Home again

viewAh, why do we ever leave here? we asked ourselves with a collective sigh on arriving home last Thursday. Michael built a fire and we had drinks and he made dinner and we went to sleep early in our own comfy bed, with good reading lights and surrounded by silence. “Let’s never travel again, OK?” I recall one of us saying.

We both feel our Mexico trip was not a success, and coming home we were reminded of Thomas Moore’s aphorism on travel (which I just found and gender-edited a bit). “We travel the world over in search of what we need, and return home to find it.” Take climate and congestion: Mérida, our first stop in the Yucatán, was way too hot – 100+ degrees every day (40 C), and terribly crowded with tourists. While here in Cañar we have a perfect climate with average high of 65F (18C), and no sightseers to speak of. Our second destination, Campeche, on the Gulf of Mexico, was a mite less hot, and not so crowded, but a fierce wind nearly blew us off our feet. San Cristobal, our last destination in the mountains of Chiapas, has a delightful climate, but we made the mistake of landing smack in the middle of Mexico’s biggest holiday of the year: two weeks around Easter. All children are out of school and, as in Ecuador, everyone wants to be somewhere else: the beach, the mountains, the city, the country. During our ten-day visit in San Cristobal, half of Mexico seemed to be there. All hotel prices go up, restaurants are overcrowded, streets are packed, and there’s a general air of making the most of the exodus, both among the travelers (lots of partying) and the businesses of the host city.congestionBy the way, that red/white building close on the right is a Burger King, which brings me to Michael’s recurring lament, “Where’s the old Mexico?” (It was partly his nostalgia that took us on this adventure.) The face of globalization is everywhere: Pizza Hut, KFC, Holiday Inn, Ramada, McDonald’s, often disguised within old buildings. And these were only what we saw walking the city streets. In our daily searches for small things – water, toothpaste, or yogurt – an OXXO store sat at every corner and, we soon realized, is a ubiquitous presence in Mexican cities and towns. Something like the 7-Eleven, but Mexican-owned, with 11,000 stores across Latin America. Michael yearned for the small mom-and-pop shops he remembers, but the closest we came was the orange juice and other street vendors. (Again, of course, we were not hanging out in the barrios, where I’m sure small business must still exist. But OXXO (no kisses & hugs there) has certainly taken a chunk from them.)vendor orangevendor tacosFood: When we think of Mexican food, I suspect we are remembering meals from many years ago, with a patina of nostalgia and romance. “Remember that great huitlacoche we had in Guanajuato in 1989?” Michael asks. (“No,” I reply, “but I do remember the evening and what I was wearing,”)

“Well, this isn’t nearly as good,” he declares. He was very much enjoying the Margarita, however. (We were never disappointed with those.)M. margaritaFor me, going out to search for meals twice a day was agony: trouble making a choice (always!), servings too large, flavors not what I expected. It was almost a relief to get an intestinal infection from contaminated juice so I didn’t have to eat for a few days. (Of course, there was that 12-hour bus ride ahead that sent Michael to the pharmacy for me). Once I was eating again, I remembered that no one makes chicken soup like Mexico.chicken soupHowever, eating abroad also reminds me that Michael is about the best cook around, and we don’t have to leave home for this….. or this….shrimp  tapas

Many come to San Cristobal for the re-enactment of the Good Friday crucifixion, which took place in a plaza near our hotel, and included an elaborate procession to several churches in the historic center. I was sick that day, and between bouts of intestinal distress I went out to photograph. Worthy of Cecil B. deMille, this is religious drama at its best for which the players must prepare all year: Roman soldiers, Pilate’s court, the two thieves, and Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. jesus + two thievesjesus in rope behind soldier roman solider thief on the crossThat night I was able to get a few shots of the candlelight procession, which was taking Jesus from the cave to the church where he would wait to rise on Easter Sunday:procession 2 procession 3 procession 4We traveled the next day and so I missed the burning of Judas. But I had seen enough. The people of San Cristobal are rightly proud of their religious customs around Semana Santa, and I have to say the Passion of Christ, as it is called, was played out with great respect and solemnity, despite all the clicking of cell phones and cameras.

OK. Back to Cañar, where “real” life continues – such as, watching the quinoa in our back field grow to maturity. There’s nothing like the pleasures of a simple life, no?quinoa

11 thoughts on “Home again

  1. Fascinating to read this take on travelling in Mexico. But your home is so extraordinary, each trip must make you love it more. I’m glad you have these last few weeks to enjoy the tranquillity of the highlands.

    And I concur about Michael being such an effortless wonderful cook. My mouth waters when I think back on the meals he made during my short visit…..

  2. Funny…Mexico doesn’t automatically come to mind when I think of chicken soup!
    But when you’re talking margaritas…now that’s another story!

    • Well, I was trying to think of something positive to say about the food. And after not eating for a few days, the chicken soup was about my favorite meal. Although I did have one dinner – cheese enchiladas with mole – the last night that I loved.

  3. I’m sorry your trip was not what you’d hoped – next time do try Oaxaca, whose capital I’ve dubbed the Portland of Mexico! In the end, there’s no place like home. Especially with those gorgeous views! Does Michael cook the local quinoa?

    • Michael hasn’t cooked quinoa here so far – funny that the locals hardly eat it – but certainly with “our” crop he will be experimenting.

  4. Wonderful to hear from you. Mexico seems to change from year to year. I experienced that on my last visit to Puerto Angel. It will be nice to see you again this summer. For now, enjoy your beautiful home.

  5. I had to laugh while reading your chronicle … I told my son “if I ever again decide to go to the Yucatan peninsula around Holy Week, you have my permission to shoot me …” It was too hot and the crowds were unbelievable. We had a great time staying with our friends in Merida because they have a lovely home (with AC) and a huge pool that the girls, and adults, enjoyed tremendously. Our trip to Chichen Itza (only because my daughter in law had never been to Mexico) was not a pleasant experience. The place was crowded with thousands of tourists, plus the 1,800 vendors who are now inside the site. When my husband and I were there a decade ago, there were no vendors and one could truly walk around and enjoy the site. We have been to a number of UNESCO sites around the world where people try to keep things orderly and clean.
    In Cancun we stayed at the Hyatt Regency (we are members of the Hyatt Club) which is the last hotel in the strip with great views of the whole area. And believe it or not, we had the best Mexican food there! Outside of the hotel, it was too crowded because the other half of the world was on vacation in Cancun!
    The good surprise was a trip to Tulum (again so my daughter in law could see the place). Instead of the messy and dirty entrance of a decade ago, the whole place has been transformed into a clean and well organized experience. It was also crowded and hot, but now they have clean restrooms, ice cream parlors, restaurants, shops, etc.
    The girls could practice heir Spanish and being only 5 and 3, they loved the pool and the beach.
    I am toying with the idea of visiting my friend in Rainier in August after I come back from my time in Chesapeake Bay (where John’s family has a place). I will let you know if I fly west.
    As you know, I love Mexico and have been visiting since 1984. I still like the pacific coast the best, and other places like Cuernavaca, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato.The truth is that the country is changing but I am not sure it is for the better. .

    • oh good, I knew you were there at the same time, and worried you would think I was a “quejona” with all my complaints while you were having a wonderful, un-touristy, cool time (sounds like some of that was true).

  6. The quinoa is beautiful…like lavender in Provence, but less cliched.
    The formidable reverence expressed during Semana Santa processions remains unrivaled in my book. Much more interesting than all of the cartoonish bunnies propagated throughout the U.S. at Easter. Happy to hear you’re happy to be home!

  7. “Ir para volver” Dear Judy. You should post your blog on México to the Art Biennale. It woul fit perfectly! Un abrazo grande. I think your piece on the trip is finally perfect.
    Susana

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