Jan 10, 2017

On the Other Side of Mexico… Another Side of Mexico and a New Year!

Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, 
sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.

Bob Dylan

Santuario de Guadalupe.  Decorated for the holidays.
From West to East mainland Mexico.

I am fully aware I should have known better than to think all of Mexico is the same but somehow, I did.  Because it is a foreign country I suppose, I did not expect to see new things after visiting it for five years, or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, no longer finding the things I had become accustomed to. 

I thought of the country as a whole, rather than the sum of its diverse parts.  Why should it be different than the US?  There, each state has something unique and different to offer, some states you associate with more than others.  Same applies here.

Piñata with seven points representing the seven deadly sins. 
They are everywhere during this time of year;
gas stations, churches, stores, etc.
Making of smaller piñatas.  They started in China but the tradition of
blindfolding the person hitting them began here.
First day the frame is made of newspaper and hung to dry. 
Second day color papers and ribbons are added. 
Many today are effigies of hated characters ex: Trump nowadays.
Since we have been in Campeche, we have not seen or heard one mariachi band, we haven’t been startled by one taxi honking to get our attention, and we haven’t seen broken beer or soda glass bottles in the streets.  Tuk-tuk like scooters are replacing many of the small food trucks we see on the other side. Flour tortillas are hard to find but corn ones are everywhere.  School bands sound the same, still discordant and terrible.

Delivery scooter.  We have even seen one
fitted with a wheelchair for the driver!
We have since found out that many handicapped people drive these.
Great way to earn an income.
Cutest one-person electric police car ever. 
They also use 3-wheel electric Segways.
Wing door
We wake up to the sound of church bells every morning and haven’t heard sirens of any kind for weeks.  Kids come out from all directions walking to school, meandering the narrow streets of this old city.  Things are quite peaceful, many of the streets too narrow for vehicle parking or driving fast.

Super tight parking - driver must come out the passenger side. 
The notch on the right side is a stairway to someone’s front door.
There is a slew of new types of food to try, Mayan, Cuban, Lebanese, and Caribbean cuisine influencing this part of Mexico much more than the on the other side.  More on that later as we work our way through new menus.
Old roofing tile from Marseilles
We moved from a replica of a Mayan cottage, barely 17 years old (When we booked, it we thought it was original but it wasn’t) and outside of town, to a 500+ year-old home with 18 foot ceilings, nearer the city center.  The history these walls must have witnessed is hard to fathom.  Visiting one of the museums the other day we learned that some of the roofing tiles keeping these abodes dry came from Marseilles, France… (called: Grande Ecaille Pour Toiture, Brevetes, SGDG, St-Henry, Roux-Frères, Marseilles with a stamped heart shape.)  Some roofs are still protected by these tiles although they are buried under several layers of grime, mold, moss, etc.

The iguanas are larger, the birds more numerous since they have the protection of the jungle and we have seen several skunks, something we hadn’t smelled since leaving the US.  We are told there are many pink flamingos in a nearby protected area and we will visit them soon.

We arrived just a few days before Christmas, wanting to be situated somewhere before the holiday traffic would clog up the road.  As it turns out we planned well for many gas stations ran out of gas or had very long lines of cars (upwards of 100 cars) waiting to be filled. We thankfully missed all that by arriving on the 21st. 
The three wise men (the one with the black beard is a woman). 
So much bling the picture didn't turn out too clear…
Local families are milling around, kids in tow, all over town.  The downtown of this walled city makes for walking much more than driving, great for people watching.  No matter where we go, where we sit or stand, Nikki invariably gets loads of attention, helping us spark conversations with Campechanos.  Come to find out, the word campechanos also means ‘good natured’ and I think it applies to most of the people we have met so far.

There are the usual celebrations we encounter anywhere else around this time of the year.  Santa (although he is seen as the imported custom), snowmen, nativity scenes, decorated trees, poinsettias (they are from here after all and are called Noche Buena [good night]), garlands, fireworks, bad music, presents under the tree, rich food, etc.  What is a little different is the emphasis put on the three wise men, Melchor, Gaspar, Balthazar (or variations of these names) on January 6th, when kids received their presents, rather than on Christmas day.  That day is called Dia de Los Reyes or Epiphany. 

Everyone is impressed by the Super Rosca de Reyes.  Photographer for the newspaper!
This represents just one block's worth!
You eat it with hot chocolate, usually made with water here...
Interesting note, hot chocolate with milk (the way tourists are used to drink)
is served in a plain white ceramic mug. 
The one with water is served the original way as in the above picture.
The evening prior to that, locals share a very long “Super Rosca de Reyes” (King’s Cake).  Thirty bakeries sponsored by 400 merchants, made a 2.1km King’s Cake!  It covered about ten blocks of the downtown.  They expected 10,000 people to show up and downtown is filling fast.  People were lining up to get their prized piece of Rosca (literally wreath) de Reyes (Kings), many saying we too should get some but we felt the locals should have first dibs + we aren’t big on waiting in lines.  The tradition is to eat it along with hot chocolate or atole (champurrado).  Since this region is famous for its long history of using chocolate (about 3,500 years), it is found in many culinary delights. 

Two million sold… and counting
The wreath shape symbolizes a crown (King Herod’s) from whom Mary and Joseph were trying to hide the infant Jesus.  Another interpretation is that the circle represents god’s eternal love.  The dried fruits on top are jewels of the crown.  Hiding a figurine of Jesus inside the bread is part of the symbolism of hiding from persecution or of Jesus in the womb.  The person(s) who find the figurine(s) must sponsor the “blessing of the candle party” (Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas) on February 2nd, also Groundhog Day in the US and the midpoint between solstice and equinox.  Tamales are an important part of that day’s meals.   

Nativity scenes are usually erected on December 12th and stay out until February 2nd, a much longer period than what we are used to.  Some of them are so large and intricate they take up much of the house.  We have seen homes with three decorated trees over these nativity scenes.  From December 3rd through the 12th, they celebrate the Virgin de Guadalupe.  In all Mexicans celebrate for nearly 2 months!  December 28th, is their version of April Fool’s Day.   Another odd event happens on December 23rd in Oaxaca.  It is called the Night of the Radishes (La Noche de los Rabanos) when oversized radishes are carved into elaborate figures, originally these were for nativity scenes but today there is a major competition in which vegetables are carved in all kinds of figures.

Clowns and wise men are milling around to listen to kids.  It is definitely kids’ time.  Kids can speak or write to them asking for specific presents.  The tradition is for the kids to leave a shoe, along with water and hay by the door for the three visiting wise men (sometimes called magician kings).  The hay and water are for their animals.  In exchange the wise men will leave presents for the kids. 
The town has life-size sculptures everywhere.
The baker by Miguel Antonio Horn. 
The holidays over, we will spend a little more time exploring.  During the holidays, places were either too crowded or not open so we just enjoyed a calm time in town or by the beach.

First stage of making Brazo de la Reina tamales. 
Using masa, chaya, lard, sometimes chicken stock for flavor, eggs,
and a bit of salt, wrapped in banana leaves.
Rolling the tamale in banana leaf
Steaming the tamale and making the hot sauce
Serve with hot sauce and pepita (spice).
We did manage to pre-order a specialty of the area called Brazo de la Reina.  A type of tamale made with eggs and chaya, a plant like spinach but that cannot be eaten raw.  Some people call it Mexican chard.  It is a dark leafy green that grows in a dense bush also called tree spinach.  It has a mild flavor and is a very healthy vegetable.  The name Brazo (arm) de la Reina (Queen) comes from the shape of this larger type of tamale that would be about the size and shape of a woman’s forearm.  They are served with a very hot red sauce and a spice called pepita which is made with a base of squash seeds roasted and ground mixed with cumin, pepper, ginger, etc. Like mole sauces there are many variations.  Delicious!  Of course, one will never know all tamales as there are more than 500 varieties to eat in Mexico alone!

Time for more exploration…

Hard to think of a white cold holiday when this is what is in our backyard

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