Monday, September 13, 2010

Moctezuma's Revenge and That Job Thing

Saturday and Sunday

On Friday evening, in lieu of dinner, I had a Rompope Paleta, one of those wonderful Mexican popsicles. Rompope is reported to be like eggnog, so that sounded like a good flavor to try. It tasted fine, but turned out to be a poor choice for other reasons. It gave me some of the famous Moctezuma's revenge. By Saturday morning John was full of energy after his day of rest and I felt like crawling into a hole.

We went to the little plaza here in Eronga after breakfast. John had some ice cream from the Italian restaurant (nothing like a little breakfast dessert!) and I had their oddly flavored espresso with foamed milk. The sign above the door says 100% Italiano, but they feature chiles and quesadillas on the menu. John planned to go to Patzcuaro and look for painted furniture. Since he's traveling home on the bus he can take all kinds of stuff. I'm trying hard to keep my purchases at a minimum, for financial reasons as well as lack of space in my luggage. I had wanted to go to Quiroga and look around, but instead went home, took a Lomatil tablet, and plunked down on the couch in the living room to rest.

A few hours later, after a decent nap, I did go to Quiroga. It was a 12 peso bus ride north, around the west side of the lake. Very pretty, and on the way I chatted with a friendly young man who was carrying a gorgeous flower in a vase to give to his mother. Neither of us knew the name of it, in English or Spanish. He told me that 'cuaro' which ends the name of many little towns means 'place'. Patzcuaro is the Place of Sky (though I've seen mostly clouds on this trip), Erongaricuaro is the Rich Land Place.

All around Patzcuaro Lake there are little villages of Purepecha descendants. Back in the 1500's a very enlightened priest was sent to this area to relieve a viscous one who had been torturing people, forcing them to become Catholic and 'civilized'. Vasco de Quieroga actually believed that the natives were more than just souls to save, he saw them as people with excellent skills in copper smithing, weaving, pottery, and wood working. He encouraged each village to develop the skills that made sense based on their natural resources and those activities persist to this day. He also laid out a number of cities in a grid formation. He was well-loved and there are many places named after him, lots of parks with his likeness in statues and paintings.

Quieroga is a town he built and used as his headquarters for a long time before moving to Patzcuaro. I wish I could say it was as pretty as Patzcuaro or Eronga but it's not. It's on highway 15, a major east-west road, and so has become a trading center. The main streets are packed with hundreds of tiny shops, there's a lot of traffic, the place is noisy, dirty, and smells of diesel. The main plaza is crammed with tents and craftspeople shouting for customers. I walked from the bus stop to the main street and bought a pair of decent 'tennis' shoes for walking around instead of using my heavier hiking boots. Then I wandered up the streets trying not to step on the little women with their wares spread out on woven matts, taking up half the sidewalk. I ate at a restaurant that was in the back of a 'shopping center', basically a strip of interior stores with a plastic roof to keep out the rain. I ordered the house specialty, Sopa Terasco (bean soup) while a Mexican Match Maker game show played on the flat screen TV. I'm always amazed at how different the people on TV look from the people I see around me. The ones on TV have blond, red and light brown hair, the women look like prostitutes with skin tight clothes and thick makeup, the men often look like thugs with piled up hairstyles and tattoos. The people I see everyday have black hair (unless they're older women - then it's dyed red), dress modestly, don't wear much, if any, makeup, often wear American tee-shirts like the lady in a green one that said "Kiss Me, I'm Not Irish", and certainly don't look like they would mug you if given an opportunity. But I suppose a foreigner coming to the US would have similar observations about American TV versus the people one sees on the streets in any given town.

On the way back to Eronga, the little Combi bus was packed. My body rebelled against the bean soup so I sat still and hoped I could make it back to the house without an embarrassing incident. It was early evening and the sky was overcast but glowing in the subdued sunset. The little towns took on a magical quality. Church towers rose out of the mists like silent candles.

Sunday

A great day to sleep in. I think I drifted in and out of slumberland for two hours after I heard John rummaging around in the kitchen. By the time I got up he already had breakfast made; scrambled eggs with lamb and peppers, salsa, tortillas, mangos, and beans. We certainly do eat well around here. After my bout with the 'revenge' I only ate some beans and mangos, and drank a little coffee.

We started out early with the intention of going to Patzcuaro and then to TsinTsunTsan where the Tarasco nation (the Purepechas) had its huge pyramid. They were one of the few groups the Aztecs never conquered because they had copper arrowheads that could pierce the Aztec quilted cotton armor.

On the Combi to Patzcuaro, a young woman that John knew boarded the bus. We visited with her a while. She had a backpack with her and she was headed to Uruapan to see the eternal spring and Mexico's most recent volcano, Paracutin (which erupted back in the 40's). John had met her in Eronga the previous week. She is working for an elderly lady, helping her to categorize an extensive library of books in Spanish, English, French and German. The lady wanted someone who could write a grant and start a library here in Eronga. The girl said she wasn't really qualified to write the grant but she did help the woman for several weeks in exchange for room and board. Quite a nice gig. Then she asked us how long we would be staying. I said I had to be back in a week. She looked at me and with a perfectly straight face said, "Oh, do you have one of those job things?"

In Patzcuaro, I wanted to go back to a shopping area known as the Eleven Patios. It was a nunnery, built in the 1600's, with 11 open areas or patios inside, for the Dominican Sisters. Now it is full of little shops. We had gone there last week, but it was a slow day and raining, so few of the shops were open. I tried to imagine the sisters confined to such a place. I suppose it needed 11 plazas so they could grow some food and be outdoors a little without being seen by passers-by. The old bath room has not been converted to a shop. It is a small room with an adjoining area that is dominated by a large sunken tub and two spigots for water. The tub is basically a hole in the floor, about 2 feet deep lined with tiles and has a step down into it. There are no windows nor any natural light in the room if the door is closed. It must have been a dreary place to take a bath, or maybe it was magical, lit up with candles. I wonder how often they bathed……

The shops were filled with crafts from all over Mexico. I purchased two small folding mirrors with beautiful painted designs on the covers and a hot-mitt for the handle of a cast iron skillet. In the shops there were blown glassware, copper pieces both for utility and highly detailed in enamel paints, jewelry of every kind imaginable, ceramics, candles, figurines, cloth finely woven with embroidery, paintings, linens for dining and beds, wooden sculptures both painted and plain, furniture, basketry, and more. Most of it was good quality and with decent prices. I know you can go to the villages where this stuff is made and get it cheaper, but here it was, all in one place. This is Quieroga's legacy…….in a converted nunnery. How fitting.

I met John back at the plaza and we had those wonderful shrimp cocktails again at the two adjoining stands. I swear, Patzcuaro is heaven. In Spanish 'cielo' means both sky and heaven. Patzcuaro - Place of Heaven, aptly named! We then wandered over to the larger central plaza and looked around there a bit. More stores, more people, more things going on. Saturday and Sunday are the big shopping and socializing days. The town was busy everywhere.

There are buses that will take you any place, you just have to find the right one. After a lot of walking around, we found the right place for the bus to TsinTsunTsan. John told me a story of being in Mexico years ago with his wife. He told her to watch closely, then he asked four different people for directions to a place he already knew, and he got four different answers. Today, we asked three different people where to catch the bus and got three different answers. The last person was the woman selling tickets and she pointed us back to the first place where we'd already waited a while. The bus did come eventually. Now THIS bus was the kind you see in the movies. While there weren't any people with chickens in cages on their laps, we did have to step over a huge sack of corn somebody had put in the aisle because there was no room for it anywhere else. We put our stuff in the first seat, behind the driver. Why? Because it wasn't possible to sit in those seats, there was a metal rack across the place where your legs would go. Only a tiny child could sit in those seats, or (lucky for us) our bags. Now who would put a seat where there is absolutely NO leg room?

TsinTsunTsan is a charming little village. The Archeological site is right on the edge of town. John isn't much into climbing, so I hiked up there. The pyramids sit on top of a huge artificial plaza twenty feet or more above the surrounding landscape. I've never seen any shape like these. The floorplan is a rectangle with a half circle bulging out of one side. There are 5 of them spaced only about a foot apart. The whole complex is half a mile long and about 15-20 feet high. It's a ruin of course, I have no idea how tall they were in their heyday. Or what use they had. I doubt they were used for human sacrifice. There was no mention of that in the signs around the park. But the views of the lake and surrounding countryside is extensive. I can see why they picked this spot to be their sacred place. Plus it's probably more defensible. The backside of the complex is a relatively tall and rugged mountain.

Again, it poured rained. I slogged back down the hill to the plaza and found John with two more new hats. I think he's up to 7 or 8 now. These were 'winter' hats, nice knitted wool. I bopped around the plaza for a bit as we waited for a Combi or bus to show up. This market featured mostly woven crafts (lots of Christmas bells and wreaths woven from yucca and palm fiber) and pottery. My favorite dark green glaze on red clay must be made near there because there were dozens of vendors selling it. It didn't look like a bus back to Patzcuaro would be coming anytime soon, so we opted for one to Quiroga. It would be possible to catch another Combi there and circle the entire lake that way. I was lucky to have been to Quiroga only the day before, so I knew exactly how to walk across the town from the place we were dropped off to the place we could pick up a Combi back to Eronga. It was only six or seven blocks but it sure beat getting the run-around from half a dozen people who didn't know what they were talking about.

Back in town we decided to eat at the 100% Italian restaurant. We ordered a small pizza and then discussed sharing a medium instead of getting a small one and spaghetti. Some of our conversation was in English, some in Spanish. The waitress understood that we wanted a medium and a small pizza. So we ended up taking a lot of pizza home. Plus, midway through the meal we spotted Trini walking across the plaza and invited her to join us. She expressed surprise to find us eating out, she'd just delivered tamales and salsa to the house for our dinner. I guess she forgot to tell anyone she was going to do that. Oh well, tamales are great for breakfast too!!