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

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