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.

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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),

A Walk in the Country – El Ocotito, Mexico

When visiting El Ocotito recently, my hostess wanted to take me for a walk (ir de pie) to a place outside of town where there was a lake. It was hot but carrying water and my parasol (not to be confused with my paragua, which are one and the same unless it is raining) I was up for the walk. Dipping my toes in a lake sounded MAHvelous!!!

So we walked a few blocks to where the cement road ended and a dirt road began.

Not the end of the world but you can see it from here, Ocotito, MexcioWe walked through a tunnel under the autopista to Acapulco, which was filled with jumbled  rocks and ruts, and came out the other side to what looked like a double walking path.

tunnel entrance, El Ocotito, MexicoWhile inside the tunnel, which was treacherous on foot, a car came bouncing along, scraping bottom every so often. Then a little further down the path, a walker in a hurry to get somewhere passed us by. Then we were met by a man on horseback, people with wheelbarrows and machetes, people on bicycles, and people herding livestock. Apparently this was a major thoroughfare from one town to another!

Along the way we discovered a horse and foal in the field, a tamarind tree ripe for harvesting, people making adobe bricks which were drying in the sun, a young man harvesting sand from the river bottom, escaping  goats, a spooked colt, and more. Take a peek below.

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After we had walked a good ways, we came to an area that had a little water covering the road. We sat under a tree, drank water and rested, letting the breeze refresh us. When we arose, it was determined that we needed to return to the house.

But what about the lake? Only after a long hot trek home did I find out that near the muddy spot on the road was where the lake used to be. It dried up and only the wet trickle that muddies the road and trickles into the neighboring field remains.

As with many things Mexican, things are not always as they at first seem.

 

Cerro de Indio – El Ocotito

Mexicans have a great imagination, so many mountain tops and landmarks have some sort of story attached to them, like the legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl, the volcanoes outside Mexico City, or the singing rocks at Teloloapan, or even just fanciful monikers like sombrero mountain, so named because it looks like a sombrero.

Sombrero Mountain near Tetipac, Mexico

Sombrero Mountain near Tetipac, Mexico

El Ocotito is no exception. Dominating the landscape above town is Cerro de Indio (Indian Hill.)

If you look at the photos of this mountain, the resemblance to an indigenous warrior lying on his back is unmistakeable — right down to the stripes of “war paint” on his cheek.

Some say that viewed from another angle you can also see a woman’s profile in the mountain behind him (facing the opposite direction.) Do you see her?

Cerro de Indio, El Ocotito, MexicoI am sure there is another Romeo and Juliet type story here as well but, if so, no one was telling me.

Do you have some landmark near where you live that has a story? Do tell.

Speaking of legends and stories, here is an absolutely striking photo of Popocatepetl “remembering Iztaccihuatl.”

El Ocotito

I just returned from El Ocotito, where I spent 6 very laid back days with the family of mi amiga, Lilibeth.

Elizabet,Tomi,Rodrigo, Lilibeth (Omar not pictured)

Elizabet,Tomi,Rodrigo, Lilibeth (Omar not pictured)

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?)

Street scene, El Ocotito, MexicoThere is even a bull ring in town.

Bull ring, El Ocotito, MexicoIt 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.

Old adobe house compound, Ocotito, MexicoHouses 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.

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Well that is your tour of Ocotito. I hope you enjoyed it.

Coming next: A walk in the country.

Mexican Traditions – Ash Wednesday

I arrived back in Taxco from my week in the country (in El Ocotito with Lili’s family) and the first thing I noticed after stepping off the bus was that a guy had a smudge of dirt on his forehead. As I continued home, I saw another person, and then another but this time the smudge looked like an X.

Ah, it dawned on me, it is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Lenten season for Catholics around the world. That’s why there was so much coverage of Carnival (in Rio), Mardi Gras (in New Orleans) and party celebrations in other locations on the television last night! (Not speaking Spanish I had no idea what the announcers were saying, I just recognized the partying and city captions; it didn’t even dawn on me that it was Tuesday.)

Though, in Taxco, there were likely some parades and partying, church bells and airworks (fireworks with only the boom) until midnight, then church bells and more airworks at dawn…

Night life, El Ocotito, Mexicoit was amazingly quiet in our little town.

I didn’t even see any ashes on foreheads until I came back to Taxco. And that is saying something since I traveled through Ocotito, Chilpancingo, and Iguala, in a truck, two buses, and a taxi.

Tonight the church bells are ringing and the airworks booming but when the day is done, it will be quiet at least until Friday when parades and bandas will roam the streets to remind people that it is a sacred time (see photos and read more about Fat Tuesday traditions here). This scenario will repeat itself every Friday as it all leads up to what a student of mine calls “the big show,” semana santa or holy week, when it is really crazy in Taxco.

Stay tuned. As my student says, you really do not want to miss the show.