No preocupado

Everybody here is always saying, “Don’t worry.” “Don’t worry.” And I always think, what is there to worry about? I finally figured out that “No preocupado” (Don’t worry.) is used in the same way that we say, “No problem.”

So don’t worry, be happy!

Fanciful frogGo ahead and smile. You know you want to.

No worries! Now doesn’t that feel great?

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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Cuidado

That is “Be careful” in Spanish.

One thing I am not fond of about Mexico is the drivers. The pedestrian does NOT have the right of way here. Oh, sure, a taxi or combi might stop and signal for the gringo to cross a busy street but that does not prevent someone behind from speeding around him and hitting you.

With all the processions clogging the streets these past two weeks and all the vacacionistas in town, it has been particularly peligroso on the streets. Cars, taxis, and motor bikes are more plentiful than usual and all are in a hurry to get somewhere, so pedestrian, be aware.

You might start crossing the street without a car in sight but before you reach the other side, a car comes zooming up and passes mere inches behind you. That is scary! What is even worse is when the driver misjudges or you slow just a bit to negotiate a pothole or curb and well….

I had a taxi hit my bag once and a few of those “give me a little space” moments but that is nothing compared to a friend who is currently laid up because a car hit his foot or the two friends of friends we lost this week because of a pedestrian/car accident.

Time and unforeseen occurrence may befall us all, however, it is always wise to be careful out there.

Motorbikes, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

What goes up…

It is said of Taxco, that the only streets that do not go up are those that are going down. And that is very true. With the exception of Benito Juarez, the main tourist street that winds along a ridge halfway up and halfway down one of the mountains the city is perched upon, the streets climb steeply up or down. And, even Benito Juarez heads significantly uphill as it reaches the zocolo in the center of town.

Originally designed for donkey carts, everywhere there are streets so steep that I wonder how the cars and taxis get up them. Sometimes they don’t and they have to back down, rev their engines, squeal their tires,and burn rubber before succeeding. (This is a common occurrence at my corner.)

Once, I was climbing up one of these roads, with a hand rail attached to the house wall to help pull myself up, when a taxi came down. In navigating the 90 degree turn, it locked its brakes and slid on the oil and rubber slicked and smoothed cobblestones, diagonally across the street right toward where I was standing. Suddenly, the wheels caught and the taxi veered away from me. (Whew! I thought I was a goner for a moment!)

You get used to walking up and down, sometimes on the cobble stone streets, and other times on cement ramps, and if you are fortunate (or not) a set of steps. Coming back into town the other day on our way to a lunch invitation in Los Jales (at the bottom of town), we had to negotiate this set of stairs.

Yeah I know, gave me vertigo, just looking at it. It is a loooooonnnnnnnng way down.

Silence

Early morn, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

It felt like I was walking in a ghost town. Streets, that had been jam packed with food carts, street venders, and hordes of people, were suddenly empty. The whole city was silent except for the pealing of a single church bell.

After a week of processions, horns honking, drums beating, and hordes of people — penitents and their entourages and the thousands of onlookers that came for ” the show,” milling about, talking, shouting, and eating, the chaos of Seman Santa was suddenly all over.

It was very strange to hear no noise and to see no people, not even a taxi. It might have seemed that everyone was whisked off into some giant alien abduction until I realized that in addition to probably sleeping in or staying home for a quiet day with family, there was a time change.

It was the first Sunday in April and “Spring ahead” had come to Mexico.

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 – Flag Day

The house where I live is just off of Calle de Benito Juarez, the main street of Taxco. Every, and I mean EVERY, parade, procession, or protest marches right past my balcony.

Last Friday was the first Friday of Lent, celebrated with airworks boomers and bandas roving the city to remind people of this sacred time.

Street band observing Lent, Taxco de Alaracon, MexicoBut there were more bands on Saturday, then Sunday marked a taxi protest clogging the streets with taxis with nobody inside them, and yesterday, more bands, one with children in 3 kings outfits (like those below) skipping down the street.

Three kings parade participants, , Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

Parade, Taxco, Mexico

What is going on? I thought all this was reserved for Fridays?

After a weekend of boomers and parades marching by day and night, I thought things were finally settling down when a somber drum cadence could be heard marching closer and closer.

It is February 24, Mexican Flag Day and every school drum and bugle corps with their honor guard is marching toward La Garita to observe a flag honoring celebration. It was a solid hour and a half of snare drums bang, bang, banging a slow march cadence past my door.

Talk about a headache!!!!

Mexican Traditions — First Friday

This morning I was awakened before dawn by airworks – those booming cannon shot sounding fireworks (with no fire.) They continued throughout the day culminating in special church services, bandas parading through the streets, people singing, jumping into fountains, and other festivities.

Street band, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoWhen I asked why, the only answer I would get is, “First Friday,” like I should know what that means. Since I am not Catholic and the only thing I know about Lenten traditions is that it is a time of penance, that follows the all out debauchery that is Carnival/Mardi Gras, and lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, I decided it was a good time to find out.

In Mexico, the word for Lent is Cuaresma, which comes from the word for 40 representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. With Mexico being one of the most Catholic countries in the world, Lenten observances are an important part of the culture, filled with solemn observances, processions, and merriment. It is a time of church and family activities, sobriety and abstinence, with most Mexicans giving up eating meat on Fridays.

So what is this First Friday all about? On the first Friday after Ash Wednesday,  processions of “The Lord of Mercy” goes through the main streets of town, imploring mercy for sins. Rag tag bands of all sorts, wander the streets, which usually attract more of a Pied Piper following than any kind of solemn observance.

Street band, Taxco, MexicoMy first year here, before I knew about First Friday and all the other Fridays that follow, I was told that the bands were to remind people that it was a holy time, which was really amusing considering they came marching over the hill playing Roll Out the Barrel, a quintessential drinking song.

I now know that each Friday from now until Easter I will be awakened with airworks and serenaded to sleep by brass bands, each marking a special observance such as Dia de la Samaritana or Viernes de Dolores, the Friday of Sorrows, observed on the last Friday before Easter week in recognition of Mary’s loss of her son. All of this leads up to the influx of thousands of penitents and onlookers for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Taxco.

Holy Week in Taxco de Alaracon, MexicoEnough of a lesson for now. More later. Or visit the GoMexico Website.

Amigos

The word of the day is amigos – friends.

If this guy took a bath once in awhile, we might be grande amigos.

Two bearsFYI – If your friend is female, she is your amiga. But if your group of amigas includes just one muchacho, then they are all amigos.  Just one of the frustrating things about learning this language, not only do you need to know different verb tenses but all the words change (including the pronouns) depending on who is the subject of the sentence, not just singular or plural but feminina and masculina as well.

Would somebody please tell me why a man’s tie (la corbata) is feminine and a woman’s dress (el vestido) is masculine?