Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Patzcuaro and Erongaricuaro

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010

I suppose I should explain what I'm doing here in Mexico. I'm house-sitting. More or less. I'm working on my novel, seeing some sights, practicing Spanish, and eventually I'll go to Dolores Hidalgo to see the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Mexican Revolution.  My friend John Chavez from Santa Fe has a friend, known locally as El Gringo Roberto. Robert's wife died last spring. He has not been back to the states in several years so he needed someone to come stay in his house while he was away. John volunteered but also said he didn't want to stay the entire time and could someone else relieve him? Roberto agreed. It was an "any friend of yours is a friend of mine" sort of deal. So here I am.



The laundry house, the tool shed which is
 a traditional Purhepecha building called
a Troje, on the right.
Roberto's house is very pleasant and organic. It is a series of small buildings connected by covered porches, walkways and stairs. The yard and gardens are full of flowers, flowering trees and small sculptures. There are five buildings. The one with the high pitched roof is the tool shed. The big one with lots of windows is the living room upstairs and a room and bath downstairs. John has been living there. The cat wouldn't let him live in the master bedroom. So I get that one. The kitchen is between the bedroom and the living-room building. It's the smallest room in the complex, definitely not designed by people who actually cook. Off to the side of the tool room is a small lean-to where the washer and dryer are, though neither work terribly well. Eating is done either in the living room or at several outdoor tables under the porch or out in the patio. The entire property is surrounded by a 7 foot wall and the entrance is a large steel gate with a small door built into it. From the decks and the patio the view is of Janitzio Island and Patzcuaro lake.

Living room house with John's bedroom below,
Troje to the left. Kitchen & bedroom house
in the far back. Interesting "floor" plan!
Then there's the cat. I don't know his name but I call him Yowler. He's white with black spots and decidedly unfriendly. I've moved into his space and he didn't care a bit for that. Last night he yowled to go out so I let him out, then he yowled to come in so I let him in. Repeat, repeat. The cat can also open the door to the living room which closes with a definite bang. John's room is directly underneath. I sleep pretty soundly, but I woke up around 2:30 to more yowling and figured he wanted in again. When I opened the door he wasn't outside. Suddenly he dashed between my feet and out the door. He'd been inside all along. I was confused. In the morning John looked like a zombie. He had  been up all night futzing with the darn cat, waking up every time the living room door banged, etc. Without so much as a "good morning" he said, "We've got to do something about that cat!"  The decision was made to move the cat to the tool shed. He likes to hang out in there anyway, and there's a cat box inside the door. So late in the afternoon we waited until we saw him go into the shed and then locked him in. He can yowl all he wants but everyone is going to get a good night's sleep tonight!

We walked the two blocks to the plaza in Eronga to check out the market. It was drizzling and dark. Few people were set up so we decided to take the Combi into Patzcuaro. The Combi's are little white Nissan buses with bench seats along the sides and one in the far back. They hold about 12 people on the seats, and cost 10 pesos, about eighty cents. I guess the distance from Eronga to Patzcuaro is at least 10, maybe 15 miles. It's a curvy though relatively flat road. Along the way are nasty speed bumps but between those the Combi's go like a bat out of hell. There are hundreds of them all over the place, probably half the road traffic are Combi's. The other half are delivery trucks and very few private cars. On Janitzio, there are no roads or vehicles at all. The only way to get there is by boat.

View down the street, Janitzio Island off in the lake.
When we left the house it was cool and damp but by the time we reached Patzcuaro it was cold and raining. I needed to buy a jacket so I purchased one of those classic Mexican cotton "hoodies", in Turquoise and plum. We ate breakfast at a little cafe that had the worst waiter in the world. He didn't bring us coffee for the longest time, then no cream, then finally breakfast but not the juice. John saw him walking off down the street and pondered the possibility that he's waiting tables at a restaurant down the street too. Maybe he's hoping for double tips, but unfortunately, double nothing is still nothing.

I took five traveler's checks with me. John had successfully cashed them at the Bancomer Bank before. The manager at Bancomer in Tlaquepaque was the first one to tell me "No Vale". This time however, we were treated royally and the manager didn't even open my passport so he never knew about my multiple name problem. The cashier handed over the money and we were on our way. So much for corporate policies. It all depends on who you deal with and where. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now I have enough cash to last for a while.

Patzcuaro is a colonial city with several interesting converted haciendas. One has 11 patios and is now a bunch of artisan shops. The city is a major tourist destination for people from Mexico City and Guadalajara. It's high, cool, and with many good craftspeople and artists. A great place to escape heat and crowds. We wandered all over. I bought a broad straw hat for about $2.50, and that helped keep the rain off. Around 2:30 we hopped on the Combi and headed back to Eronga. Bad timing. School had let out and the streets were packed with kids in their uniforms with their grandmother escorts, teenagers in matching outfits including the shoes, and all the people now off work for siesta. The Combi we boarded was full once we sat down, yet it still picked up seven more adults who stood and swayed and held onto the bars mounted above the side benches. The little bus is barely tall enough for ME to stand upright, the taller men had to hunch over. We sped down the winding roads at full speed, in the rain, people swaying to and fro, cattle grazing on the sides, and it felt downright dangerous. I now understand why I see so many people crossing themselves when they get on buses and airplanes.

Back in Eronga we shopped for produce at the now bustling market which occurs only on Tuesdays and fills three streets with booths. I purchased all kinds of fresh vegetables, mangoes and a bag of what I thought were cherries. The lady said they were in the same family, but called them Nanches. I think she said they were cherries to get me to buy them. When she sold them to other people she dumped a tablespoon of chile powder into the bag and then squeezed half a lime over it. At the house, I used an iodine dropper to sterilize water for the veggies and soaked the 'cherries'. What a surprise to find they were something else altogether. It's the weirdest fruit I've ever eaten. It is the size and shape of a yellow cherry, with a large pit, but the texture similar to pears, the skin like that of a green olive and the flavor is indescribable, except that it leaves the same after taste as panela cheese. And to make it even more mysterious, no two taste the same. There are subtle and not so subtle differences. Some are sweeter, some more bitter, some have a slight olive flavor but not briny, and a few really taste like cheese. I think that's why she added chile powder, to even out the flavors. I'll eat the kilo that I bought, but I don't think I'll buy them again. But who knows, the weirdness might grow on me.