Apr 30, 2017

Glimpses, Vignettes or Cameos in Not So Nosy Mexico

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful,
an endless prospect of magic and wonder.

Ansel Adams

Florist stand in San Miguel de Allende
Leisurely walking to the historic and elaborate maze-like market the other morning it was amusing to merely people-watch, taking in the Mexican way of life little by little.  To be surprised by small things all too familiar to them but not so to us. 

Cobblestones in the rain
It had rained heavily the night before.  The air was fresh and the streets were still dotted with puddles of various depths and sizes.  In a narrow alley one was quite large, and a young man walking with his girlfriend put his backpack down near the puddle to carry her across.  Chivalry still exists around here…  Giggling ensued and I could tell he was proud, she, a little embarrassed, when they saw me there, a little of their intimacy tainted by my presence.

Amazing water at small park near Campeche.  Ich Haa Lol Xaan
Farther away, crossing a road near the malecón, I say hola to the many cops who seem to permanently be there on Sundays.  We are beginning to recognize each other after many weeks living in Campeche.  Their motorcycles or cars are in the shade of tall trees.  They eat the breakfasts or snacks and drink ‘cocalitos’ (small coca-colas) they habitually spread across the trunk of one of the police cars.  They are friendly and seem without worries, enjoying this beautiful morning.  We’ve never had to fear police in Mexico.  They’ve always been friendly and sometimes quite talkative.  On many occasions, we see people blatantly ignoring road rules right in front of them and nothing happens.  They pass cop cars or don’t make stops at lights in plain view, yet the cops don’t seem to pay them any deed. 

A little further, I watch one biker make the sign of the cross ending with a kiss to his thumb as he pedals passed the open front door of the Church of Guadalupe.  Since we live nearby, I had often noticed pedestrians doing this on their way to hopping on the bus or going to school but never had I seen a bike rider taking the opportunity.  I don’t remember the last time I saw someone do this back home.

Church door details.  San Miguel de Allende
Many pass me on their small scooters or motorcycles.  The majority sport unbuckled helmets, many wearing them backwards.  State law says you need to wear helmets, it doesn’t mean they must fit, be attached, or worn properly. On some of these small scooters are two adults and two kids squished onto one small seat!  Add to that a dog and groceries and you’ve got a full load.  On others, a man is at the front, an older woman at the back, riding sidesaddle for she is wearing the traditional huipil, a beautiful embroidered pure white dress.  

Some are used for food delivery with attached boxes or crates at the back.  Signs around town advertise buying one of these small motorcycles for only 90 ($4.50 US) pesos a week. That just shows you how little money the average Mexican can spare to buy a vehicle, less than $20/month!

The favored type of transportation.
 Doggie in the middle.  He wears a helmet, she doesn’t…
By the main park, I watch a man teaching a younger woman guitar.  Interesting that it is done where so many people mill around.  In the background, a team is testing a sound system.  It is loud and off-key.  Not sure how smooth the guitar lesson is going under these circumstances. Remodeling and landscaping are happening so watering is on, bench and fencing around the park are being repainted, and the roof of the center gazebo is being replaced.  The poor pigeons have nowhere to go, circling in distress above their normal feeding and roosting areas.  A dog in a mis-fitted harness limps by due to the lopsided implement.  I want to fix it but just let it go.  His owner not aware of the dog’s predicament walks by too fast for the mutt to properly keep up.

For ever changing color.  Water fountain Campeche
My first impression was that Mexico had many more handicapped people than in the USA but came to realize that here, they are OUT and ABOUT.  They are not sequestered in homes, they are part of the ‘living’ society.  I see two blind ladies with canes carefully moving around town, people on crutches walking with grandkids, a man massaging a woman’s ‘bad’ foot once they sit down after she slowly shuffled across the park aided by a special walker.  Differently abled people mixing with other generations.  It’s very lively.

When someone sneezes three times, Mexicans respond: Salud, Dinero, Amor or Health, Money, Love…  

A Maya greeting is: Baaxkawalik literally ‘What do you say?’  Answer: Miixba or ‘Nothing…’

The government is so disorganized that someone can build a multimillion dollar home in a city and report that as cow pasture and pay the low fees of farmland rather than the high fees of a mansion.  We stayed at one of these in Villahermosa.  These folks have lived there for years and are surrounded by similar mansions behind tall fences.  Everyone there reporting that they live on farmland…  Wonder why the infrastructures in Mexico are so bad? 

Barely room for the mirrors on each side. 
Campeche extremely narrow one way side street
View of the steep street of Papantla from our room.
In a mall, looking at running shoes for Mike, we saw one of the salesmen trying to dress up a female mannequin.  He was having quite a hard time especially when it came to putting on the bikini bottom over the stiff legs.  Mike faked he was filming or taking a picture of the action with his cellphone.  It startled the salesman so much, he nearly dropped the mannequin and made everyone laugh.  Mexicans are not used to gringos acting like that…  There are no shoes for Mike in Mexico.  No one here has size 13 feet!  We’ll have to wait to be back in the US.

Shoe shiner, without the sequined lady of the night.  Merida
On the outskirt of the old market by the bus stops, congregate all the shoe shiners.  There are probably 10 or so of them in two rows of five seats facing each other.  There are several Mennonite families between Campeche and Yucatán and we often see them shop around the city.  You cannot mistake them, they dressed so differently.  That morning, at one of the shoeshine stall was a Mennonite having his boots polished.  He seemed quite relaxed and devoid of expression, as they often are, until a woman in a very bright red sequin dress slit open up one thigh started holding his hand.  An aging prostitute with poor makeup and a wig proposing her services to what are considered quite devout men.  The expression of horror on the face of that Mennonite was priceless.  One of those days when I wished I had my camera handy but did not.  It seemed like no one else around noticed. It must have been a regular scene.  Although to be fair, Mexicans are not naturally curious.  They live and let live…

Always easy to spot.  Straw hats, overalls.
They came here in 1980 and there are about 7,000 of them.
Mennonites in Campeche
Most of the ‘American’ clothing worn by the poor locals are clothes from the USA that were misspelled, printed upside down or crooked or simply out of fashion.  It can be quite funny at times but the majority of the people wearing them do not know the meaning of what they are wearing.  A great way to down-cycle extras from the US.  I prefer the local garments with fine embroidery on very white cloth. 

Huipil worn even at the old market. Campeche
I return to a very small stall where an older couple is selling Maja Blanca (a type of coconut pudding) with fresh cinnamon on top.  They recognize me and are happy mi esposo (my spouse) liked the pudding and wants more.  Not many foreigners go this deep into the old market to try unknown foods.  This is what makes our days, trying new things all the time.  Many watch our happy interaction from the stalls around us.  They are not sure what to make of the fact that I already know these locals as if I were an old friend.  They seem to question the familiarity with which I interact with these merchants.  I catch many of the surprise looks they, unsuccessfully, try to hide. 

Dancing is part of life here.  Many nights we could witness various dances.
Here is the ‘Bottle Dance’.  A full bottle of and glasses (for the ladies) …  Dancing without spilling.
Dances are very romantic
Very colorful costumes.  Ballet Folklorico del Estado de Campeche
‘Almud Dance’ – dancing on a small box without falling. 
Dancing made chancletitas (sandals) popular
On my way back, I see many tables set up by another church’s back door.  Mike and I had noticed other similar set ups at various churches around town.  Someone is making circular doughy flat pancake-like things, someone else is cooking them in hot oil.  I asked what they are cooking and they tell me they are panuchos (refried tortillas) filled with various things (beans, chicken, pork, turkey, cabbage, peppers, etc.).  It is a way to earn money for the church and for folks to mingle.  Unfortunately, I am not hungry and I pass this time.  There will be other occasions.

Old dugout canoes.  San Miguel de Allende
Slowly but inevitably a lot of what I see, the casual glances and interactions, will be a thing of the past as more and more people bury themselves in cell phone screens, just like people have done in the USA for years now.  It is getting a bit harder to make eye contact with the locals.  We often need to initiate the Buenos Dias instead of responding to them.  The Carnival committee, for one, is bemoaning the lack of attendees, diminishing every year in favor of TV show or computer games. 

Streets so steep one needs burro to deliver water and other heavy items. 
No car or motorcycles can head up...  Papantla
Often stuck behind one of these trucks full of sugar cane
Leaving Catemaco, we watched a fully dressed cowboy, hat, spurs, and all, get off a taxi and immediately jump on his horse.  He got a ride to his ride…  In the same town, where many seem to use horses, we saw a cowboy with what looked like his grandson behind him on the saddle.  The little one was all decked out and carried a water pistol aiming at anyone walking nearby.   He took his ‘job’ very seriously.  Grandpa was proud.

Even the sky and trees add colors.  San Miguel de Allende
Speaking with our host in Xpujil I find it fascinating that she knew nothing of her own environment.  When I said that we visited Calakmul that day, one of the top five Maya ruins in Mexico, she had no idea where it was yet it is less than 75 miles from her home.  I got the same comment when I mentioned Lake Bacalar, just the other side of Xpujil towards Belize.  When asked what type of work built this town, she replied selling food, clothing and restaurants.  Is there a university or a college I asked?  Yes.  How about hotels? Yes.  How about farming?  I don’t know.  She had to be around 14-16 so I asked her about school No, I do not go.  It amazes me that even with TV, Internet and phones, people can still be so disconnected from what is outside their immediate realm.  I thought this new ‘connected’ generation would be more cosmopolitan in their thinking – not so, if anything, it is the opposite, a bubble is created.  

Her sister, probably less than 20 years old has a small boy of about two.  We were their first Airbnb customers thanks to an uncle who set them up.  Maybe seeing travelers will help broaden their horizons?  We even questioned bringing them to visit something but figured they probably couldn’t associate.  I even tried talking about the spider monkeys and toucans we had seen in the reserve and they didn’t seem to understand why that could be of interest to us…

Can you guess what that blue box is above our car?
Many more here - they are bee hives.  Calakmul roadway
Nearing San Miguel de Allende, we see pilgrims walking toward Guanajuato, on horseback or bikes.  They stream along either side the highway, some with framed effigies of the Virgin Mary on their backs.  Also along the highway we see herders with either goats, sheep, or cows.  The animals calmly eat the tall grasses along the road.  In another part of the Yucatán, nearer Valladolid, we see horizontal rope ladders crossing above our heads.  They are for the howler monkeys to safely cross the road.  We had seen the same type of skywalk in Australia for the koalas. 

Sadly, scheduled for demolition.  Merida – they didn’t allow people inside to take pictures.
During an evening walk in Papantla, we came across a mechanic working on a taxi parked on the side of a busy road.  He was getting parts and tools from a second-floor apartment via a bucket on a rope led over the balcony’s handrail.  Up and down it went each time he needed something additional to conduct his business.  

Unraveling or just about to unveil?  Papantla zocalo
My favorite translation of menu:  Tea, creeps, apple juice with gas and season fruit mix.  What they meant to say was: Tea, crêpes, fizzy apple juice and seasonal fruit mix.  We got a good chuckle out of that one.

Entering the massive dry cave of Loltun (Stone Flower) 
Cave so large that one room is called the Grand Canyon,
 another is called the Cathedral, thought to have been used 4000-7000 years ago!
Testing a hollow stalagmite for sound.  Neat.
Waterfall formation - Loltun
Columns - Loltun
Eyes to the sky - end of the cave - Loltun
One morning I watched as men arrive at work, each carrying their lunch and … a small roll of toilet paper.  Bathrooms are available in this country; toilet paper is another thing.  Most of the time, it is not there to use.  Or if it is there it soon disappears.  It is smart to carry your own wherever you go, work, fancy hotels or restaurants.  

Why is it that each time we drive by a Mexican feedlot whether it be cattle, pigs, or chicken, they do not stink like in the US?  We just cannot figure that one out.  Less stressed out?  Better treated? Fewer antibiotics?  They seem to have the same amount of room.  The set ups do not appear to be different.  

During the Carnival in the Yucatán Peninsula, we saw men dressed as pirates.  Instead of having a parrot on their shoulder they had a toucan.  Much more local…  Just as colorful.

Archeology is showing that Mayas were in Mississippi and surrounding areas in around 600 B.C. and that places in the US have Mayan names such as Bayou Manchac, Yucatán Lake, or Cahokia.  Flat top pyramids following astronomical layouts like the ones here are found along the river.   Research is now done to understand the Mayas’ movements and trades between the two countries.

Employers in Mexico are allowed to discriminate based on gender, age, size, etc.  Many times we see employment ads that state:  Want good looking female between the ages of 18 to 28 to work for…  That is not illegal.  We just spoke with a lady who is around 37 years old and she told us that at her ‘advanced’ age, it is extremely hard to find work.  Moving to a different town would mean disaster for her, no work would be available. 

We just applied for our Permanent Residency in Mexico.  While at the Mexican Consulate being interviewed, we were told that Mexicans are not nosy.  We had brought way too much information above and beyond what they wanted to know.  They threw away much of it stating they were ‘Not nosy’.  Imagine that compared to the process in the US?  After just speaking with us for about 10 minutes, we were granted our Permanent Residency in Mexico, no extra questions asked.  The process is so easy I questioned why one million Americans live in Mexico illegally?

We are lucky enough to have visited parts of Baja North, Baja South, Sinaloa, Sonora, Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Michoacán, Tabasco, Puebla, Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Veracruz, and Campeche.  Sixteen of the 31 states of Mexico!  Much left to explore and enjoy.  Please continue travelling with us.  Hope you find it interesting.

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