Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Apartment

I must have slept well on that lumpy bed at the Posada. After dozing off, the next thing I saw was daylight beyond the curtains and the room was warm.  There had to have been numerous people staying there, because down the portal to the bano, there were towels hanging over the banisters. The young man who’d been there the evening before was mopping and when he saw me he motioned me to go upstairs to use the shower. I thought it was a roof but no; there were half a dozen more rooms up there. And the views from the roof were beautiful. The whole town is surrounded by steep verdant mountains. Most of the rooftops here are tile, probably better for the massive amounts of rain they’ll get later in the summer.  But unlike Portland or Seattle, there is no moss growing in the cracks of the sidewalks, no green moldy streaks on the walls of buildings. There is however a plethora of graffiti. I’m told the drug cartels are not prevalent here but there are clearly active gangs. However, some of the graffiti is in English and says things like “Dogs Rule” and “Wild Love”.

The little restaurant from the previous night had shown Chilequiles on the breakfast menu and I remembered how much I loved that dish in San Miguel. So I headed back to Tierra Adentro after I met the landlady and got the keys. The Chilequiles were a filling though only passable breakfast, not like the exquisite dish I remember. The coffee was quite good. Chiapas is a coffee producing state and famous for some varieties of beans, however, most of it is exported. What is sold in stores and delivered in most restaurants is instant Nescafe. Gag!! So when I find a decent cup of coffee it’s worth savoring. 

Back at the Posada, I packed my stuff and checked my pocket for the keys. They weren’t there. I looked everywhere, thinking I might have mindlessly stuck them into a side pocket of the rolling backpack, or something, anything. Finally in a near panic I returned to the restaurant where the waiter found them under the table. I’ve never had keys fall out of a pocket while I was sitting down before. It made me nervous all day long, wondering if I’d lose them again.
The 'Great Room", kitchen, dining, living....
The cab ride was quite long, but not because the apartment is so far away. The streets are narrow, crowded and mostly one way, so getting out of the downtown area simply takes a while. The cab driver knew the area and got me to the bottom of Callejon Don Bosco, but he cringed when he looked up the narrow street. Not only was it steep, it was in pieces. At the very top I could see the orange gate Alexandra had told me about, and the “Se Vende” Remax banner the landlady mentioned. We inched our way up the “ugly” road and then my key wouldn’t fit into the lock on the chain. The cabbie hopped out and quickly ascertained the lock on the chain wasn’t actually holding the gate together. The lock that should have been securing the gate was just sitting there, not pushed in at all. What a relief after the first key fiasco. I got inside the yard and locked the padlock. Then proceeded to drag my two suitcases over gravel and up the equivalent of two flights of concrete stairs to an orange house way up at the top of the property. The house is a large rectangular block, two stories. My apartment is in the bottom. The larger one on top is rented to two teachers, who weren’t home. The yard is huge, with room enough for a whole other house. And behind rises a mountain covered in jungle.

Cooking anything elaborate will be a challenge!
The place is tiny and ‘shotgun’. The front room is the size of an average bedroom in a ranch style house. It has a sink along one wall, with a two burner gas stove to the side. There’s a small refrigerator with a microwave on top. And next to that is a shelving unit with a nice top and four open wire ‘drawers’ for fruits and vegetables. Under the sink is a shelf full of dishes, two pots and one skillet. There was no food, not even salt and pepper. The door leads into a bedroom half the size of the front room. In it are two single beds that are side by side with maybe one foot of gap between them and less than a foot gap to walk around the ends. I’m thinking I might rearrange to make them perpendicular to each other, but I’m not sure there’s room to do that. No chest of drawers, only a single shelf on the wall, and a small closet. Another door leads to a bathroom with a hanging sink, toilet and shower spigot on the wall opposite the sink which does actually have hot water coming out. When and if John ever shows up, I’m not sure how we’ll cope. He’s not going to enjoy the five story climb from the bottom of the hill to the apartment, and neither of us will find any privacy. The bathroom is barely large enough to turn around in. I’m 5’2”. I think the ceiling of the bathroom is 7 inches above my head. Anyone approaching 6 feet would have instant claustrophobia.

I made up the beds and with spreads they looked downright cheery. There is a large window that opens onto the view of the valley and mountains to the east. I think the Posada owner furnished this apartment with reject beds from the hotel. They are even harder and lumpier. But since I slept so well snuggled between the lumps last night I didn’t worry about it. All unpacked and with my few items put away, I sat on the bed and smelled the humid cool breeze and listened to the birds making noises I’ve never heard before. Suddenly, it hit me. I’m going to be here for 4 whole weeks and I just burst into delighted laughter. Funky as the place is, it’s comfortable enough. Every day is going to be an adventure!

Next on the agenda: shop for food. Merposur was the name of the market Alexandra recommended. It’s the smaller and closer of the two in town. I also met Natalia, the young Argentinean teacher upstairs. She said buses run on the main road all the time, just go down there and catch one.

Sure enough, one came by within a few minutes and I hopped on. I had no shopping bag so purchased one of those large woven plastic bolsas with the sturdy handles, then loaded up on my favorite things. Two avocados ripe for today, a bag of mangos, two bags of dried beans, limes, onions, tomatoes, garlic powder, some chard, a bunch of those tiny red bananas, and double cream queso. I was weighted down and still didn’t find ground coffee, salt, or eggs. But I had plenty to bring home and make a nice little lunch. It was getting hot and I was over dressed. The house is concrete and rock, plus it’s set into the earth. Inside is lovely and cool.

I couldn’t get the Internet device the landlady gave me to work. I thought maybe Natalia would know since she must also have one. Her husband Robin was home for lunch. I thought he was German or maybe even Mexican and spoke Spanish for the longest time till he said something in English with a slightly British accent and I almost fell over. He’s from London. And of course, he knew how to get the device to work. I guess it’s kind of like a cell phone; the USB device is the antenna. No phone at this house either, but incredible internet service.

I stayed home till about 5:00. The school at the bottom of the hill let out at 2:30, just like they do in Eronga. Shortly thereafter the neighborhood was entertained with tune-challenged band practice.

I looked out the window and saw billowing smoke down the hill from the school, and shortly thereafter heard the sirens. It is too wooded to see what was on fire but the smoke was gone within an hour. The forest above the house is pretty dry. Although the building is concrete, plenty of damage could be done if smoke were to get inside.


Beautiful clouds.
Around 4:30 I thought I ought to go to the Centro and do a bit more shopping. The bus dropped me at the place where, last night at midnight, people were holding an outdoor flea market. The centro was packed. Some dancers performed on a stage in front of the super-white government building. I walked back up the street where I’d had breakfast and stumbled onto a supermarket with no sign in front. I just happened to glance through the open door. They had all the things I really needed and can rarely find in the open-air markets, like coffee and soymilk. I should have planned ahead better and eaten dinner, then shopped. Loaded down again, I hopped on the bus at the same location. It took me to the other enormous market which was so crowded with people and cars that it took almost 2 hours to get out of there and back to my little apartment. One of these days soon, I’ll know my way around. And I’ll know how to plan the day, shop wisely, and dress appropriately.


One of the traffic-free streets around sunset.