Que pasa?

OK, you say. Blue posted that photo from the airport and we haven’t heard a word since.

Que’ pasa?

Truth be known, it takes me a few weeks to adjust to the altitude and the physical exertion of living in a mountain community. That plus I am making a doubly (triply?) concerted effort to learn the language this year, so with studying, and tutoring, and studying, plus the normal activities of life (did I mention studying????) I am up with the sunrise most days and fall into bed exhausted at night.

With the holiday break, I am finally feeling like I am catching up with myself and vow to keep you all informed if only with quick picture posts of my travels and adventures featuring the breathtaking, amusing, or totally head-whacking, “what were they thinking?”.

Blue Bear and Mexican muralStay tuned.

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Reading Room

Hanging out at the library. Here and there.
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There is a world of difference between the outdoor reading room at the library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the reading room in the Carnegie library (with the original fireplace and shelving) in Baraboo, Wisconsin. But no matter where you are, a library is a valuable treasure and a great place to hang out.

Sit a little, relax a little, read a little or a lot and ENJOY!

Waltzing Matylda

Matylda overlooking Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoThis is Matylda. She is a cute, little spitfire of a young woman from Poland, who is currently living in Central America. The son of a family of friends, who is living in Guatemala, met her there, and when he came back to Mexico to visit family, she invited herself along. Thus began a whirlwind tour of central Mexico to accommodate her insatiable desire to see and do everything possible. In a brief 48 hours in Taxco, she shopped the tianguis (super silver market) from one end to the other, hung out at the zocolo, tasted foods she had never tasted before, went to the top of one mountain to get the best view of Taxco from the base of the Cristo statue, then down to the bottom and up another mountain to the upscale resort, Montetaxco, where she climbed on the back of a horse for a photo op, then down to town again.

And that was just Taxco. I think she put more mileage on their car and more photos on their camera in 10 days than they do all year.

It was a blast getting to know you Matylda. No one can accuse you of waltzing through life.

 

The Springs of Buena Vista

Near El Ocotito is the town of Buena Vista San Juan or something like that. There are a lot of Buena Vistas in Mexico so most have a saint’s name attached but since that part is never used locally, if you are a visitor and especially a gringo like me, you are never quite sure.

Just outside of town is a spring that bubbles up out of the ground. As usual this “miracle” has been marked with a cross so that the blessing of water never dries up. A small catch basin holds enough for locals to come and collect the cold, clear water for drinking immediately or to carry home for later.

The rest of the water, flows under the rock wall of the basin and along a natural channel until it is corralled in a large catch basin or pool before it cascades over the edge and follows a natural channel again.

This larger pool is both the water supply for the town AND the local swimming hole. For a small fee, which goes to support the town, you can enter the grounds and picnic, swim, hunt crayfish, play in the water, or simply enjoy the surroundings and the sun setting behind the mountains.

A local  family who live adjacent to this unique natural water source, take the admission fees and run a concession selling roasted corn, snacks, drinks, and bathroom visits in exchange for free water and all the swimming they might like. Like the natives in Florida, they probably think the people who come here to swim in the winter are crazy, but they are happy to take their money.

Wet and cold at the springs of Buena Vista, MexicoShivering but still smiling, just a few of the crazy ones.

The River

One of the reasons that Tehuacalco was built on top of the mountain is because of the river that flows around the bottom. Afterall, what self-respecting god of water would bless a place without water?!!!

The river, with its tumbling rocks, quiet pools, and water slides, is a sort of natural water park. The tumbled rocks in the stream bed, above and below a relatively quiet pool at the base of a large rock mass, attest to the power of the water during the rainy season.

This being the dry season however, the water runs quickly but not dangerously over the rocks and fills the pool to a depth of about 4 feet. Large flat rocks offer a place for sitting, sunning, or sliding into the pool. The tumbled rocks offer a place to sit and listen to the music of the water as it tumbles, babbles and gurgles along its journey to the sea.

This is the tame side. On the other side of the road, the river drops over the large boulders forming small pools to splash in and many opportunities for the more adventurous folks to slip and slide your way down river.

People with property on both sides of the road are capitalizing on their prime location by offering a place to park, food, and refreshments, tables and chairs for picnics, and easy access, even stairs, to the water. Chickens, ducks, and dogs come to clean up any food that is spilled or left behind by visitors. This day, you could even buy a puppy.

Playing in the river at the base of Tehaucalco, MexicoThough the water here did not elicit any active diving or water ball activities, the youngsters especially had a great time. As the sun began to set and the air became cool though, it was time to return to nearby Ocotito.

The Ruins – Tehuacalco

Not too far west of Ocotito is an archeological site, the ruins of an ancient indigenous people, known locally as “The Ruins.” Tehuacalco, or sacred place of water, was discovered only recently and opened in 2008.The site interprets a center of government and worship, which ruled over a vast area roughly covering all of Guerrero state, and cities to the north, to the Pacific coast, and all the way to Jalapa in the southeast on the Atlantic.

It has a modern interpretive museum and bi-lingual (Spanish and English) signage, though as part of a group of 38 Spanish speaking friends, ranging in age from 3 on up, I had little chance to read the signs.

Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoSince the ruins were discovered buried pretty much intact, rather than torn apart and the stones scattered, it appears that this site was abandoned by the people (for some unknown reason) rather than discovered by the Spaniards. Its location, high on a remote mountain, and a lack of silver or gold, may have played a role in that outcome.

One of the four points (directional mountains, Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoThe people who lived here, worshiped the god of rain and water (essencial to life) and chose this location because of the abundance of water. They built a high temple, which faced the four points (or directions), where on each season’s solstice, the sun came up directly over one of four neighboring mountains. (This indicates to me that they may have worshipped the sun as well, though they could have just been marking the seasons.)

The building that housed their gods is gone now; all that remains is the temple mount. Below the temple is the government mount with some remaining ruins, several stellas (stone markers) which marked the passing of time (days, hours, and seasons), and the ball court.

Similar to other ball courts in Mexico and the Americas, this game, which was played by just two people, consisted of the players batting around a 5 kilo (about 11 pound) ball, made from a local tree trunk, using only their legs or shoulders (sort of like soccer or football if you come from these parts.) The object was to get the ball into a small opening in the wall at center court.

The ball goes here, Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoThough the game was likely played every day, once a year, the two best players were selected to play to the death, literally. All the citizens would come to watch the match, standing above the court in the grassy area, one side rooting for each player.

The winner of the match was sacrificed to the gods (yes, I said winner), while the loser was ejected  from the society to fend for himself amidst wild animals and poisonous snakes —  live or die, never to return.

On the day of sacrifice, a procession moved along the sacred pathway and up the stairs and steep incline to the temple mount. Each level of elevation marking one step (level) closer to the gods. Only the priests, kings, and sacrificial victims were allowed to climb the stairway to the gods. The average person stood in a field below the temple and watched the spectacle as braziers lit up the night sky and shadowy human forms performed rituals and dances culminating in the sacrifice of the victim and his beating heart being offered to the gods.

I learned a couple of interesting things visiting this ancient site:

Ancient glyph, Tehuacalco archeological site, Mexico 1) What I have always thought (and been told) was a decorative way of building rock walls using small stones between the larger rocks, turns out to have a practical reason (though lost to most Mexicans today.) The small stones allowed for more movement in the wall during seismic events (earthquakes) and thus the walls were less likely to come tumbling down.

2) The interpreter told us that the original pozole, a special soup traditionally eaten on Thursdays, Sundays, and holy days in this area, was made using the arms and legs of the sacrificial offering. Each bowl was topped with a small piece of the sacrificial victim’s meat, which was supposed to bring strength and protection for the coming year to those who ate it. As the guide said, some of our customs today, have their origins in these pagan peoples.

After a hot, sweltering, but very interesting afternoon we headed down the mountain to cool off in the river. But that is another story.

Hasta luego (until later),

If it is Monday, it’s off to the Mercado

In Mexico, you don’t just go to the supermarket and buy everything you need (well, you can sort of, if you like your fresh fruits and vegetables a week old and tasting like the rubber tires in the next aisle over.)

Most people shop the mercado (fresh market) where vendors sell everything from “fresh from their garden” fruits and vegetables, to meats, eggs, cheese, dairy products, herbs, dried fruits and nuts, masa (for making tortillas), housewares, hardware, clothing, and even handmade shoes. If you need it, someone will sell it.

In my house, the day to go to the mercado is Monday, that is because in addition to the main mercado downtown, there is a small mercado just around the corner. It is much easier to buy and transport heavy fruits and vegetables home from there than halfway across town. We load up on everything we think we will need for the week. On Mondays we eat like kings but sometimes by Sunday it is slim pickin’s.

Shopping done

Shopping done

Here is a tour of a Mexican mercado.

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Calor

Studying Spanish in a hammockCalor is the Spanish word for hot when you are talking about the weather or climate.

April and May being the hottest months of the year – the sun is mighty strong at this latitude and there are few if any clouds to deflect its rays. That means that afternoons get very warm, well into the 80s.  However, houses are built to deflect the heat — it truly is 10 degrees cooler in the shade, and unlike August in Wisconsin, cool breezes come down from the mountain at night and make sleeping tolerable.

Many people here are complaining about the heat. Apparently no one remembers a year when it was so warm this early. Yet they still wear long sleeve sweaters and wrap their babies up in heavy fleece blankets with winter hats on their heads when they take them out. I don’t get it.

I could understand, light, long sleeved clothing to protect the skin from the sun’s rays, and even a light blanket swaddling a newborn, but if it is 80 degrees and you or the baby are sweating, let’s lighten up in the clothing department!

I know I am different. I come down here in the middle of winter, when it is truly FRIO (cold) for them, and I wear short or sleeveless tops, with perhaps a long sleeve shirt over my shoulders in the early morn and a sweater at night. I come from a much colder climate though and the mid-60s of December feels warm to me. Only two or three times did a cold front come through where I needed to put on socks, a fleece, or once, for the first time ever, even don a jacket to protect from the cold rain.

I go barefoot and sleep with my door open for fresh cool air. To the typical Mexican, this behavior is asking to develop a cold. They always wear shoes because the tile floors are “muy frio,” and sleep with their rooms closed up to avoid drafts.

This is just another one of those cultural differences (though it doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere —the children of the indigenous people run around barefoot most of the time even in the snow) that makes life interesting.

One culture’s customs and traditions are neither right nor wrong, they simply are what they are. To me, the differences are what makes life more enjoyable. Do you agree?

25 Bottles of Mezcal on the Wall

25 bottles of mezcal on the wall, 25 bottles of mezcal

take one down, pass it around,

24 bottles of mezcal on the wall

Forgive me for adapting that old drinking song to the occasion. I walked into a grill to get some dinner and found this lovely collection of one of Mexico’s traditional spirits.

Mezcal, a relative of  its smoother cousin,Tequila, is distilled from the heart of the maguey plant (a form of agave). In a process that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, the heart of the plant is cooked in an earthen mound over hot rocks, for about three days. This gives the mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.

The roasted agave hearts are then crushed and fermented in large vats with water. When fermented, the liquid is distilled in clay or copper pots, and sometimes mixed with fruits and spices, such as apple or cinnamon, or other ingredients as family recipes dictate. Then it is distilled again to raise the alcohol content.

It can be consumed raw at this point, or allowed to age anywhere from 3 months to 4 years, the alcohol content growing yet the liquor becoming smoother with age. The raw liquor is called white due to its color, and reminiscent of “white lightening” in the hills of Appalachia, this aguardiente (literally fiery water) reportedly burns all the way down. And due to its high alcohol content is highly intoxicating.

Mezcal is so much a part of the culture that there is a saying which says something to the effect of “Para todo mal, mezcal; y para todo bien, también., which means “For everything bad, mezcal; and for everything good, the same.”