I just returned from El Ocotito, where I spent 6 very laid back days with the family of mi amiga, Lilibeth.
A small town, about an hour from Acapulco via autopista (the equivelant of our Interstate highway) or longer via the carretera federale (the federal highway that goes through all the small towns between here and there), Ocotito is lower in altitude and closer to the coast, so it is hotter, more humid, and much greener than Taxco. The name comes from a kind of tree (el ocotito) which used to cover the hillsides but has pretty much been eradicated in this area now.
Ocotito is a regional town (or center) for many even smaller towns around it and thus has a bustling highway strip business area where people come to buy construction materials, car parts, American clothing, and other things they cannot make or grow themselves. (See Cerro de Indio, Indian Hill in the background?)
It doesn’t look like much here, but they host some major events several times a year. In July, when they run the bulls in Pamplona, you can be assured, their are bull fights here in Ocotito.
Unlike Taxco where most houses tumble up and down the hillsides, butting up against one another with barely an inch to spare, Ocotito is a typical colonial town where many live in family compounds fenced in by brick, stone, or metal walls.
Even in the center of town, what at first appears to be a really large house, opens its gates to reveal a large courtyard area with a more modest dwelling inside.
The courtyards often contain an outdoor cooking area, a dish washing and laundry area, and out back, separate stalls for toileting and a shower. They may also have a place to park cars, scooters, and bicycles, a work area with a collection of this and that that might be useful someday, perhaps a garden, a few fruit trees, and definitely a collection of dogs, cats, free range chickens (with free range of the entire house), and even a horse or burro or two.
The house might be adjacent or totally above a portion of this area or have a living/sitting area and even an indoor kitchen eating area on the ground floor, especially if they sell something from their home (and most do.) There may also be smaller dwellings along the outside walls that house grown sons and their families — sleeping areas primarily as all other activities are communal. This communal space makes a great place for parties and gatherings, which Mexicans love. Almost anything, like a visitor coming to town, can be an excuse for a party.
Even the most humble abode has at least a porch, perhaps enclosed by a chain link fence, where the family gathers most nights and on weekends. Other compounds, as judged by the ancient adobe walls of their dwellings, have been a rural compound for centuries and remain that way, as the town grew around them.
Houses are designed for practical use. Sleeping rooms are just for sleeping; there is a bed, a dresser of some kind for folded clothing and a bar in the corner for hanging clothing. A single electric outlet and light bulb in the middle of the ceiling, do not encourage lingering but rather gathering with family in communal areas. (Maybe that is part of why Mexican families are so close.)
Colorful curtains serve as doors or simply a division between children and parents or cooking and sleeping areas. There is no hiding out behind closed doors. Privacy is achieved by asking permission to enter someone’s sleeping/dressing area.
A canvas shelter, broad porch, or the house upstairs provide shelter from the sun and rain, and a place to gather and catch the breeze. Though nights are cool, afternoons get quite hot and indoors, without cross ventilation, can be suffocating. Thus the ever present hammock hanging between the trees.
The people live simply, doing most everything by hand — cooking, cleaning, washing; using resources that are available — tree branches hold up lines of clothes drying in the sun, discarded vinyl posters shade laundry areas, recycled metal roofing covers the cooking area, an old, cracked bathtub catches water for the plants. Akin to America during my grampa’s time (the Depression) — nothing goes to waste.
The yard, outside any garden or fruit tree area is usually bare ground. Instead of mowing the lawn each week, daily they water down the soil by tossing bowls or small buckets full of water over the top, and then rake any fallen leaves or other refuse, which is burned, along with the garbage in a pit out back. This process tends to keep the dust down.
Occasionally you come across a large house, with tall metal fencing, and green grass. When I asked about those places, the answer was always that the people who own them live in the US. Since the dollar is worth quite a bit more than a peso right now, you can build a lot of house with just a small portion of your American earnings. These people, usually employ a couple that live in the house full time and serve as maid and caretaker, as well as a measure of security when they are gone.
Here are a few more photos from a walk around the neighborhood.
Well that is your tour of Ocotito. I hope you enjoyed it.
Coming next: A walk in the country.