Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Days and the Trip Home

Decorated Cross for Easter


Sometimes taking a day off to sleep and drink plenty of water is exactly what the doctor ordered. I felt almost back to normal on Saturday. We headed into the main part of town to see the Easter (Santa Semana) festivities. It was crowded. The Train people were there with their books-for-kids project. We had tried to make an appointment with Roman to interview him about the project. But he was busy driving the large ‘train’ around for the tourists. So his wife wrote down the answers to my questions and gave me their emails. I’ll write the article for MexConnect and maybe people will donate money so they can buy more books. The ones they have are getting pretty raggedy from so many children reading them. 

On the plaza in front of the Cathedral, there was a book fair. It has been going on much of the week, today would be the last day. I’ve heard from Brigitte and others that Mexicans don’t read many books. They read papers and magazines, articles on the internet, but books? Not so much. Judging from the lack of bookstores, I guess that would be right. At the fair I got a cookbook that John recommended, in Spanish, so I guess if I cook much from it, I’ll have to get a gram scale as most of the measurements are weighed.

As the end of the trip neared, it became evident that if I left a few things behind, like my towel, and the shirt that was ruined by the clothesline, I could squeeze in a few material things. No longer the market patsy, I’ve learned to bargain. My Norte-Americana guilt is a bit too strong for me to bargain to the bottom line like John sometimes does, but I’m not above using him to get a better deal. After I’d paid $110 pesos for a purse the first day only to find the asking prices were as low as $50p for the same purse elsewhere in the market, I quit wondering who was taking advantage of whom.

In the Artesanias market there was a particularly attractive table runner, embroidered with birds and flowers. At first the seller said it was $200 pesos, but then she immediately began to drag out other runners to show me, at $300p, that were not any more intricate than the one I wanted. I said I wasn’t interested in them, but she kept talking, and next thing I knew, the one I liked was also $300p. She refused to admit she’d changed the price and wouldn’t bargain, so I said I’d go get my ‘husband’.  She didn’t like that at all and started to haggle, but I walked away. About an hour later, I came back with John. She pulled the same stunt, trying to distract him with other runners. At one point we walked away and she called us back. He got her down to $250p and then said to me, “If that’s good enough, pay it!” Then he walked off. Suddenly the price was $260p!! I turned to leave but she called me back to sell it for what she agreed. When I took it, she mumbled “barrato” (Cheap!) and I said, “Si”. Now that time I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt!!

Objects in the Jade Museum
There are still so many things I didn’t get to see in San Cristobal. I never climbed up the hill with the other church, the one on the west side of town, to see the views from there. (Hey, what’s one more ‘pyramid’ after Palenque?) I hadn’t seen the Jade museum or the Café Museo Café. Chiapas is the coffee growing capital of Mexico and there’s an entire museum devoted to it. Unfortunately, I left without seeing that one, but the Jade museum was worth the $30p entrance fee! 


Pakal in his tomb with floating mask.
There were no original Mayan jade masks or objects in the museum, they were all copies, but each was solid stone, and after pricing the good jade around town, those objects must have been worth thousands of dollars. In the back, the last stop before leaving the museum to enter the store, there was a reproduction of Pakal’s tomb. It was impressive. The original buildings, inside and out, at Palenque, were RED. Since the real tomb has been closed to the public forever, this was my opportunity to see what is probably a pretty good reproduction. This one of course was fully ‘restored’ and elaborately painted with bright red walls and decorations of yellow, blue and green. Instead of a desiccated mummy or bones, the king Pakal was displayed newly dead in full Jade and gold splendor, his jade death mask suspended above his face. 

Dancer on the plaza.
To top off my last day, we went to see the theatrical production of Palenque Rojo. It is a dance production, mostly, telling the story of the end of Palenque when the son of Pakal was abducted and held captive for ten years by the female ruler of Tonina. John and I both agreed, we’ve never seen a better dance theater production. The man who portrayed the Jaguar could, on “all-fours”, keep his back level and lithe just like a cat. His costume and mask made you forget entirely that it was a man. The action occurred down the middle of the audience and on all sides. The set was a jungle, with vine swinging monkeys, birds and bird sounds, snakes, crocodiles and giant mythical creatures. I’d thought the entrance price was a bit steep, but afterwards thought it the bargain of a lifetime.

Luck was in store for me on the trip home. Brigitte’s friend from Mexico City was scheduled to leave 10 minutes after my plane so they offered me a ride to the airport. I got to see the countryside I’d missed when I arrived so late in the day to San Cristobal. Tuxtla is much lower in altitude. Later, in the rainy season it’ll perk up but it was almost shocking how crispy-dry the hillsides are.

The road between the two cities is a ‘cuota’, a toll road. While it is technically only two lanes, the shoulders are wide so larger vehicles drive along the edge letting the smaller ones zoom past. It’s a high-speed version of city driving where cars slide past each other with inches to spare. Fortunately, Brigitte’s car is new and has seat belts that I gratefully used. Her husband Bob drove, and he’s good, but not as “Mexican” a driver as Brigitte. They’ve lived in Mexico for over ten years, dividing their time between San Cristobal and Ajijic where they have another home.
Dancers ready for their turn, from Chamula.

I enjoyed visiting with Marsha. We had so much time before our planes took off, that we ate a leisurely breakfast before parting company. My plane was an hour late but I met a woman who was also flying to Mexico City. She is a crafts dealer and gave me her business card to pass on to Brigitte. She knows Juana, the potter I was going to photograph but didn’t, in Aguacatenango. I’ll bet Brigitte could put her in touch with many other artisans in villages she may not know about.

Fried bananas and Churros 
The air in Mexico City was not so polluted this time around, in fact the odor wasn’t noticeable. I had about an hour to find and get on the next plane, and most of it was used up standing in line going through yet another baggage inspection and passport check. My luck held out beautifully, for seated next to me was a very attractive man, in his early forties, an engineer with Dell computers. We had a great time over the three hour flight showing each other photos of our trips and chatting. He and his beautiful wife went to Cuba, and have been all over Mexico. When we landed, he offered to have his wife drive me to the border since they lived near there and it would be no trouble. That saved me about $25. His wife checked me over carefully, saw that I was not some bimbo her husband had suddenly dropped in her lap, even asked me how old I was! We had a very nice conversation about their kids and living in Juarez while he filled the car with gas. It was good for me to make contact with people living in this city that, according to the American press, is so dangerous only an idiot would dare traverse it. She said it’s like any other city, there are places you just don’t go, and the drug cartels are much more interested in killing each other. It’s basically a turf war. She asked if I thought it was ugly, and I said no. It’s obvious there’s a lot more money than deeper in Mexico. Things are newer and cleaner, the roads are wider, there are more cars. It’s in a desert, so it’s dry and dusty, but it’s not ugly. There are much sadder places than Juarez to be sure.

Woman with baby. She'll be selling the goods
in the black bags later at the night market. 
My cousin sent her driver to pick me up after I dragged my bags up over the bridge and through customs. Back in the United States of America! Our beautiful flag was standing at attention in the cool breeze. It felt good to be home, even if it was Texas….

Mary Jo and I had a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant in El Paso, where the portions were another form of culture shock. I had sure gotten used to paying small prices for small meals that were just right. I took a box back to her house and had the leftovers for breakfast the next day.

In the morning I discovered the battery was dead in my van, so I was delayed a couple of hours leaving El Paso. The winds were outrageous. Driving through southern New Mexico was like driving through brown fog in places. With stops to visit friends and family, and another to meet the famous Alexandra, from whom we rented the apartment in San Cristobal, I rolled into my condo parking lot at 10:30 that night. The end to another fabulous, miraculous, and (wow!!) safe trip to Mexico.

Stacks of cookies and sweets.

Tecojotes in liquor. They only look like olives.
Outdoor restaurant


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Down with Revenge!!

Good Friday. I woke up with the Revenge. It ran its course, helped a bit with Pepto Bismol. We had planned to go with Joe (Jose) Myer to Acteal, but I bagged it, preferring to stay a bit closer to the bathroom.

Brigitte at El Chiflon
John reported it is just as beautiful as Brigitte said, probably the most beautiful countryside he’s seen in Mexico. The town is a very small village with perhaps 10 houses and a small church. It is the site of the massacre in 1997. I was under the impression that the military people were Feds, but that is not entirely accurate. They were a paramilitary group, in opposition to the Zapatistas, but consisted of local people. They murdered 45, only 9 were men, the rest were women and children at a prayer service inside the church. According to Joe, who has spent a lot of time getting to know, and fundamentally supporting the Zapatistas, only a couple of the murderers served any time in jail, and all are out now, and back in the village! The villagers assume the government was behind the massacre due to the blatant lack of convictions and there were plenty of witnesses.  The people killed were Abejas, the Bees. They are supportive of the Zapatistas but are Catholic, and do not condone killing or violence. (Many Zapatistas are Protestant, disliking the Catholic church almost as much as the Federal Government.)  Joe didn’t know the circumstances leading up to the massacre but he has talked at length with a waiter at Tierra Adentro whose father and several other relatives were killed. Even after all that has happened, the Abejas do not condone violence or revenge. They do, however want justice, and the perpetrators, all the way up the chain of command, should be tried and punished. They are followers of Jesus, to the core.

The festivities consisted of a long procession of about 250 people, performing rituals at each station of the cross, ending with a long service at the end that was part religious, part political. The village has a display of crosses, each with the name of one of the victims of the massacre.  John said the course they walked was about 2 kilometers, but he dashed up to the front to take photos (they were allowed for a change) and then dashed up to the front again after the procession passed. The photos are his. He suggested I take a photo of the throne in the bathroom, since that’s what I saw most of the day!

El Chiflon, looking like a big
hand coming out of the mountain.
The day John was sick, I took some time in the afternoon to go to the Mercado and shop for food. As usual, there were new things to see and learn about. My favorite tiny bananas are Dominicans. I don’t know if that means they are from the Dominican Republic originally, or if the Dominican monks developed them, as they did many other varieties of plants, or if it simply means “Sunday”. While at the Mercado, it poured rain. I browsed a teensy stall with all kinds of beauty products and came away with bees wax hair cream, olive oil face gunk, some matches, hand lotion, and chewing gum, all for less than four dollars. The lady there was happy to chat with me and we had a good time swapping stories until the rain let up enough for me to finish shopping at the more open stalls.

In spite of all the problems living here, there are a few things that make it all worthwhile. One is fresh squeezed orange juice. I buy green oranges from Veracruz. They run 10 pesos (80 cents) a kilo, about ten. I’ve never seen a more juicy orange. The skin is very thin and it’s almost all sweet wonderful juice. Fresh OJ is cheap and easy to find at any market, and most of the little restaurants. The oranges are cut by hand and squashed in a press, ½ an orange at a time. I’ve had fresh OJ at the Frontier in Albuquerque, but they use a giant machine. The oranges are in a hopper at the top and roll down one by one into a holder where the machine pokes through the skin with what look like knitting needles, then it rolls down a bit further and gets pressed. All the acid flavor of the skin (not to mention any dirt or germs) goes right into the juice. It just doesn’t taste the same, and they get a fortune for that “freshly squeezed” juice. The other foodie item that makes living here a delight are the avocados, so creamy and perfect you can spread them like butter. We always have guacamole in the fridge ready to put on eggs, toast, or chips.
Beautiful aquamarine playground.

On Thursday, Brigitte wanted me to go with her to a little village and photograph a woman potter. Her friend Marsha from Mexico City is here visiting, so the four of us headed south to Aguacatenango. We saw the potter and her family walking on the road and stopped to talk to her. She said come back later in the afternoon. So we went to another little village so Brigitte could check on a weaver friend who regularly stops at her house for coffee but she hadn’t seen him in a long time. The last time he came by, he said he had been diagnosed with diabetes. She talked to him at some length about what kinds of changes he can make to live with it. He didn’t know about Splenda or artificial sweetners, and the doctors had not given him any information about taking care of himself, other than to take the pills.  He also has cataracts and didn’t know about surgery for it. So we stopped and talked with his family. He had actually gone into town earlier that day to see Brigitte!  According to his wife, he’s doing much better, got one eye operated on and is scheduled for the next.

Their concrete block house was very pretty, nicely painted and simple. One room is not walled in, so it’s is a deep porch with bedroom doors opening onto it. We sat in chairs parked on the concrete floor, and chatted for a while. I glanced in to see simple beds on wood frames, made up in colorful blankets, and that’s it. No decorations on the walls, no chests of drawers or toys spread about, just neat, clean and simple. Their kitchen is an outdoor affair inside a blackened roof where they cook over an open fire. There were seven or eight children milling about, gawking at us strange gringos, sucking on paletas. In the corners were 50 kilo bags of beans, rice and corn flour. John asked the man’s son how many children lived there and he replied, about 10. I doubt they’re all his at it seemed to be a rather large family compound with several houses opening onto the central area where the kitchen is located.

The lower cascades of El Chiflon.

The church in the little town is very old, painted white with primitive brown designs and had an effigy of a man hanging by the neck. Brigitte said it is Judas, and they’ll burn him on Saturday, but the sign said his name was something else, so I suspect he’s serving dual purposes, one religious, possibly the other political. Marsha and I went inside where men dressed in costumes were keeping vigil. Brigitte says that people spend time with the saints so they don’t get lonely. This looked like something else though. The men wore white shirts with colorful bandanas tied around their necks. They looked a bit like oversized Cub Scouts. They had long white pants of cotton, but over the pants they wore a second pair of much shorter black embroidered pants. Most of them were barefooted. They sat on both sides of a large rectangular area filled with dozens of lit candles. Two boys, maybe 10 years of age, were on their knees holding a large wooden cross. For a long time nothing happened, then from the back of the church came deep throated drumming and a strange low horn played a mournful tune.

Little girls in the church courtyard were fascinated with my camera’s screen but screamed and ran away when I asked if they wanted to have their picture taken. I showed them a photo of my son and they laughed, he’s got a beard!!
Great place to relax with a beer and a girlfriend.

We drove on to El Chiflon, Mexico’s highest waterfall. The name means the Whistle. According to people there, the falls make a whistling sound when the wind blows a certain way, but I also heard a bird that made a high pitched series of sounds that then blended into a long clear whistle. The waterfall, from a distance looks like a giant hand. Up close, the water has a similar blue color to Agua Azul, though not quite as deep a color. The place was packed since this is a national spring break from the schools and Semana Santa. Up and down the river, on both sides were palapas (thatched roofs) with bar-b-q grills. People were roasting hot dogs and burgers, chicken and pork chops. The smells were heavenly. Brigitte and I braved the heat and climbed almost to the top of the falls. Way up there, they had zip lines across the falls so people zipped from one side of the river to the other. It looked like fun, and was only $8. They also had some climbing ropes and rapelling options if you wanted to try that too. The stairs were endless, the heat almost oppressive. I wasn’t dressed for this weather, I’d thought we were going to a high town to photograph a potter, so I’d worn hiking boots and long pants, a long sleeve shirt, etc. The climbing was on par with Palenque only many many more steps, the heat and humidity, not quite as bad. The water wasn’t as cold as Agua Azul and people were swimming and dipping in the water everywhere. On a regular weekday, I could see this being a very tranquil and lovely place, but it was mayhem on Good Thursday.

Glorious waterfalls.

We left a bit later than intended and drove to Comitan, a nice little city very close to Guatemala to catch the main highway back to San Cristobal. It was too late in the day to photograph the potter, unfortunately. Brigitte didn’t want to drive in the dark. She dropped us off in the center of town, which was also packed solid with people. We watched several bands, had some dinner at Tierra Adentro again, and finally met the owner Ernesto. Joe lived with Ernesto for some time before joining up with a language school and living with a family. It would be Ernesto’s car they would take to Acteal the next day. I asked him if Joe would be driving. He laughed, crossed himself, and said yes!!  Good luck, he told us.  John said Joe was a pretty good driver, very cautious. He’s not as good as Brigitte though. She drives like a Mexican, fast and furious, but safe. At least she never passed a line of cars on a curve like so many of them do. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mercados vs. Grocery Stores


I just got back from a bus trip to the Mercalto, the Merposur and the Mayoreo. In an earlier blog, some guy told me a funnel was called a mercalto, or at least that’s what I thought he said, but in fact, he was saying I could find one in Mercalto, it’s one of three major markets. Mercalto is the nicer, newer, cleaner, less crowded market of small vendors selling everything from ice cream to dried fish, clothing to electrical supplies, plastic chairs to tarps. The Merposur is directly across the street and is packed solid with booths. It has more little restaurants that make tacos and tamales, served on hard plastic plates covered with a plastic bag, so all that gets tossed in the trash is the bag. I kind of like that clean way to do things, sure beats huge volumes of Styrofoam going into the landfills. Some of the places serve directly on the plastic plates, then wash them in a big tub, along with the flatware used by customers. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite sanitary, but so far, I’ve never gotten sick eating in one of them.

Mayoreo is a wholesale place, or so you’d be led to believe by the name, but in fact it’s just a grocery store like many in the US. The prices for everything are a tad higher than the mercados. A 4-pack of TP is $13p, where I can buy the same thing in the Mercado for $10p. It doesn’t sound like much but I can easily spend $100p in the grocery, I’m weighted down if I spend that much at one of the markets. The Mayoreo does have wholesale items like 50 kilo bags of white flour, dog food, corn masa, detergent and other things, but they also carry a wide assortment of yoghurt, cheeses, cookies, cleaning supplies and bottled water.

When I got here, Alexandra had left a giant water bottle that I swapped at the tiendita down the street for a full one. I left it as the bottom of the stairs, inside the locked gate and would refill smaller bottles to haul the rest of the way up to the house. That worked out until the giant bottle got light enough to carry up the hill. However, our half full bottle, purchased just a few days ago, disappeared.

Our landlady Maria Elena, Mateo (little guy with the bib)
and John in his new bib from 'WalMart'.
The landlady came yesterday. She brought her daughter who cleaned out the downstairs apartment, and the same handyman who blew water all over when he replaced the faucet. Today when I went down to refill the small bottles, the big one was gone. The trash had been removed and the area was really cleaned up nicely, which leads me to believe the handyman took the bottle. I wasn’t sure why he’d do that until I went down the hill to buy another and found out there’s a $50p deposit on the bottle! So now I’m not sure if someone else in the neighborhood might have climbed over, or taken it when the gate was left open, or just what. Hmmm. The missing water bottle. Hardly the subject of a detective novel.  We’ll simply have to hide it better or bite the bullet and man-handle it up the 61 steps to the house (John counted them!). 

I never thought I’d be so concerned about water, but the stuff coming out of the tap should not be used even to brush teeth. It can be boiled and sterilized. It seems to be good water otherwise, it’s probably from a well. There are a lot of minerals in it that settle out when boiled. I noticed that when I heated some to wash clothes. Brigitte boils tap water all the time, so that’s what I’ll have to do for a while. This is what it means to live in a ‘second’ world country. It’s not third world…..I don’t have to pull my drinking water from a well with a bucket.

The largest market, the San Antonio, is north of the center of town. It’s the one with the stinky meats and fish. I’m sure I’ve not explored all of it and probably won’t. We’ve stopped there a few times when in that part of town, but that’s a very long way to schlep heavy bags of fruit and veggies when I can buy the same much closer. I think my preference so far, and this is my American bias: is Mercalto. It’s simply more spacious with more light, covered with a large arched roof in one section and a big pitched roof in the other, to keep out the rain. Because it’s newer and probably more expensive to rent a booth there, it’s cleaner. The roof leaks in places though. I was there yesterday during a serious thunder and lightning downpour. The din on the roof made normal conversation impossible, and in no time vendors were postioning buckets and covering up their goods with tarps. 

There is another store we’ve not had a chance to explore yet, another WalMart type called Chedraui. It’s a Mexican chain. In Palenque I saw an official looking road sign pointing off to the right: Chedraui 2km. I thought it was a town.

The Night Market setting up around 8:00pm.
 I love to take photos, John loves to shop. He hadn’t known about the night market until just a couple of days ago. We stayed late in town to see the Zapatista movie at Kinoki. Afterwards we wandered down to the plaza and the indigenous market was going full blast in front of the Cathedral. I stumbled across it my first night here. Women set up blankets in some preordained fashion and then spread out their goods. Mostly they sell embroidered and hand-woven clothing, blankets, shawls, stuffed animals, and purses, plus some jewelry and leather goods. In spite of lamp posts shedding some light on the proceedings, it’s quite dark. The women have bright LED lamps they pop on the minute you start to look at their stuff. One girl, maybe 16 or 17 was very insistent that I look at her things. She spoke Tsotsil, Spanish, English, and when a French lady came up, she addressed her too. I was cold and she noticed me holding my arms tightly against my body. She pulled out a wool shawl and almost forced me to buy it. How could I resist someone working so hard, so quick and smart?  
All kinds of woven goods for sale,
including giraffes & zebras.

There are still many things I’ve not done, and probably won’t on this trip. I’d love to do some hiking, or biking. But I need to find people who would do that with me. The guide book is clear about not exploring too deeply into the indigenous areas without a guide.  If I were here longer, I could go with Brigitte to more villages. We are going to another one tomorrow, to photograph a ceramic sculptor.  I would like to visit some of the high lakes and kayak or canoe on them. It’s a beautiful area, and while I’ve done a lot, I’ve barely scratched the surface. John will stay another month or two. We’ve discussed renting a place here since it’s such a good base for exploring Guatemala and central America. It’s a lovely cosmopolitan city. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pigs and Documentaries

I’m not a vegetarian, and being one would be a challenge in Mexico. Especially if you were vegan and ate NO animal products. Cheese and eggs are a peasant staple along with beans and corn. Restaurants re-fry beans and deep fry food in lard or oil, but unless you ask, you’d never know. In San Cristobal, there are a number of vegetarian restaurants, and many that advertise vegetarian dishes. I had the lentil soup from TierraAdentro the other day, but I could definitely taste the chicken broth base.

Animals are all over. On the walk up from the main road, I pass a yard with turkeys in cages, chickens, ducks and geese in the yard, guarded by a big friendly lab named Lucky. When he’s on duty he often comes up to the chainlink fence for an ear scratch and pet. If the kid is around, he’ll romp and play with him, but if the dad is in the yard, I am suddenly the family’s mortal enemy and he’ll come after me barking his head off.

So it should not come as a surprise, Easter being just around the corner, that some animals get butchered. Intellectually, I know this has to happen, but it’s a shock when the pig is screaming just outside my bedroom window, and it goes on for three minutes. It all happened behind a fence, and on the other side of the trees that block my view of the houses next door. I have no idea what they were doing to the poor pig, or why it couldn’t have been done more swiftly. Shortly afterwards they built a big smoky wood fire that blew into the bathroom window. Standing on the toilet, peering out the window, I could see their rendering operation. It will be a while before I stop hearing that pig in my dreams.

Since the trip to Palenque, John and I have both been taking it easy. Lazy mornings doing wash, fixing breakfast and cleaning up, writing, reading and enjoying the pleasant campo environment. I’ve had a chest cold with a nasty cough and haven’t felt wonderful. He’s come down with the Revenge and blames it on the new bottle of water we recently acquired, but I suspect it is just what Brigitte said, it’s in the air, or maybe we still aren’t washing hands as often as needed. It could have been the mole chicken he had for dinner last night. Quien sabe? Who knows?

The Sam's Club parking lot
hole that John almost
stepped in, still uncovered
a week later...... 

So we’ve tended to go into San Cristobal in the afternoons and wander around the centro area, have a nice meal someplace, check out bookstores and other shops. We made another little trip over to Sam’s club, and wonder of wonders! The hole is still there. The shopping carts were locked up so I couldn’t steal one and dump it into the hole like I’d planned. Next door to Sam’s is Aurera.  The one in Patzcuaro reminded me of WalMart. Guess what? It’s owned by WalMart, you can even get a WalMart credit card so you can buy even more stuff! This store is smaller than a US WalMart, the shelves are much closer together, the shopping carts smaller, but they have all the same goods. Plus there’s an actual bakery and a tortilleria. I came around the last aisle in the back of the store to find a long line of people. I asked what they were in line for, and a woman said “tortillas.”  Either they are the tastiest tortillas in the world, or they are so dirt cheap you’d be a fool to pass them up. Tortillerias abound, there’s one on almost every corner. For 5 pesos (40 cents) you can buy ½ a kilo which is a large stack of about 30.  I passed by the line and checked out the ‘factory’. It consisted of a large machine that was dumping 2 tortillas off the end every second. The people at the back were going to have a long wait.

,

Young couples enjoying a hooka & booze

Natalia told me about an interesting place called Kinoki. It’s a coffee and hooka joint more than anything, but they also show very left-wing films in tiny rooms furnished with oversized couches. We saw one on Fidel Castro, how he’s lived a charmed life and why there have been over 600 failed assassination attempts, mostly by Cuban-Americans and the CIA. The documentary was so poor that I could hardly make out the faces of people on the slides, but they did have some great old shots of Nixon, Kennedy, and Eisenhower. Apparently each of the subsequent presidents have authorized attempts to either overthrow him or kill him too. Nothing was factually documented, it was all hearsay from interviews with his underlings, but I have no doubt there have been many. And I also doubt his people are 100% behind him, protecting him till the end as the underlings were adamant in saying. The truth, as they say, is somewhere in the middle.

TierraAdentro, a popular restaurant featuring live music.

Another documentary, all in Spanish, was of the Hongo Sacerdota, a woman high in the mountains somewhere in Mexico, who harvests and then uses psychedelic mushrooms in healing ceremonies. The filmmakers followed her around on her many little errands throughout the day, showed how she ingested the mushrooms slowly with great ceremony, and then how she worked at healing a poor woman with terrible gout, or perhaps diabetes. She rubbed eggs and leaves on the woman, massaged her feet, blew smoke in her face and asked for San Pedro’s intervention. The woman came back for a second ceremony, I guess the first one wasn’t too successful.  This healer is quite famous, you can buy a t-shirt with her photo on it, with a cigarette hanging out of her wizened old mouth. The film was more interesting to me because it showed how the indigenous people actually live, with dirt floors, one room houses, firewood stacked high to the ceiling, chickens in and out of the houses, little kids playing elaborate games with just a stick for a toy, women doing embroidery and popping corn kernals off dry cobs, grinding the corn into meal with a mano and matate, cooking on a comal (flat griddle) over a wood fire, and hauling water from a stream or well.  Sometimes I feel like my life in this house is a bit primitive, but it’s got running water and a flushing (most of the time) toilet, electricity, and though I do have to haul it, clean drinking water in a bottle.

Ukelele & pan pipes simultaneously!
On another night we saw a documentary on the Zapatistas, the rebel group that caused so much consternation with the Mexican federal government back in 1994 and 1996. Things are much calmer now, after the government massacred 45 people in Acteal, a little town we’re going to on Friday. Once a month the town holds a service to remember those slain members of their community. I’ve seen photos of it. With machine guns, federal solders mowed down an unarmed group of people including little children. The Zapatistas quickly saw how fighting such a monster was not a good approach so they’ve taken a different and amazingly successful tact. They have socialized entire villages, each headed up by a small committee that is held accountable by the rest. Big signs at the entrance say you’re entering a Zapatista town: Here the people give the orders and the Government obeys. They have their own medical centers, dentists, schools, help and care for the elderly, etc. Little microcosms of socialism, which is probably the only way socialism can work well. We human beings have a tendency to become corrupt when the money involved gets enticing, and the accountability wanes. Plus such small scale grass-roots movements don’t particularly threaten the federal government which never provided much in the way of health care or schools to them anyway. The only time they clash now days is over land use issues, when the feds want to use their traditional land for something and give nothing in return, like selling leases to lumber companies and oil drillers. Mostly though, the Zapatistas have used the internet and international sentiments to pressure the federal government. The feds don’t really want to get into a fight with the Zapatistas, because they know they won’t come out smelling like a rose. It’s what’s known as a Mexican Standoff.








Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Agua Azul and Misol Ha

Splashdown at Misol Ha


On the way back from Palenque, John, in his usual chatty fashion, asked the men in the colectivo about round trip van trips to Misol Ha and Agua Azul, two fabulous places that had oft been recommended to us and were only a half hour and one hour away. The guys running the colectivo of course had friends who would pick us up at our hotel the next day. What is your room number? You can pay now.

Misol Ha
John would have none of it, being the seasoned traveler that he is. He told them to have the van pick us up at 8:45 the next morning at the hotel and we’d pay them then. Never once gave them our room number. The next morning, the van arrived on time, only five minutes late in the American scheme of things. We were the first group to be picked up. The driver had some other guy with us and he drove down a suspiciously narrow road, stopped at a door. A little door within the door opened up and a beautiful young woman, possibly naked because she certainly had nothing on her shoulders and was covered from  mid chest by the door itself, spoke softly with him. He said something about returning later and then drove madly around the block. Somewhere between picking up other people and finally getting on down the highway, we lost the other guy in the front seat. Our companions were a German couple, in their twenties on a 6 month post-college trip with backpacks, and a young Mexican from Merida, his Czech girlfriend and her parents. The father was at least 6’8” tall, a giant anywhere, but especially in the indigenous areas of Mexico where John and I are quite tall in comparison to most people. The trip took a half hour to get to Misol Ha, though it’s not that far as the crow flies. The road is curvy, climbs in altitude, and in places in actually missing. Our driver, while awake and good, still drove faster than most of us would have preferred.

Lunch, whole fish, beer, bananas.
Misol Ha is a sacred Mayan spot where a river pours off a cliff and into a deep pool. In addition, there is a cave from which another river emerges and other holes in the walls of the cliff spout springs. It is an area that is under contention. The locals want control over the tourist income (as I understand the problem) and the federal government is not willing to let go of that. There have been skirmishes at Agua Azul so there was quite a military presence, lots of army guys with guns and multiple checkpoints. We spent about an hour there, hiking up and down the paths. Safety was an issue as the walk can get slimy and slippery. Posts were installed every few feet but no rope stretched between them. At the beginning of the trail, there was a long length of rubber tubing, like garden hose, intended to serve that purpose, but it was only partially installed. A work in progress….

Agua Azul cascades

Misol Ha is isolated, tranquil and just beautiful. Brigitte had recommended the cabins there, said its lovely when the tourists retreat and you are left alone with just a few other people and the howler monkeys.  Sometimes I think having a car might be a good idea, until I get back on the road with the fast and furious drivers, then I’m very happy to let someone vastly more experienced do the driving.

We zoomed on to Agua Azul. The road descends steeply into a canyon from the highway, and it was crowded with military vehicles and army personnel. We had heard two locals had been killed a couple of weeks prior so that probably accounts for the added forces.

Shot from the island.

Kids playing in the water
Agua Azul is a bigger tourist trap than Misol Ha. Restaurants abound, vendor stalls are everywhere, you can rent kayaks and buy a swimming suit, though I noticed most of the little kids just went into the water in their underwear. It is a big Mexican tourist destination, not many Europeans or other anglos were present.  (I should stop using the word Anglo in Mexico, many consider it an insult, though it’s common usage in New Mexico.)

It took a little while to actually find the river, we had to traverse the vendors first, but glimpses of it could be seen through the trees. I have seen many photos, but didn’t quite believe they hadn’t been photo-shopped. In truth, the water is turquoise, brilliant, clean, and rich. I didn’t mess with the color on the pictures I took, I only tweaked the clarity since so much vapor in the air made everything seem out of focus.

A truly beautiful spot on the earth.
The cascades are more numerous than they seem when inside the tourist trap. There are trails leading way up the hillside for larger and better views. Less steep and dramatic cascades can be found by walking downstream. It looked like a lot of fun to go play in the water but it was quite cold. I was surprised because it’s in a jungle and the air temperature was in the 90’s. The swimming area was roped off, and for good reason, the currents could easily sweep a person over the edge. But it didn’t stop some people from going out beyond the limits of the ropes. Fortunately, no one disappeared while we were there. I chose to torture myself by inching into the river. The bottom of the swimming area was rocky and it was tense going across it to the little island on the other side, especially with a camera I didn’t dare get wet. I got some great shots of the cascades from there, and was surprised to find it so desolate on the other side of the island.
Detail of the inside of a thatched roof.

A big helicopter flew overhead. Our waiter told us it was a Flight For Life copter but it circled around, came back later and landed several times. It was clearly a tourist gig and could probably be used in an emergency should something happen, though I feel certain they’d want to be paid up front somehow. I guess I should stop being amazed when people tell you what they think you want to hear, especially when they know the facts and could just as easily tell the truth. Not knowing and lying to keep from being embarrassed I can understand…..but to tell someone something entirely fabricated is just amazing to me. I catch people doing that all the time. I guess my Spanish is getting better. John, when needing directions, will often ask three or four people. If they all say the same thing, then he goes that way, but most people will give directions with a great deal of assurance even if they are clueless.

Impossibly turquoise water

I would imagine the view from above, in a helicopter is amazing, the dark green jungle bisected by turquoise water flowing over brown rocks. When we drove back, I could sometimes catch glimpses of the river from the road and it was still bright turquoise even miles downstream, like a little girl’s hair ribbon trailing down the back of her dress.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Palenque


The trip to Palenque took all day. We spent Wednesday morning getting ready to go, hitting an ATM, buying tickets and putting together a picnic lunch for the road. As it turned out, the road to Ocosingo (I described before) made both of us too queasy to have much of an appetite when it was time for lunch, so we were pretty hungry when the bus arrived in Palenque. On the air-conditioned bus, I was wearing my Mexican hoodie and wondering why I hadn’t put on socks before boarding. Stepping out of the bus in Palenque, the heart of the Lacondon jungle, was like an Eskimo suddenly walking into a steam bath. My cotton jeans stuck to me like glue and I could barely lift a leg to go up a step.

Our hotel was literally one block away and I had a general idea of the direction, but we took a taxi anyway. The driver, a lady in the bus station, and then the hotel operator told us to go to the same place for seafood. I was impressed until I realized that Palenque is so small there’s only one little area with hotels and tourist oriented restaurants, and the one they all recommended was probably also the only seafood place in town. It was named the Huachinango (Red Snapper in Spanish) and didn’t actually serve red snapper. All the fish was tilapia and who knows, it was probably farm raised. But it was tasty, good, not expensive and we sat outside in the shade of trees as the sun went down and the world cooled off ever so slightly.

Palm shadows at the hotel.
The hotel we stayed in was Hotel Chablis (pronounced Chah-blees). Brigitte had recommended it and it was listed in Lonely Planet as a one-star hotel. It deserved at least 2 stars. There were no phones in the room, the pool was a natural temperature, (actually quite cold), and it was a bit noisy since the floors were ceramic tile and the building concrete. But it was pleasantly painted, the air conditioner worked, clean as a whistle, clearly remodeled recently, and the staff was friendly. I would highly recommend it at $50 US per night.

At a large traffic circle, there’s a huge alabaster sculpture of a Mayan head. It’s a major landmark. On Thursday morning, we headed out to the ruins by going down the street toward the big head. We looked so much like tourists that a colectivo van stopped for us and whisked us out to Palenque. A fellow on the van claimed to be a mystical healer/shaman on his way to work. He has a booth at the park entrance, runs major tours, only $3,000 US dollars but worth it since he’s the real thing, through Mayan country, and is one of the few remaining Lacondon Mayans. Later in the day John asked after him and the kids around the entrance said, “Oh, you mean the drunk?”

We were, of course, accosted by tour guides who only charge $40 US for a two-hour tour. After the lack of signage and information at Tonina, I thought it might be a good idea to get a guide so I asked around if anyone else would be interested in splitting the fee. There was a man there that we both recognized. We’d seen him hanging around in San Cristobal, and both commented on how much he looked like he could be from Los Alamos…..white shorts, white socks going half way up his shins, sandals, two cameras, thick glasses, slightly curved posture, intent expression. A geek all right. We approached him saying we knew him from San Cristobal. Yes, he’d been there, but hadn’t noticed us. He barely spoke English, he was Israeli. But he wanted a guide too so we agreed to a deal. His wife was at their hotel, not feeling well. John wasn’t in the least interested in climbing pyramids, and as it turned out, neither was our chubby guide.

Pakal's tomb.
In some respects it was a good idea to have the guide, though after watching other guides and their groups, we could have found one with more enthusiasm. The signage was almost nonexistent, we didn’t get any kind of multilingual printout or map. Danny had copied the pages from Lonely Planet pertaining to Palenque. It was a good thing too, because we got fairly turned around and lost after the guide abandoned us, the map came in handy. Then Danny lost the plastic bag with the map in it. He fretted about it so much that I asked a small group of people behind us if they’d seen it, and they knew exactly where it was, at one of the water falls way up the hillside. Danny fetched it and we continued on our way.

Danny demonstrating the Royal Toilet.
The guide showed us a number of things I would never have noticed. The Royal Family’s toilet for instance. It is a rock slab next to a gap which opens onto a sluice of water coming down from the hills. Danny posed in the appropriate position so I could take his picture. The guide showed us Choc, the frog water/rain god. I only knew of Chocmol, a different god that appears as a lounging man at Chichenitza. There were Choc carvings all over the place. I guess they had droughts back in those days too, in spite of being in the middle of a jungle.  Or maybe they just needed to be sure the Royal toilet always worked.

Howler monkeys.
Danny and I climbed pyramid after pyramid. We went into the Red Queens tomb, up the temple of death, the temple of inscriptions, and our guide sat under the nearest tree and enjoyed racking up the dollars. After 2 hours, he pointed the way to the museum and said we were on our own. Danny protested a little but I was tired of the guy and said, don’t worry about it. We hiked around for at least two more hours, to different groups of buildings: some were lowly regular people’s homes, others were small pyramids with various functions, and there were lots of them down dark jungle trails haunted by the growling sounds of invisible howler monkeys. There were water falls and suspended bridges, and eventually, a family of monkeys appeared in the trees. It was just delightful to spend time watching them swing around in the treetops with their 5 limbs (tail included) and then watch the people watching them.

I had met a boy, about 13 years old who’d addressed me in English, but it turned out “Hello, do you speak English?” was about all he knew. We chatted a bit. He told me that Spanish is his second language as well, he’s also a Lacondan Mayan. I told him I didn’t really speak Spanish very much, I don’t have all the words to talk about politics and religion. He smiled and said “Me either.”

Later, when the monkey family was up in the trees, I saw that same kid go down the hillside and shake the one vine the smallest baby monkey was hanging onto. He shook it so hard the baby almost flew off. I shouted “NO” at the top of my lungs and he quit, never once looked to see who had shouted, he just hightailed it back up to the trail. His friends were laughing, and I’m sure that’s the kind of reaction he was hoping for. 

Observation tower.
Pyramid of the Sun.
 After the grueling sweltering day of climbing around on pyramids, taking pictures, and hiking in the jungle, Danny and I headed over to the museum. I fully expected John to be long gone back to the hotel, but he was there hanging around reading the signs, which were in Spanish, for the plethora of displays. Danny assumed John was my husband and raved about what a wonderful companion I had been. His wife doesn’t have a lot of patience for standing around composing shots and probing into every nook and cranny of a ruin. But it’s my cup of tea and so we were truly perfect companions for a day at Palenque.

Sculpture of a 'common' man. Features you
see everywhere in Mayan country. 
Incense burner sculpture, used by families for about 20
years, then ceremonially buried. The face
is probably the likeness of an ancestor. 
Plaster sculpture on the front of the Temple of Death,
of the God of the underworld. Still with some
original red paint.







Living in Mexico

There’s a lot to living in Mexico that you don’t find out if you stay in hotels where everyone caters to your needs, and things get fixed and changed when you’re not around to see it. But living here is a whole other ‘trip’.

Toilets:  throughout Mexico, it’s common (and essential) to put used toilet paper into the trash basket that is usually right next to the toilet. To Americans, this is just downright gross, but if you’ve ever seen an entire town with overflowing sewage because of clogged drains, it’s a very tiny price to pay. They don’t have much in the way of sewer treatment plants and they are not always capable of handling the ever-increasing loads. TP makes it worse. Lots worse.

Pay toilets: Unlike when I was a student 40 years ago in Puebla state, public restrooms are common and usually very nice in restaurants. But for the rest of the public, it’s pay as you go.…..so to speak. The price varies from 1 to 5 pesos and the cleanliness of them can vary from spic and span to so disgusting you wonder who’s skimming off the proceeds. It’s common to have a woman seated at the entrance that takes the money and gives you a small ‘wrap’ of TP. Or in the bus stations, there’s a rotating grate you pay money to push through. It’s impossible to take your luggage with you thru the grate, but other people will usually lift it up and over the walls for you. People are so incredibly helpful, and often without ever having to ask. Inside, the TP is in a huge roll on the wall and you have to remember to get some before you head into the toilet, otherwise you’ll be stranded.

Toilet seats: also uncommon in pay-as-you-go places.

A really bad singer on the bus. 
Something we never see in the US is a steady stream of beggars, shoeshine boys and sales people coming in and out of restaurants doing their ‘thing’. It wouldn’t be tolerated, but in Mexico it happens all the time. I wonder how often some guy with leather shoes lets a shoeshine boy work on his shoes in the middle of a restaurant during a meal, but it must happen fairly often because they pop in and out of restaurants all the time. The Mayan women here walk all over town selling their wares and come into the restaurants too, and drift from table to table. Plus, and this is quite entertaining, street musicians come in, play a song or two in the loudest voices possible, and then pass the hat. The worst ones hop on and off buses, play for a couple of blocks and then hop off with a few donated pesos. I’ve yet to see one pay bus fare.

In San Cristobal, there is a man who is quite deformed, his legs are short, bent, and he uses crutches to get around. He’s about four feet tall, dresses like a pirate, and plays the flute better than anyone I’ve ever heard. Everyone knows him and he’ll often team up with a guitar player and make the rounds of several restaurants in the evenings. He seems to play whatever he wants, like a jazz musician, though what he plays is definitely not jazz. The guitarist provides rhythmic background, a canvas for his impromptu painting.

Other music: The house I’m renting is at the back (and up the hill) of a very long lot, and backs up to a forest-covered mountainside. The house sits right on the edge of the lot line. On the other side of the fence is a sidewalk leading straight down the hill, and serves as access to probably eight houses, all very small and filled with families. The fence is buried inside tall thin trees and bushes, so while I can hear every word said by anyone on the sidewalk, we have visual privacy. Some guy (I presume) has quite an eclectic collection of CDs. On the weekend, I hear salsa, jazz, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, marimba, reggae, and even American country-western, in random order, and loud. The rest of the week, I hear roosters and babies crying, occasionally some voices. When I was in India, 25 years ago, I commented on how odd it was that people played music so loudly, and Aroop told me that if you can afford the system and the music, it would be very selfish of you not to share. It appears to be the same in Mexico. If the guy were beating his wife, or his dog, I might object, but sharing his music is just plain neighborly.

Weather: In most of Mexico, during the summer, it rains in the afternoon or at night. San Cristobal considers summer the rainy season. I understand the rain comes and goes, not like Seattle where rain stays for weeks on end. We’re in the tropics, though you wouldn’t know it by the cool air at this high altitude. Pretty much, the temperature ranges from a low of 45 degrees at night (on a really cold night) to about 80 on a really hot day. It’s just lovely. Even hiking up and down stairs and hills, I’ve rarely broken a sweat.

The cleanup crew:  My place is out on the edge of town, almost in the ‘campo’. A Ferrier is just down the road so there are horses all over, mostly being ridden to and from his place. They are beautiful, well cared for, oft-ridden animals. In addition, neighbors on the other side ‘share’ their chickens. A little flock of one rooster and several hens wanders all over pecking through the forest floor debris for insects and the mango peelings I regularly toss out for them. The rooster is quite protective and aggressive. A large ceramic tile in front of my door is where I leave chicken skin (but not the bones) and leftovers of every kind for the stray dogs and one bob-tailed kitty. It’s licked clean every morning. Then the trash consists of only paper and plastic junk. There is a recycling center not too far away, on the bus route, and I’ve accumulated a rather large bag of bottles and plastic to take over there soon.  With little organic matter in the trash bag, the dogs typically leave the bags alone and don’t rip them open.  I’m not sure my neighbors bother to utilize the natural order of things as their bags are strewn all over the street. It’s a bit of extra work, but it works.

The landlady has this place for sale and listed with a ReMax realtor, but so far no one has come to see it. Not a place I’d pay $160,000 US dollars for, though the lot is large and impressive. The house is in dire need of repairs, and not the string and wire kind either. Inside, in some places, the plaster is peeling off the concrete block walls. When the young couple left, John and I moved upstairs. We have a lot more room, the kitchen is bigger, but there are only three electrical outlets in the entire place. We’ve had to run a 9 foot cord from the bathroom to the living room in order to plug in computers, rechargers for phones, etc. One single outlet in the kitchen is behind the fridge and it’s a single two-pronger. So, not only do we need the adapter to convert the 3-pronged plug, the fridge has to be unplugged in order to use the microwave. I’ve put the coffee pot in the living room at the end of the nine foot cord. At night, when we have the lights on, the fridge cycles on and everything dims. It’s always something….











Saturday, April 16, 2011

Safety and Security in Mexico

Shortly after I got here I called my insurance agent to see if my computer and expensive camera would be covered on this trip. I talked to the agent’s husband and at the end of the conversation, he said, “You be careful, it’s dangerous down there in Mexico!”

“Don’t I know it!!” I said, “I almost fell into a hole!”

Not exactly the answer he was expecting. Most people seem to think I am being shot at on a regular basis, or it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be kidnapped for ransom, or perhaps raped and beheaded, then dumped in some remote spot. It’s not to say that those things don’t happen, but stuff like that happens in the US too. In fact, I think the most dangerous thing I’ve done on this entire trip was to drive my own car from Los Alamos to El Paso. My chances of dying in a car wreck are far greater than my chances of being kidnapped or beheaded in Mexico.

Falling in a hole is much more likely, though also more likely to NOT be fatal.

Unless the hole is in the parking lot at Sam’s Club.

Sam’s Club? They have a Sam’s Club in San Cristobal?

Yep. And it’s a biggy. It has a beautiful new warehouse building, a smooth pristine parking lot with corrals for the shopping baskets, nice new carts with wheels that revolve, and the prices for almost everything is the same as in the US.  John and I were walking across that elegant parking lot, gazing with longing at the sparkling building, when I just happened to glance down.  I quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him sideways. He was about to make his next step into a three foot square hole that was at least three feet deep. I was astonished. Apparently, it was once covered by a grate, probably now stolen, or maybe someone forgot to install it in the first place. A car would have been severely damaged if a wheel dropped into that hole. I hate to think which part of John might have been broken had he plummeted into it.

When we got to the entrance I talked to the “greeter” who told me she would tell the manager. I could tell by her vapid expression that she was not capable of remembering it, much less doing it. So I located a woman who seemed to be a little bit more in charge, of the store and her own mental faculties, and physically took her out to the hole to show her. Yes, she agreed it was dangerous and on the way back, she made a call on her radio to someone.

We had a great time at Sam’s club. They had a visiting chef, a chubby young man in a chef’s hat who had taken the ordinary Oreo Cheesecake, and presented it on a plate with pecans and raspberry syrup drizzled artfully over it. He’d done similar things with other Sam’s Club standards. We snacked around, shopped for booze which actually was much cheaper than the Mexican liquor stores, and picked up a few little items for the house, including an enormous bag of dried Jamaica flowers for tea. We were so weighted down by the wine and liquor that we hailed a cab. As we rode out of the parking lot, I glanced over in the direction of the hole and saw that absolutely nothing had been done to warn people of its existence. So much for informing the management!!

In Mexico, nobody gets sued unless you damage someone’s personal reputation. If you fall into a hole, people simply ask, “Well, why did you do that?” You can’t blame someone who wasn’t even there for your decision to not look where you’re going. If I happen over that way again, I’m going to take one of those shiny new carts and dump it into the hole. Then at least it’ll stick up enough so that cars will avoid the shopping basket rather than drop into a hole they can’t see. If the employees never noticed the hole, I doubt they’ll notice the cart either.

So today, after the trip to Palenque, the subject of another blog, I was wandering around the yard chatting on the cell phone with my friend in Los Alamos. I wandered down to the front edge of the property and saw this large red slab of concrete. This must be the cistern.

2 RotoPlas on top of the yellow house.
Brigitte had told me about how the water system works. In the US, water is delivered 24/7 with pressure to everyone. In Mexico, the water is delivered in sections. About a quarter of the city is ‘turned on’ each day, so it gets water at full pressure. Everyone has a cistern somewhere on their property, and that’s their reserve. In addition, they have a pump that pumps it up to the RotoPlas, a large black reservoir that sits on top of houses everywhere. This house I’m renting is on a steep hillside, so it has a second cistern which gravity feeds water to the house. That’s the purpose of the RotoPlas everywhere else.  So, on top of this red concrete pad, there’s a rusty old electric pump. I remembered Alexandra saying something about the pump, and turning it on properly so you don’t get shocked. I followed the cord up to the “switch”. This thing wouldn’t pass muster anywhere in the world! The switch is a metal bracket with a piece of insulated wire wrapped around it and sticking out like a handle. The metal bracket is lifted by the handle and pushed between two prongs so the electricity can then flow through it. Below it are two old time ceramic fuses which may or may not work should a human being somehow get into the circuit. And to prevent the rather constant rain during the rainy season from shorting out the whole thing, there is a piece of sheet metal bent at right angles that acts as a little hat over the switch.  I’m hoping that the upper cistern has plenty of water for the rest of the time I’m here because I do not want to mess with turning on that switch!!

After we got back from Palenque, the landlady showed up with her handyman. We had told her about the faucet handle breaking off, and how we’d rigged a pair of pliers as a temporary fix. Apparently there’s no water shutoff valve from the upper cistern. The handyman managed to get the faucet unscrewed from the pipe that sticks out of the wall, but when he tried to screw on the new faucet, he pushed it in as hard as he could and of course water came shooting out everywhere. He drenched John and the landlady. John recued my computer. (I guess we’re even now!) Somehow he managed to get the new faucet installed but there was water all over the room, every book was wet, the couch, our not-yet-unpacked luggage, the stove, the microwave, the floor…. The landlady said something in her sweet voice about maybe putting a towel over it so it doesn’t spray out anymore, and that seemed to subdue the spewing fountain.

We are planning to move to the upstairs apartment since the young couple left. Their curtain rod had fallen off the wall too. The handyman had a great fix for that. I’m not sure how long it’ll hold up. The bracket is wood with a hole in it for the rod to slide through, but the section with the hole had broken off, so there was just a slab of wood left. He tied a thin rope around that piece of wood and the rod to hold up the curtain. It’s the hokiest thing I’ve ever seen. I’d have at least put a nail or two in, to have something secure to wrap the cord around, but not this guy. I doubt he had nails or a hammer in that little pouch of tools he carried.

Seems like everything is jury-rigged around here. If it’s broke, fix it whichever way you can, if it’s not broke, then don’t mess with it. And if it’s not short circuited, then it’s not broke.