first mass in Mexico. I was excited and noticed everything about the church. At one point I leaned in and asked Huitzilopochtli, “Did you know that this church was built in 1524? Five years after Conquest!” He had never noticed the date that is painted directly above the pulpit. It would seem that he was confirmed in that church and in many ways his family practices Catholicism, but are really more culturally Catholic rather than devout practices. In fact, Huitzilopochtli and his family have alternative religious practices. For the sake of privacy I will keep those particulars to myself.

After dinner, we all returned to the apartment and it was there that Huitzilopochtli shared with me some stories he had heard recently about his grandfather. Apparently when his grandfather was 16 and 17 years old he had earned the reputation of being a tough cookie. So tough that he was called out in the countryside “the rattlesnake.” By 17 years old (probably the 1940s), his grandfather was a hired killer. Huitzilopochtli has no idea how many men his father killed or really for how many years he did this. Huitzilopochtli got the impression that it was just a couple of years. (His grandfather doesn’t talk about his life much.) He also learned that at one point his grandfather was a truck driver. His grandfather drove produce all over Mexico, Central America, and South America, with frequent stops in Columbia. Wedged in between the tomatoes and other, as sundries of veggies were shipments of cocaine and marijuana. That’s a pretty dangerous life one would think. It was hard to stretch my imagination around these stories and link them to the man who had not only greeted me at the door, but also beamed as I ate happily, cleaning my plate. I told Huitzilopochtli, “Throw in a pair of Chinese great-grandparents along with the stories of wives, children, murder, and drugs and you’ve got the makings for a factual epic novel about Mexico and family life.”

Alas, that is not my book, that is Huitzilopotchli`s opus magnum and I very much so look forward to reading it.

To be continued…

Is this Real or Make Believe? 
Current mood:  rejuvenated

For anyone who has read Latin American literature knows that the line between reality and other planes of existence blur and are daily-lived experiences. Mexico is a country that sets a place at the table with the favored foods of dead relatives once a year around Halloween and All Saints Day. Death is not an end, but a transition. It is accepted that those who go before us are still very much around and many people commune regularly with them. Skeletons are prominent features in Mexican culture through Posado`s art work. Skeleton women are a favored adornment for bookshelves, posters and t-shirts. Jewelry with skulls on it is also easy to find.

Huitzilopochtli and I both sport bracelets made of carved wooden skulls. (the children in the park love to comment on my bracelet.) Amulets are worn and carried by nearly everyone in one fashion or another, whether they are crosses, saints, blessed seeds and petals, or amber. I would not label this superstition. Superstition would denote a negative connotation, as in not knowing better. Instead, I would label it belief and strong convictions.

Personally, I wear a great deal of amber and the occasional Virgin of Guadalupe pendant. Here in Chiapas, amber is the favored item for protection. Babies in Chamula and Zinacantan are adorned with bracelets of red string and amber. The combination protects their souls from leaving their bodies. Amber is simply a universal amulet for protection.

This trip has strengthened my conviction that argues against the notion of syncretism and hybridity. Scholars through the years have boiled down the religious practices of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and beyond as practitioners of synchronic beliefs. I believe this to be a gross generalization on the part of scholars. To practice something that is syncretism and of hybrid nature denotes that something is lost along the way and that the syncretism is practiced in that form in both the public and private sphere. If one comes here and looks for them with a perceptive eye what you see are beliefs that are practiced along side one another. While there are some crossovers, for example I witnessed a woman in Chamula cross herself after she sacrificed a chicken in the church. Other than that fleeting second everything else in the very sacred ceremony was purely an indigenous ritual – the curandera pulsing, the 50 or so colored candles on the floor, the passing of the chicken over her sick mother’s body, the accepting of libations, and the chanting in Tzotzil.

A non-syncretism explanation can be applied to culture, politics, and economic development as well. A friend of mine, a scholar of indigenous communities in Belize, and I agreed that one would think that a shift towards more Westernized economic and political foundations would also denote a similar shift in cultural and spiritual beliefs. However, what we witness is just the opposite. While the villages around San Cristóbal are without a doubt involved in the capitalist market and have shifted slightly in structurally to amend to changing needs, the villages (those that are not evangelical) have maintained cohesion in their non-Western beliefs. And in fact continue to practice their beliefs in the face of external pressures.

The same can be said about many Mexicans living in more urban areas. Beliefs are powerful. Many people go through their lives with one foot in the “rational,” Westernized world all the while maintaining a foot in another world, a world that Western notions would consider irrational. However for these people the worlds revolve together, sometimes they are kept separate (even secret) and sometimes they overlap. Huitzilopochtli recounted a story to me from last summer when his family visited Mexico City. Prior to their visit, a family member had passed away and was buried in her wedding dress. Huitzilopochtli and his family were unaware that the deceased had been buried in her wedding dress. One evening as he, his mother and two sisters sat in the living room of his grandfather they all began to hear the sounds of a party in the lower courtyard. People were talking, drinking, and laughing. Moments later they all witnessed a woman in a wedding dress walk up the outer stairs and ascend into the apartment. The other revelers ascended the stairwell and joined the woman in the apartment. Huitzilopochtli, his mother and sisters all sat as the people crowded into the apartment. Everyone who came in was a deceased relative and the woman in the wedding dress was the recently deceased. Huitzilopochtli, his mother and sisters all commented to each other, “Do you see what I see?” The unanimous answer was “Yes.” None were frightened. His mother stated simply, “They are all happy we are here.” Apparently, some of the relatives wanted to just say hello and some wanted to say goodbye.

Such examples could fill books. I myself have experienced here in Mexico what some would say are “strange” occurrences. Call it the beauty of the region and the people. It is amazing what one can witness when one opens themselves. We can see and appreciate another world that we would otherwise miss.

to be continued…

Jungle Palace 
Current mood:  relaxed

Chiapas offers locals and travelers a wondrous landscape. Nestled in the most southern regions of Mexico, Chiapas is blessed with breathtaking mountain vistas, spectacular beaches (one need only watch Y Tu Mami Tambien), glorious waterfalls and lakes, as well as expansive jungles. In a matter of 5 hours one can travel from the cold, rainy highlands west to the Pacific where hammocks on the beach beckon or one can travel to the east down into the hot, wet jungles of the Lacandon to grand sites such as Tonina, Palenque or Bonampak. 

After a morning of indecisions and a long conversation with a traveler from Kingston, Canada on the wonders of Todas Santos, Guatemala, Huitzilopochtli and I decided on Palenque. We knew that we wanted to travel about a bit, but we were unsure of where are we’d like to go. We had a desire to poke our heads into Guatemala, but seeing that Huitzilopochtli had left both his U.S. and Mexican passports in Mexico City with family, we figured that border crossing might be tricky.

Palenque, we figured would be our first stop. We had intentions of moving on. Figuring that one-day would be enough in Palenque; we set off on the bus from San Cristóbal. One day turned into three fabulous days in the jungle. 

The road from San Cristóbal to the selvas of Palenque is a tight and widely path down through the highlands past military installations, Zapatista schools, villages in “Civil Resistance” (Huixtan), a large city (Ocosingo), the occasional tienda and souvenir shop, and cement block home after cement block home. I quickly fell asleep on the bus only to be awakened by Huitzilopochtli an hour later so that I may see a spectacular waterfall down in the valley. Taken with the vistas, I decided to stay awake and kept my nose pressed to the window.

The bus wound its way through hairpin curves and harrowing descents. Bathroom trips became a dance of acrobatics as the bus lurched from the right and to the left. I felt as though I were dangling from monkey bars as I tried to aim for the toilet in the shoebox size bathroom. Day turned into night as we hungrily munched on tortas from Ocosingo. Three movies and five and a half hours, we finally arrived into the Palenque bus station and into a drizzling rain. 

With no hostel or hotel reservations, Huitzilopochtli and I took a gamble. We hopped into a taxi and told the driver to take us somewhere affordable. The taxi driver replied, “I know just the place.”

The rain picked up just as we found ourselves down a gravel drive. In the black of night, Huitzilopochtli was kind enough to check for vacancies. Twenty minutes later and sopping wet, he returned with an ecstatic look on his face and news that El Panchon was full. For a moment, I thought surely he had lost his mind. “You can’t be that wet and happy with such news all at the same time,” I replied. “No, Autumn, oh my god you are going to LOVE this place! It is full tonight, but tomorrow, first thing in the morning we will return and get a cabana. It is a hippie colony!, ” Huitzilopochtli explained animatedly. He continued, “Some guy offered to let us share his room with like four other people. I thought about taking him up on the offer, but figured that you wouldn’t take to that idea, staying with strangers and all.” 

And we did return, the next morning bright and early to rent a cabana for 100 pesos (about 10 dollars a night). Apparently, El Panchon and Las Margaritas was a haven for the spend thrift traveler.

Tucked at the foot of the Palenque ruins, the property stretched for an undetermined length (we unsuccessfully tried to find the end of it as well as a fabled swimming pool). Pathways led away from a thatched roof restaurant and meandered into the jungle to cabanas and treetop residences, most of which were hidden. The pathway to our cabana took us over babbling streams, small waterfalls and picturesque bridges. During the day, the paths were well marked and one was wise to stick to the path, any sort of deviation led straight into mounds and mounds of fire ant hills. I should know, I found them as I tried to creep through the foliage to get “the perfect photo” of the brooks. Being from Louisiana I am no stranger to red ants, however these jungle ants were a different story.

Our first day in we were enamored with the giant red ants as they totted enormous bites of leaves back to their mounds. “Look at the size of those teeth marks!,” we often commented. We shuddered at the thought of possibly being carried off by those large ants. However, it was not the large ants that were the threat. Huitzilopochtli often found me lagging behind him alerted by a flying shoe. I became an expert at the “I’ve just stepped in an ant pile dance.” Those little buggers were by far the most vicious creatures in all the jungle, with the ability to swarm ones foot in two seconds flat. I quickly came to believe that the occasional water faucet was not only to wash the mud off of ones foot but to try and drown the swarm of ants on ones foot as they made their way up a pants leg. 

Ants, of course, were not the only creatures in the jungle. In the late afternoons we could hear the screams of the spider monkeys nearby. (I must admit when we first heard them we were certain they were jaguar howls — there supposedly are still many jaguars in the area).

There were also plenty of spiders, big spiders. Huitzilopochtli, being a guy, was of course terrified of the spiders. On our first night he refused to enter into the communal bathroom because a large black (palm size) spider was hanging out above the shower nozzle. (Never mind the fact that rats didn’t seem to faze him. We saw a huge sewer rat on the streets of Mexico City. I yelped when I caught sight of it and he barely acknowledged the rat’s presence as it crossed our path with its long nasty tail. We agreed that he would handle the rats and I would handle the spiders). The shower was a moot point anyways. When we turned the faucet on no water came on. We resolved ourselves to a spit bath in the sink, of course after I had called the bathroom clear of spiders. 

Having resolved ourselves to spit baths; we soon came face to face with our own ineptitude in figuring out how to turn on the water in the shower. Backpacking we can do, figuring out how to work simple plumbing not so much.

One morning I woke to Huitzilopochtli shaking me awake, “Do you hear that?!” Groggily I replied, “What? Is it an animal? What’s going on?” And then I heard the sweet sound of the shower running in the next room. It was the most glorious sound one could hear in the jungle after a day in the heat and humidity of the jungle. It turned out that we only needed to throw the red handle over the shower nozzle. Who knew? Granted we had no hot water, but neither of us was going to scoff at a cold shower.

The best part of El Panchon was the restaurant. Huitzilopochtli and I, after our excursion to the ruins, quickly decided that we would stay in the area for a couple of more days just to enjoy the comings and goings in the restaurant/communal area. We would begin our day with breakfast and coffee and spend the remainder of the day reading in the area, talking and playing “guess which language that is.” Travelers from all over the world as well as locals crowded into the restaurant for an afternoon of leisure, cards, food and drinks in anticipation for the nightly musical shows. We too did the same. Afternoon coffees turned into evenings of cerveza. Our seats became our best friends as we whiled away the hours through conversation and snacks. Our three days in Palenque were steeped in relaxation and excitement as we enjoyed the sounds of the jungle and local music.

In the evenings, family bands played a variety of Latin music, one show after another. And every evening ended with an impressive fire show to the sounds of bongos and African drums. Guys sporting dreads, interesting tattoos and piercing beat the drums as their friends performed amazing acrobatics with flames. The smells of burning kerosene mixed with the fragrances of the humid jungle, beer and Mexican/Italian food created an electric mood.

And of course we danced. Everyone danced. Huitzilopochtli and I found great enjoyment in watching a rhythmically challenged middle aged gringo dance bare chested for hours on end with a curvy young traveler. We giggled often as we watched that free spirit exhibit the meaning of uninhibited. The evenings were a true delight and we often found ourselves late in the night carefully walking down pitch-black paths with only our ears as our guides back to the cabana.

To be continued…

A Perfect Storm 
Current mood:  enthralled

In my opinion the most perfect time to visit the ruins at Palenque is when the rains move in, for a couple of reasons.

First, for those who have been in Palenque during late July know well how oppressively hot the days are. On a day that we visited the mercado in the city, Huitzilopochtli threatened that if I inadvertently brushed up against he may just melt leaving me with only a pool of water and eye balls with to travel. The heat there in the jungle is awful. Period. Lucky for us though, we arrived in Palenque with the rain.

The ruins in Palenque are world renowned, and deservedly so. Picturesque, the site sits on a mountainside half eaten by the jungle. When you perch on one of the outer temples you immediately understand why that particular spot was chosen. (The same can be said about Tonina, as well.) The Palenque ruins sit as lord high above an expansive valley with mountain ranges off in the distance. 

Shuttled in a VW bus up the mountainside for 20 pesos, we arrive at midmorning. Crowded outside of the site were stalls and stalls of vendors selling souvenirs and highland clothing. In the parking lot were tables and tables of women selling tacos, fried plantain chips, and cold drinks as well as young boys peddling frozen chocolate covered bananas with sprinkles on top. The smells were enticing. I looked forward to our afternoon snack in the parking lot.

On the inside there were still more vendors at the foot of the Palace selling leather Mayan wall hangings stamped with Pakal’s image and the guy who looks like he is trapped in a space ship, the name escapes me right now. 

It began to drizzle minutes into our arrival. After a short trip up a path to a hidden temple in the jungle, Huitzilopochtli and I decided to scramble up atop of another temple to find shelter and to gain a vantage point to the site. Apparently everyone else had the same idea and we were banished to the edges of the temple underneath the eaves. What luck! We could not have chosen a better spot as it turned out. As we gained our footing the mists began to roll in from the mountaintop and thus followed the storm clouds, lightening and hard rain. Realizing that we were not going to stay dry we opted to sit on the temple’s edge and enjoy the shower and the view.

If one is lucky in ones life they experience a few moments of mind-blowing peace and tranquility.

We had no idea that this would be one of those days and definitely one of those moments. Sitting in puddles, we dangled our feet from the temple’s edge and took in the awesome view. For forty-five minutes we sat in silence as we breathed in the rain and the jungle. Our only words were the words that need-not be spoken, “This is beautiful.” With rain pelting us, we both soaked in the moment and the beauty bestowed in front of us. One would like to think that in those moments you are alone in that understanding, privy to the confluence of history and nature, but we were not. As the rain slackened and the heat dissipated, the tone of the area changed. Down below us in the distance we could see children running through the puddles, splashing one another. It was not too difficult to image a similar scene 1100 years ago at that very site. To our right a father chased his son down from the confines of another temple tackling the son in a large puddle that lay below. Wet and muddy, the father-son duo cavorted until the mother motioned with her hands that it was time to go. We took all of these views in as well before we decided reluctantly to remove ourselves from our chosen sacred spot.

Apparently, humans were not the only creatures to enjoy the shower. As we descended from our vantage point Huitzilopochtli could hear what sounded like ferocious roars coming from the jungles edge. “Are those jaguars?,” Huitzilopochtli questioned. We moved to the point of origin to get a closer look. To our surprise the noises were generate by spider monkeys high in the treetops. Swinging from branch to branch, the monkeys put on a splendid show for the crowd of gawkers below, us included. As I taped the primal screams, Huitzilopochtli appeared over my shoulder filled with excitement and a touch of primal fear. Evidently someone had spotted a boa constrictor nearby. When I asked him if he wanted to take a closer look his reply was, “Oh f@..k no!”

The remainder of our visit was filled with us climbing all of the ruins and photographing one another in every nook, cranny, and passageway. Huitzilopochtli beside the celestial observatory, Autumn next to stone carvings and finally us together atop the Temple of the Skull (the Temple of Inscriptions was closed to visitors, unfortunately) soaking wet and covered in mud. 

To commemorate our amazing day I carved our names and the date on the bathroom door in the ladies room. I think of it not as a defamation of the site, other people had their names carved in the door, but rather a symbol that we had indeed been there and that we would no doubt carry that day with us forever. 

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, my artistic rendering is in the second stall on the left.

To be continued…

“I am at Here” 
Current mood:  amused

I thought I would share with you guys a letter I received from my crazy friend Frank the cyclist in Mexico.

What I wrote…. this guy is a riot… so cool.

Hey, punk!
> I mean, Autumn. How are things with you? I had a GREAT
> time with you as well, two lost-looking gringos on a bus
> that passed the main attraction…what a hoot! How was
> that dinner with that family? 
> Well, I spent the night, not at the base of Teotihuacán,
> but in the backseat of a 1950s car in a junkyard! It was
> actually pretty spacious and comfortable. On the way to
> Tulancingo, towards the coast of Veracruz, a couple in a
> pickup truck with a 5 gallon drum of pulque in the back
> picked me up and instead of going to tulancingo, veered
> onto this muddy path in the woods. After a bumpy ride, we
> ended up at this racetrack in the middle of the forest,
> with a huge crowd of drunk people and souped up VW Betles
> and Rabbits racing around, all painted in flashy colors. 
> I think the racers might have been a bit drunk, because
> there were quite a bit of crashes…
> About a week later, I was on the coast of Veracruz State
> , where I ate at a place run by an ex boxer/Harley
> enthusiast from New Jersey. He made me a great Sicilian
> pizza and told me about some people who were here before
> me (this is the beach, but there’s nothing here…some
> campgrounds and a Sicilian pizzeria). They were an Amish
> couple travelling through Mexico on a horse and buggy,
> with a pet monkey. Stuff like this reminds me why I like
> to travel.
> Long story short, I made it to the Oaxaca coast, left
> the bike with a family I know and took a bus to Guatemala.
> I ran into an English couple fleeing to Costa Rica from
> the USA…they’re real characters. The woman was an
> ex-stripper, and the two of them knew a bunch of weird
> characters back in California…the only one I remember
> clearly was Otto von Heidler, a homeless neo-Nazi cross
> dresser (whose real name is Tom Smith). He lived by a
> large tree near an apartment complex, in a sleeping bag
> with a pet cat…weird. 
> Anyway, I met some indigenous people here and am trying
> to learn about the various cultures. It’s almost too much
> to take in.
> So, are you still travelling? Where are you? How are
> things going?
> Talk to you soon, your friend,
> Frank 

Privilege, Perspective, and Other Issues… 
Current mood:  impressed

As I sit here tonight reading Octavio Paz’s famous work The Labyrinth of Solitude I am reflecting on conversations that I had in Mexico, conversations that I wanted to work somehow into this blog.

Paz’s work offers me a good segue. In this work (the translation I am reading is dated 1961 and interesting date because I find his discussion ever more relevant today), Paz unpacks the notion of Mexican identity. Working on the heals of the inherently racist indigenista movement of the first half of the century, Paz dissects issues of mestizaje, assimilation, and emigration in effort to define the Mexican experience. What he discovers is that to be Mexican is a lonely existence fraught with adversity in the Western neo-capitalist world. While we may interpret this as simply a bleak outlook, he with brilliant prose explains such an existence is one that is stuck between worlds, people from a country of contradictions in search of a new identity, hybrids. In essence, Paz questions what it means to be Mexican and what are the implications of being “Mexican” when a Mexican emigrates to North America. 

Paz writes that “The history of Mexico is the history of a man seeking his parentage, his origin” and argues that the solitude begins with this not knowing.

This is a poignant statement, especially for those familiar with racial and ethnic problems in Mexico and a difficult statement for average Americans to wrap their minds around. We believe that our racial discussions here in America are convoluted. They pale in comparison to Latin America. They are close to indefinable in fact. Being that this is a difficult discussion Paz moves from race and ethnicity as defining Mexicaness to a discussion of character. Americans are characterized as confident (often confident in our hypocrisy, I would argue) as well as some other unflattering adjectives. He offers up a great segment comparing Americans and Mexicans. I will share some of it with you. Paz begins by stating that the most notable trait of Mexicans is their “willingness to contemplate horror.” In a melodramatic sense, Mexicans embrace death as a release, while Americans have faith in their immortality. The cult of death is in a sense a “cult of life,” he argues.

Paz then writes, “The North Americans are credulous and we are believers, they love fairy tales and detective stories and we love myth and legends. The Mexican tells lies because he delights in fantasy, or because he is desperate, or because he wants to rise above the sordid facts of his life; the North American does not tell lies, but he substitutes social truth for real truth, which is always disagreeable. We get drunk in order to confess; they get drunk to forget. They are optimists and we are nihilists — except that our nihilism is not intellectual but instinctive, and therefore irrefutable. We are suspicious and they are trusting. We are sorrowful and sarcastic and they are happy and full of jokes. North Americans want to understand and we want to contemplate. They are activists and we are quietists, we enjoy our wounds and they enjoy their inventions. They believe in hygiene, health, work and contentment, but perhaps they have never experienced true joy, which is an intoxication (amen!), a whirlwind. In the hubbub of a fiesta night our voices explode into brilliant lights, and life and death mingle together, while their vitality becomes a fixed smile that denies old age and death but that changes life to motionless stone.”

Now let all of that settle within yourself. I have included all of Paz’s words for a reason. Paz wrote all of this before 1968. This is what he saw as Mexican character before the pivotal year of 1968, a year that cracked the Mexican psyche, as well as the PRI. Now I question to what degree his argument holds true today.

I would say that it still holds water and is ever more applicable today. My reasoning comes from conversations I had on my last trip and from my own thoughts on present American cultural issues. In Paz’s search for Mexican character we ourselves can contemplate American character. Confront it. Confront it within us. As a Mexicanist, I constantly worry that I am “othering” that which I study. As I travel, I worry that my wide-eyed enthusiasm can be construed as this fascination with that which is “exotic.” Maybe to a degree it is true, although I would be wary of admitting that, I see my involvement in Mexican culture as one of passionate interest.

One night as Huitzilopochtli sat in the restaurant of El Panchon in Palenque, a twenty-something year old guy passed our table wearing a shirt that read “Buenos Fucking Aires.” Upon reading the shirt, Huitzilopochtli and I laughed to each other and commented that we were definitely in the right place. The restaurant that night was packed with travelers and tourists, every table was abundantly occupied. After midnight, we stumbled our way back in the dark to the cabanas and settled in for some late night discussions. Huitzilopochtli initiated the talk with the comment, “You do realize that most of those kids there tonight come from privilege. Most of them are on their one-year break between high school and college and are traveling the world on daddy’s money.” I immediately agreed with him and then let the comment steep. I then asked him, “What makes me different from those kids, besides the fact that I’ve run myself into incredible debt in order to travel?” He replied, “You are here because you love it. You are inquisitive and want to learn. You appreciate the privilege of travel.” (or something to that effect)

See, while Huitzilopochtli is now American, he is first and foremost Mexican. And there in lies the difference between him as a traveler to southern Mexico and those people we spoke of. I then laid in the jungle darkness and listened as Huitzilopochtli talked about his experience as a Latino male in Estados Unidos. 

He and his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was in his early teens. When they arrived he spoke no English and was punished violently in school for this shortcoming. “You have no idea what it feels like to be punched solely because you don’t understand what is being said to you,” he told me. He fought back out of self-preservation and then fought through school to learn English. As he talked about his struggle in school to succeed, I was struck by the lack of bitterness in his voice. He recognized his struggle to succeed as character building. He has told me often that he is not lucky. Everything he accomplished in life was through hard work and against much adversity.

To begin, by the time Huitz graduated high school he had yet to earn citizenship. Without citizenship college would be a difficult ride. But through interesting means Huitz gained admission to the college of his hometown. Working several jobs at once to pay his college tuition he ultimately graduated and received citizenship along the way. He told me that his father worked very hard for the family to naturalize. His father never wanted them to marry just for citizenship. I have to admit that my curiosity got the best of me when we spoke of this and I asked, “If someone marries a Mexican, do they get a green card like in the U.S.?” I received a curious glance from him, but not for the reason one might expect. His answer to me was, “No, it’s a different process. Besides who emigrates to Mexico? Who WANTS to become Mexican?” A very telling reply I thought. Besides the scores of American ex-patriots living in cities like San Miguel de Allende and San Cristóbal, do people want to become Mexican? But I digress. 

Huitzilopochtli’s discussion of the racism he incurred in the U.S. to me was fascinating and compelling. As a college student and employee of a supermarket, he was many times offered the question, “Why are you going to college? You are Latino.” When the police department as an interpreter employed him, he would often hide his badge when entering various stations just to see the response from fellow employees. It was usually the same, stares like he was there as the culprit rather than party to the interrogation.

A more interesting comment he offered to me was that in the U.S. he sometimes has to hide his Mexicaness, a subject to which Octavio Paz speaks. Huitz told me that he couldn’t cut his curly mop of hair. If he cropped it close he would look too suspect. A problem white America does not have to deal with in our day and age of racial profiling. Today, America is riddled with xenophobia. My father as the editor of a newspaper and columnist would often get emails telling him that the Mexicans here in the U.S. are flooding our borders in order to ruin our country and take our money. We know that this is untrue. This country has a long legacy of being built on the backs of our immigrant population. If most Americans could set aside their paranoia for a moment they could recognize this and appreciate the industriousness. 

So in many ways I recognize my privileges and do not try to capitalize on them. On a day-to-day basis we could argue against our privilege. Many would say oh life is hard. I am in debt and work hard.

To fully appreciate the privilege we have one need only step outside of the border or look around at those trying to attain what it means to be American, and oh what a humbling experience it is.

Come take a walk with me, best I round all this out. Characters welcome.

I was thinking that this blog would round out some of my travel talks. So please, come take a walk down the Andador in San Cristóbal and let me introduce some people that I’ve yet to fully mention. 

We’ll start in the parque, or the zocalo as some like to call it. In the center of the parque is a gazebo. In the evenings a marimba band plays tunes from atop of the gazebo. The upbeat melodies play as a soundtrack as you walk around. There, can you hear it? You can? Good. Now lets cross the street and check out the action in the square in front of the old Franciscan church. There are all sorts of indigenous women and child selling their woven wears. There are also the guys in dreads practicing for their late night shows of fire acrobatics. Had we been here a few days before I could have introduced you all to Huitzilopochtli in person. He would have been here sitting next to the cross enjoying a gelato cone as we watched the crowd, but alas, he has already moved on.

So lets head down the Andador to meet up with my friend James and maybe a few other people. I’ll be sure to point out the good bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, don’t you worry. 

The Andador is crowded today. This isn’t unusual. It’s a popular spot. It’s usually filled with locals and tourists, a sea of people. On our left is a very modern gelato shop. May I suggest a mango gelato; the lime is a bit tart. On your right are two good places to get huaraches (i think that’s how you spell it) and tacos with pastor.

The pastor here is not as good as the place up on Madero, no place is as good as that taco place, but it’s still pretty good. Oh, you say you’re unfamiliar with pastor. Huitz and I agree that there is a god. We know this because of pastor. Pastor is pork first cooked on top of a huge pineapple as it is rotated in front of a grill. Cooks then shave it off and cook it Japanese style on a hot flat grill. It is served on a tortilla with whatever you want. I like onions, mushrooms, pineapple, cilantro, cheese, hot sauce, and loads of limejuice. Lets move on.

There on your right is El Circo, although the sign outside says Salon Mundial. I don’t know maybe it’s under new management, but everyone still calls it El Circo. That’s THE place to dance in town. It’s got great drink specials, two for one at 45 pesos (last year it was 35 pesos) and fantastic live music. The reggae band is sitting outside of the bar in the late afternoon enjoying a coffee. They are there everyday. The lead singer/bassist is particularly interesting. He’s about 4 ft tall and with a slight build. Right now his dreads are tied up under his tam, but if he took his hat off you’d see that his dreads fall to his tiny little waist.

Next-door is La Revolucion, it’s a cafe by day and bar by night. Look there’s James having a cappuccino. Today he is sitting next to Ben, quite possibly the only interesting Brit I’ve met as of yet on this trip. He is in town for a short while before he heads off to India. You see Ben was an advertising rep in England. One day he woke and decided that life just wasn’t what he wanted, so he sold everything and decided to travel until the money ran out. In British fashion, Ben is having a beer. The rest of us are having coffees. 

James is quite a bit of fun, you’ll like him. You see today we all are doing what we do best here… contemplating the world and deciding where we are going to take our next coffee.

Life is just a whole lot slower here, even with a job. It’s kind of nice. James, a student from Swarthmore, has been living in Belize for the last 6 months. He was doing research on land development and labor issues amongst the villages there. He’s got great stories beginning with his first host family, a family of missionaries. Imagine if you will for a moment, a biology/anthropology student getting hosted by charismatic missionaries in Belize. After that family, he moved on and for a while his address was “Old Man Munoz’s hut” (some city), Belize. James has great field perspective on village and farmer life in Belize. He is very interested in how it compares with Chiapas. If you ask James will also explain recent Belizean political history too. (Got to remember while Belize is in Central America, it is just different, the exception if you will) Not to bad for an undergrad, eh? He puts most grad students to shame. James makes the comment that San Cristóbal is really nice. He states, “There aren’t many Americans here. That’s really nice.” See he is accustomed to the cruise ships docking along the coast. He says hundreds of American tourists hop off the boats for a few hours and buy up all the tourist trinkets and they get back on the boat. They have no interest in getting to know anything about Belize really. I concur with him. “Yes,” I say, “Damn Americans, they just ruin everything.”

After a few hours of sitting outside, we meander over to another coffee shop to type up a blog and to get some molletos. It is a great coffee shop; they have good snacks and the fastest Internet in all of Mexico. I particularly love it that they roast their own coffee beans. Just imagine it, Chiapan coffee beans roasted right there while you sit. The roaster sits right by the front door. From the atrium you can hear the sizzle, then the cranking of the machine and then, then the smoke flows into the whole shop. A big puff of smoke, that wonderful bitter smell of roasted beans. A year ago there was a waiter that worked there. I would go in the afternoon and he always waited on me. We never spoke, other than pleasantries, but he was interesting to me because one of his eyes had a unique iris. It was as if the black pupil bleeds into the dark brown of his iris. It reminded me of how Alice Walker once described her own eye, her blind eye. She states that she was always self conscious about her blindness and thought that everyone saw that deformity as something hideous until one day her daughter told her that her eye looked like a small version of the world embedded with shapes. His eye was similar and I often thought about what he saw through that eye.

Once back out in the Andador we run into a few other friends. There is Sandy  a good friend in SCLC. Nothing changes around here. If we are lucky tonight maybe we will run into some of my friends, both American and Chiapan. More than likely we will run into some of the people from the hostel. That will be fun. Most are just here for a good time anyways. 

So here I will leave you. Lets meet up for our last night. We’ll go eat some pastor and do some dancing. Then once we’ve had our fun and taken our flights home lets promise to meet here next year, do some work in the community and resume the good life.

Currently listening :One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley & the WailersBy Bob Marley & The WailersRelease date: By 22 May, 2001

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