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.