Tag Archives: Chiapas

Remembering the first time…

Come Sunday, Jorge and I will be leaving on a little trip… the house &  kitty sitter and garden watering person are all lined up… we have both put in a busy week so as to clear our slate. Although we have been to Chiapas on many occasions, each time feels like the first time… We both love this achingly beautiful state.

After our inaugural trip there, I wrote a short story, and over the next few days, I am going to share parts of it with you…

Part One

The ADO motor coach with servicio directo to Palenque would depart at 7 am. This was to be a modest trip.  We like small hotels and eateries as much as large chains. We actually prefer bus trips to driving. Some years ago, I lived in Peru and became seasoned to travel on the spring-less seats of recycled school buses. Since then, riding long distances has never been an issue.

Once we got on our way, Jorge said he was reminded of his days as a guide, when he and I used to journey this very same road with his groups of European tourists in tow. I smiled contentedly.

It had been too many years since we last passed along Campeche’s lazy stretches of jade and emerald colored coastline. As we snaked through the fishing village of Champotón , we snickered over the name of the seaside shrimp bar we saw on the left-hand side of the road – El Viagra. That quirky naivety, unique to the pueblos is something we’d nearly forgotten.

As our bus splashed through puddled wetlands – bananas, heliconia, and dieffenbachia grew right up to the pavement, and the steamy, humid air heralded the proximity of the rain forest and Palenque. This Mayan city is considered to be, the most spectacular of southeastern Mexico’s more than 1,600 archaeological sites.

La Posada Tucán, located a block off Palenque’s main plaza would be our home for the next two nights. I headed straight for the tiny shower, and the pleasure of the hot, sudsy water washing down over my body made me realize that it doesn’t take very much to make me happy.

Off to find food, we felt like two kids playing hooky. Brightly colored scarves, wall hangings, pillow shams, and table cloths temped me to put off finding sustenance until Jorge said, “Don’t buy anything here.  You’ll see all the textiles you could ever want when we get to the highlands.” Not fully appeased, I nonetheless set down the placemats I wanted, and followed him up a flight of stairs. He claimed there was a restaurant on the second floor and he was right. Not for the first time had my husband’s prodigious memory served us well.

Seated on a breezy balcony that overlooked the action, we drank several very pleasant margaritas and ate a hearty meal of carne a la tampiqueña – seared flank steak accompanied by refried beans, cumin-seasoned rice, tangy guacamole and a crispy golden enchilada.  Too, too good!  We watched the bouncy marimba band and the enthusiastic gyrations of the dancers until our eyes could no longer stay open.

Back to El Tucán we crept, and crawled gratefully into the two twin beds. Flat out exhausted, we slept like the dead, but woke up fully refreshed, long before the sun had risen over the distant hills. Jorge slinked to my side of the room and holding me in the dark, he filled my head with stories of the wonders we’d see today.

Dressed and out on the street by six, we felt lucky to find a still-operating night shift taxi; the sleepy driver smiled, happy to accept his last fare before heading home to his café con leche, a soft cotton hammock and his plump wife.

On site at first light, we stood humbled by Palenque – the City of Kings, soaring up through the dense and bountiful forest. Howler monkeys cried out, and bright green parrots darted between the sunbeams that shone through the branches of the broad-leafed breadfruit trees. All-pervasive creepers twirled up and hung down from every tree trunk. Dewy moss coated the flat rock roadway into the site.

It seemed as though the buildings were besieged by the ever-growing green. They strained toward the sky, attempting to release themselves from the sinuous vines that tethered them to the earth. Jorge’s stories of King Pacal, The Red Queen, and Chaac Balum swirled through my head as I immersed myself in their splendid sculpted company and read carved testimonials attesting to their greatness. At one point, it poured rain. We huddled together in the recessed cavern of the Foliated Cross, mesmerized by the steam rising, veiling the ancient city in gossamer.

After cavorting with the kings all day, we returned to the same second floor table we’d occupied the evening before and wondered over all we’d witnessed. I cannot describe the depth of joy that bubbled up through me. I told Jorge I wished that I’d brought my sketchpad instead of my camera on this trip.

“Why?” he asked.                                                                                                                                                                                                             

I answered him as best I could. “A camera locks an image in. Drawing creates a memory but allows the subject to stay free.”

He frowned in confusion, then gave me a hug and said, “I’m sure we could find some paper and pencil crayons somewhere.”

I’d like that,” I replied.

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An Odyssey: Parts Four & Five

I have been busy with my novel and not taken time to post the past couple of days. Here you have Parts Four and Five of   “ An Odyssey

An Odyssey

Parts Four & Five

During that ride, my eyes took in the high altitude green eucalyptus, the lanky canary-yellow flowers bending in the breeze, and hundreds of thousands of plump red coffee beans laid out to dry on hard-packed earth. We passed minuscule settlements where time seemed to have stopped. I caught glimpses of shy Tzotzil and Ch’ol Mayan women with their children. I smelled wood smoke on the wind and the sorrowful sound of the luggage shifting in the compartments below only added to my dreamlike state.

On the edge of the road, pine trees and bananas, apples and oranges, were all growing side by side.  One of our fellow passengers told us that he worked for the national water commission. We asked him – “How could this be?”

He explained, “The mountain ascent is so steep and fast that both the lowland and highland plant species have adapted to these less-than-ideal growing conditions, and so have the people. The region’s Maya are small and compact, and they are resilient. Their remote towns and villages are difficult to access, but in these places you will inevitably find the authentic contemporary highland Mayan culture you’re looking for.”

We found a delightful San Cristóbal hotel that had once been a monastery. That night the owner lit fires in the burnt brick hearths, not concerned that smoke had blackened the white plaster walls.  French backpackers offered us wine called “Red” – the first frances I’d ever met who would allow such vin comun dans la bouche! Declining a second glass, we left el Hotel Montezuma and walked the steep streets of one of the oldest cities in México. We reveled in the clear, high-altitude air. Two days ago I had languished, sleep deprived and bathed in perspiration in my power-bereft home. I felt overwhelmingly grateful to be in this blessedly cool town. After a sensuous meal at a tiny, toasty corner bistro, we came out again into the brisk night air and I snuggled closer to my guy. He sighed.  We turned around and sauntered home.

Markets, markets, and more markets! Husband was racking up major brownie points as “Sherpaman.” The same wall hangings, pillow shams, table cloths and uncountable other delights cost a third of what had been asked in Palenque. We bought wild strawberries and golden apricots – all the fruits that we don’t usually see in tropical, lowland Mérida. Woven baskets and primitive pottery. A pair of amber earrings. I felt possessed – I couldn’t stop shopping!

I saw one amazing woman for whom the term “multi-tasking” should have been coined.  She wore a shawl tied snugly over her left shoulder and nursed a baby from her right breast, while crocheting and supervising three children, who wove friendship bracelets that I supposed would all be sold in the plaza that evening. She simultaneously passed food into hungry little mouths, gossiped with the other vendors, constantly folded and re-folded her merchandise, and, in the half an hour that I watched, sold items to four groups of tourists.

I learned her name was Carmen. Her work was far and away the best in the market and the most costly. She caught my eye, called me over and asked, “Are you interested in a very special piece?” Before the magnificent hanging was completely pulled out from the bottom of a large stack, I knew it had to be mine.

“¿Cuanto?” I asked.

Dos mil quiñentos… two thousand, five hundred pesos.”

I would not argue. I could bargain and get it for less but why would I want to? I’ve always advocated fair pay.  Why should I alter my yardstick because I was in an indigenous market? How much would I pay for this piece in an upscale craft emporium? She figured she was selling her work at a handsome profit; I knew I was getting a deal. We smiled, both happy as I pressed the five 500 peso bills into her hand. I reached into my pocket and gave each child one of the candies I always carry when traveling. I gave one to Carmen, saying, “you eat it so the baby gets some too!”

In nearby San Juan Chamula, we came upon the town’s church. I sensed an otherworld presence and had to stop. I gazed at the building, and an elder told us we could go inside. The heavy wooden door inched open and, as my eyes adjusted to the glowing interior, I wondered if the locals were observing my reaction to the scene arrayed before us. I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out.

This was like no sacred place I’d ever seen. No pews. No conventional main altar. Fragrant pine needles were spread on the floor and hundreds of multi-colored candles burned. Vases of flowers were everywhere. All around the smoky perimeter, family groups knelt before a plethora of elaborately adorned statues.

But I heard no sedate murmuring and saw no reverent crossing of chests.   Instead, these worshippers were shouting, stomping their feet, and shaking fists at the effigies. Men chanted and women keened. Little ones watched the elders, learning their ways.

They prayed in several Mayan languages I couldn’t understand, but obviously they were begging for the saints’ intervention. They set out food and posh – the traditional liquor – and it struck me that this was like the offertory of a Catholic mass.

I heard a rooster loudly protest as he was pulled from a sack. His neck was quickly wrung, and the twitching bird was laid down with the other gifts – the consecration?

They took bites of food and even the children were sipping the posh. There it was – communion!  I felt emotionally overwhelmed.

Ooutside into the daylight, I wondered how long had we been in there? I wanted to ask him about what I’d witnessed but the words wouldn’t come. I couldn’t describe my confusion.

He read my thoughts and explained, “This is an example of the syncretistic faith that is so fundamental to the contemporary Mayan way of life.”

Done in, we headed back to San Cristobal. My belly needed to be filled with another sensuous, voluptuous meal – Italian fare tonight, followed by après diner with our French friends and a couple we met from California. The chance encounter turned into “one of those evenings” with much wine, many stories, some international diplomacy, and a lot of mournful mountain music that settled deep into my soul.

Our bus would leave at noon the next day, and at eleven, I still felt the effects of the “Red”, and  gratefully took Dramamine. I snoozed all the way back down the long hill to Mérida – seventeen hours in reverse motion.

With my heart still beating to the magical rhythm of the past four days, I thought about my privileged existence. Smiling, I quietly told my husband,

“Thank you for this life I have.”                                                                                                                                                                     

“You’re welcome,” he said, “but why do you thank me?”

I laid my head on his shoulder and explained. “If I hadn’t met you, I wouldn’t be here. I doubt the fates, or Isadora, would have taken me to Chiapas by myself.”

Back home, we were exuberant at the sight of electric streetlights burning a welcome all the way to our house. I switched on the air conditioning.  Yes, our power was back. Debris and leaves were piled in the streets and the entire city smelled of mildew. But that would all be taken care of in time. Right now, more pressing matters held my attention.

“Let’s go look at the pictures on the computer,” I suggested.

“Or we could look at your etchings,” said my husband. And until lots later, that’s precisely what we did.

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Day Two

Day Two is almost a done deal. And how am I? Well… I won’t say this is a day at the beach… But I must say this cleanse is not nearly as difficult as I had feared. I already feel better and that’s enough for now.

The writing is great. I have rough drafts for 1 ½ of the 12 chapters I hope to finish reviewing during my retreat. A friend sent an email saying that “Virginia Wolfe would be proud”

In the exercise category, I’m also getting full marks today. I walked for an hour and swam laps for 30 minutes. I did some laundry too and hanging out the wash has to count for some major credit.

I almost forgot about not using the phone and started dialing a friend but I remembered in time… Be sure, all of you are in my thoughts.

Keeping in mind that this is a writing blog, I will share another story with you… this time in five parts. By chance a hurricane is also part of this one but it’s oh so different from the last.

An Odyssey

Part One

I tossed most of the night. My body felt taught and I couldn’t bear how my spine and the backs of my thighs stuck to the damp, rumpled cotton sheets. I pulled my hair up off the back of my neck and splayed it over the pillow but no matter how I positioned myself, I could find no relief from the oppressive heat. Finally, in surrender, I threw my legs over the edge and slumped down onto the cool floor.

He let out his own defeated sigh, lifted himself up and piled into the hammock. One bare foot protruded from the blue striped cocoon and rhythmically pushed against our bedroom wall, producing an irritating thump-pause… thump-pause… thump…  I gritted my teeth as I lay spread-eagle on the somewhat cooler but terribly unyielding pasta tiles.

It had been four days since Hurricane Isadora slammed hard into Mérida. The power was out and it would be at least another 72 hours before it returned. No AC to cool us down, not even a fan to move the heavy, humid air. We had no running water, telephone, or ice. The room fell silent – no more thumping.

Lying in front of the wide-open window, I tried to catch the breeze that blew teasingly outside in the night. I begged, “Take me somewhere cool.” By that I meant maybe the Holiday Inn for the rest of the night and tomorrow… I knew they had a private generator.

He said “Let’s go to Chiapas! When can you be ready?”

Thank you Jesus, Mary and all the saints! While stumbling around the moonlit room, foraging for a few pieces of clothing and sundries to stuff into my pack, I answered, “Twenty minutes – tops!” I wouldn’t give him half a chance to change his mind.

I felt guilty leaving everyone behind.  I could be helping in the citizens’ clean-up campaign, but no – I didn’t feel quite guilty enough. The ADO motor coach with servicio directo to Palenque would depart at 7 am.

It was to be a modest trip.  We like small hotels and eateries just as well as large chains. We actually prefer bus trips to driving. Some years ago, in South America, I became seasoned to travel on the spring-less seats of salvaged school buses. Since then, riding long distances has never been an issue.

It had been too many years since we last passed along Campeche’s lazy stretches of jade and emerald colored coastline. As we snaked through the fishing village of Champotón , we snickered over the name of the shrimp bar we saw on the left-hand side of the road – El Viagra. That quirky naivety, unique to people from the pueblos is something we’d missed.

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