Apr 22, 2012

Juanacatlán – How Life Once Is - Day 2

Never get a haircut the day of a special event.
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Mike, Nikki - fresh squeezed orange juice

Fabulous Hospitality with Little or No Money


We wake up at sunup and are greeted by a very cheery Chayo holding two matching glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice resting on neatly folded napkins.

Now let me back up a little to explain why I said ‘matching glasses’. You have to understand that these people, other than their house and the land they plow and plant, have nearly nothing to their names, not even a bank account. Plates, glasses, and cups come in all sizes, colors and shapes – very few matching pairs. The yellow hammock in the front yard, which they are very proud of, is frayed and worn. The brilliant red satin bed cover and some of the blankets of the bed we slept in have some tears. The clothes they wear are definitely several seasons’ old and at times missing buttons, held closed with pins or stained but everything is absolutely spotless.

Everywhere there are small details that make a difference. The toilet paper rolls have origami like folds at the open end. There are small vases (some made out of old pop bottles) with flowers all around. Our bed is taken down every night before we go to sleep. There are white slippers for our use so we don’t go barefoot on the cold floor in the middle of the night or in early morning. Water is warmed for our showers, etc…

Antique cutting board
Before breakfast we walk to a tienda (small store). It is located in the back of a small house nearby. It has no signage to let anyone know it is there. Unless you are a true local, there is no way to know of its existence. Our hosts live on such a small budget; they only purchase what they absolutely need: a 1/3 of a cabbage head, 3 bananas and 1 juice packet. Upon returning, Chayo starts the fire in the kitchen and another small one to warm up our shower water using pine cones and needles.

Making icecream in copper pot over open fire
Later on before lunch, we walk around town and head out to a couple places where they make ice cream. Only 4 ingredients: eggs, milk, sugar, flavor (vanilla, cinnamon, etc)… It is heavenly. Again, no signage is seen. If you don’t know of the whereabouts of these places you just bypass them. They are all houses with means of making extra money (cheese making, ice cream making, broom making, etc). On the way there we see a cow eating her afterbirth, a gorgeous calf at her side. The folks here believe that eating the afterbirth allows her to produce more milk.

Cooking corn
Grinding corn
Making tortillas with Chayo
For lunch, Chayo makes corn tortillas from scratch. I try to help but I am fully aware I am slowing her down but she is patient and helpful. There are several tricks to making the perfect tortilla and she teaches them all. A little practice and I’m on my way to tortilla-dom. They use plastic sheeting in the tortilla press and I ask her what they did before PLASTIC and she said that they either used cloth or they only used their hands.

Very few women make tortillas by hand, it is a dying art but there is at least one left in the village we are visiting… Chayo tells me she learned at 8 years old and that most women who are schooled don’t learn to make them anymore. Only women who plan to be at-home moms do… Later in the week, Anna Rosa (her daughter) makes tortillas for dinner and we are astounded by how good they are. At 18, she makes better tortillas than her mom (as difficult as it is to believe). She is so good at it that even as handmade tortillas they are all exactly the same shape and size – how unbelievable that is! They are somehow smoother and richer, using the same corn as her mother…

Fire in kitchen stove
We visit Chayo’s sister Channa – what a pair these two are. Unfortunately, when they are together they speak so fast I cannot keep up. On the way back to the house, as the sun is quickly setting, we pick Manzanita berries. I am not sure what Chayo will make with them but she says they are edible. Mike and I have been around Manzanita bushes for years and weren’t aware that the berries were edible so we are eager to find out what she can do with them.

We are not used to following other’s plans or lack thereof so it is a little difficult to stand still and wait for what is next but we are here for the experience and are enjoying it. More than once Ramón and Chayo ask “When do you want breakfast?”, “What do you want to eat?” and our response is always the same: “When you normally eat breakfast” or “What you typically eat”. Please don’t make anything special for us. We want to experience YOUR ways, please don’t cater to us. It is however a little difficult for them to grasp that concept.

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