Ah, 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.By 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.)Food: 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.)For 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.However, 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….
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. That 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: We 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.