I forgot to include photos of the spectacular peacock who lives a happy life at Hacienda Don Juan in San Cristóbal, most graciously spreading his magnificent tail for us. Here they are:
Wednesday, April 10 – Guatemala
We had arranged to meet a driver right at the border at 10:00 but forgot that Guatemala is an hour behind Mexico, so we had an hour to wait and got to talking with a sweet guy who was offering to change money for us.
Even though we had ordered a private van from the border to Panajachel, this is one of the worst rides either of us could remember. Our driver was super friendly and accommodating and a good driver, but the AC didn’t work very well and the highway is so incredibly curvy with nothing straight for miles and miles. Some of the highway has been improved with even four lanes in some places, but the rest of it can be equally awful with patches of dirt and rock that are rough at 2 mph! But the worst was, we came to a stopped lane of traffic. We suspected the worst, with drivers lounging by the side of the road. We were stopped there for two and a half hours. We were grateful we had a private van so we could stretch out and nap, but it was hot with no AC of course because the engine was not on. We chatted with the driver, listened to our book, and napped. We are told the delay was roadwork, which seemed hard to believe, but that’s the only explanation we heard. It was pretty clearly not a politically motivated blockade. – Speaking of which, the driver told us that no vans were coming down from San Cris or returning there after today because of a major blockade at Comitán that would go on for several days. We were incredibly lucky to leave today, able to get through.
When we finally got moving again, the road was so curvy, it would make the strongest person seasick, and by that time were already weary! But the scenery is gorgeous mountains, indigenous villages with everyone in native attire, and ubiquitous chicken buses, the old school buses, bought from Texas and always brightly, psychedelically painted, loaded with baggage on the top (it used to be chickens up there, going to market), and drivers who trained with Evil Knievel, passing on curves like idiots. They are one of the main public transportation systems for locals.
When we had tried to make reservations at our favorite modest hotels and B&Bs in Pana, they were all full because we are moving into Semana Santa (Holy Week). We found a room in the one fancy hotel in Pana, six stories (a high rise in this town), and a for-real hotel. When we arrived in our luxurious room, we had zero interest in eating, only wanting to quiet our slightly troubled stomachs. We collapsed and slept like babies.
Thursday, April 11 – Panajachel
We awoke feeling super rested and totally well. We explored the hotel and decided on breakfast there. It turns out this is a really lovely hotel, decorated with all the local handwork. The tables in the dining room are fine huipiles covered with glass. The chairs are all upholstered with handmade cortes, the large pieces of fabric the women use as skirts and that we buy to make into shirts and women’s tops (mañaneras). Cortes are all hand woven on large looms in a huge variety of colors and patterns. The yarn is died in patterns before the weaving, so each time the shuttle goes through, the yarn has to be properly lined up. When I know the work that goes into these weavings, I am always astonished to see how much of it is around! We are told there are 500,000 people creating textiles in the Highlands.
There are signs around the hotel explaining that they do everything they can to be sustainable. The hotel must be run by conscientious people.
Our room opens out onto a terrace with a stairway down to the pool and a beautiful garden. We can see the volcanoes and lake from our room. We decided to stay in the hotel for breakfast and lingered a long time over it, fully relaxed.
I feel a little funny staying in this luxurious (but sill not very expensive) hotel instead of one of the places run by friendly local proprietors, as we have before — but I’m getting over it!
Mayer headed out for a day of shopping, and I stayed in the room for a much-needed day of work on the Conference, with several projects needing my attention. Mayer arrived back about 7:00, having had a super successful day of shopping for the exquisite textiles we so love. Mayer: “No one else in San Miguel has anything like the selection of textiles we carry.” So true.
We stayed in the hotel again for a delicious fish dinner, watched a movie on our i-pad and slept super well again.
Friday, April 12 – Panajachel
We had arranged for our beloved Francisco to meet us at the hotel and enjoyed big warm hugs. We so adore this young man and could not feel better about spending the small amount required to send him to university. Before heading for breakfast, we wanted the view from the top of the hotel. We had to get a security escort, but the hotel made it happen for us. The volcanoes are “out” today, and the views quite amazing from the top of the hotel.
We walked all through town to MISTER JOHN’S for one of his famous breakfasts, and had a wonderful talk with Francisco over breakfast. He loves school very much. He is studying education, public administration, and psychology. He would like to start projects in rural communities where education is still poor, and to directly help children with his psychology skills.
He is in love with his wife, Ana, and adores his daughter, whom they named “Susan,” not Susana! She is one year and four months and can walk by herself. We will go visit her tomorrow. – We learned more: Ana’s father is wealthy. But he is extremely angry with Francisco. He did not want Ana to marry him because he is poor! (Never mind that he works four jobs and is going to university and has high aspirations.) Her father will not talk to Francisco at all and gives zero money to the two of them. Francisco is very happy with her. He says they have conflicts but they take walks and then they feel better and always work it out. He said they take walks with Susan almost every day, and they are in love. We don’t know Ana very well and plan to take them all to lunch tomorrow when we go over to visit. Francisco’s brother is starting to cause problems with excessive drinking. We started to talk about what it would cost for them to get a separate house. Conversation to be continued.
Mayer and Francisco headed for the Fire Station where every Friday they have a big special market of huipiles where Mayer always finds treasures. I walked back to the hotel, a long walk through town. I’ve been to Pana many times now, but it never loses its magic. I don’t need another embroidered blouse and always say I will resist, but the exquisite hand embroidery, and the many styles and blendy colors are irresistible. I stop and look and then feel bad when I move on without making a purchase.
I joined Francisco and Mayer to visit Juana and Luis where we buy rebozos, tunics, scarves – in silk and cotton, which they spin together and then weave. They are part of a collective in the village of San Juan de la Laguna, one of the villages around the lake that we’ve visited before but won’t go there this time, since the collective has acquired this store in Panajachel.
The main street of Panajachel is a mile long and completely lined with shops like this, some beads, some wood carvings, some embroidered dresses and blouses, but imagine the visuals. It’s a remarkable sight.
Dinner was at our favorite restaurant here, owned by the very sweet Japanese wife of “Mister John,” who owns the breakfast place by that name. Her menu is extensive and our dinner was wonderful.
Saturday, April 15
We chose a leisurely breakfast at the Deli, set in a jungle-like garden and serving memorable banana pancakes.
Then we were off to the shop and workshop of our dear friend, Pedro Yax. We share great mutual affection with him. He makes Mayer’s shirts out of cortes. We had ordered fifty of the mañaneras (women’s tops) that sold so well last year, and he had them all ready for us. He changes money for us and creates the facturas (official receipts) we need at the border, since many of the people we buy from at markets, etc. don’t give facturas. We joke a lot with him. He told us he always looks forward to our visit, and he told Mayer, “I like your energy!” Sweet.
We swam in the hotel pool and then headed for dinner at our other favorite haunt, the Circus Bar, for a yummy salad and pizza.
We had two big pieces of pizza left, so Mayer cut them into bite-size pieces, careful to remove all the onion, which dogs cannot digest, knowing we’d see many street dogs on our way home. The first dog we encountered sniffed and walked away! “Thanks but I don’t accept gifts from strangers.” We were surprised that the second dog had a similar reaction. “Thank you, but I eat only steak.” But then he found three dogs who eagerly accepted his gift.
Sunday, April 16 – Santiago AtitlÁn
Up early and we walked down to the lake to get the public boat to Santiago, directly across the lake. The weather could not be more gorgeous, with all the volcanoes clear as can be with no clouds, stunning beauty. The trip takes about 40 minutes.
One smaller mountain visible the whole trip across the lake looks exactly like the illustration in The Little Prince of the boa constrictor who swallowed an elephant. The rumor is that Saint Exupery lived in San Juan de la Laguna, the village directly across the lake from this little mountain, but I have not been able to confirm this. Locals call the mountain, “The Sleeping Elephant.” I don’t know which came first, that name or Saint Exupery’s story, but it is easy to believe that he derived his illustration from this mountain. (Sorry, too hard to get a good photo from the moving boat.)
Francisco and his niece Angelica (for whom we bought a computer several years ago) met us at the dock in Santiago. Angelica was dressed in her finest and all ready with a big warm hug. Our stroll though the market was especially wonderful because it is Palm Sunday, and all the women were wearing their most extraordinary huipiles. It was like a procession of the most extraordinary embroideries. The tradition in Santiago is the gorgeous hand-embroidered birds. We were dazzled and wish we could have photographed every one of them.
We love the church in Santiago, decked out especially for Palm Sunday, but the services were over. From previous journal:
The church is beautifully hung with drapes of fabric from the ceiling. Along the walls are saints dressed in drapes of Western fabric. The Maia don’t consider them to be dressed, even if they are carved with clothes on, unless they have fabric clothes BUT the fabric is Western cloth NOT beautiful Guatemalan weavings, because the Maia want to be clear that these are not their saints.
The front of the church has three altars, one for women, one for men, and the middle one. The middle one was destroyed in the 1979 earthquake and was re-carved, but the side ones date from the 1500s.
This is the only altar in the world with pagan gods carved into it. The “folk saint” Maximon (not recognized by Rome but very important to Guatemalans) is right there in the carvings and also some other “folk” figures. The Catholics and Maia religious people basically tolerate each other, and the church is a blend. Some time ago, a new priest came and covered the whole altar with a white cloth. No altar of his was going to have pagan gods on it. Somehow the controversy went all the way to the Vatican, and it was Pope John Paul, who had traveled to Guatemala three times and loved it, who ruled in favor of the folk saints and the cloth was removed.
During the civil war, a beloved priest, an American from Oklahoma, was brutally assassinated. He arrived in Santiago in 1968 and was killed in 1981. There is a monument to him and other martyrs of that senseless war. The army came to Santiago and slaughtered ten peasant farmers while they were at work in their fields. After a few incidents, the army left Santiago and peace returned.
The Tzutuhil people came to this area in 900 B.C. (!) and lived in prosperity and in harmony with the land until 1524, when the Spanish conquered them. Franciscan Friars came in 1547, when this church was built. It has been damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt several times, but it’s the original building.
We walked to the home of Juan and Maria and their three children, Angelica, Maira, and Ricardo, all decked out and happy to see us. The children all greeted us with big hugs. And Franciso’s wife Ana and their baby, Susan, were there. I was thrilled to see her. I had bought several toys for her, and she delighted in them. We were surprised that Juan and Maria have moved to a much nicer house than last year, with two bedrooms, that double as sitting/working rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen (with a wood burning stove and a nice stack of wood there.) Juan did not look great. Three months ago, he had an operation (that we paid for) to remove a fistula from his colon. Seems like a long recovery. He still looked weak and was in pain.
After we all caught up on stories (there is no social safety net in Guatemala, no health care for the poor), I bought a huipil from Maria.
I was thrilled at how much baby Susan loved the book I brought for her. It’s The Ugly Duckling in English. My hope is that the one English speaker in the family will read it to her!
Then Francisco, Ana, Susan, and Angelica took tuk-tuks to the Posada, owned by David and Lisa, friends from San Miguel. David was there this time. After many years running this place (cottages set among spectacular gardens; a wonderful restaurant; and a palapa on the water), he is selling it, piece by piece. He has sold twelve lots at the top of the garden; has sold the cabins to a homeowners association so people can live there; sold the gallery to a couple who will turn it into a home for themselves. The restaurant is for sale, but he will run it for a year and then just give it up if no buyers. He plans to move to Panajachel and open a small museum and store. He has run a gorgeous place here for many years now.
We chose a table in the palapa down by the water and enjoyed lunch together. Especially Angelica (now 12) loved her lunch and we are guessing she rarely eats that way. Francisco’s wife Ana was much more sociable and warm than last year, when she seemed painfully shy. Not this year. We had lively conversations. Francisco loves the university and what he is studying. He wants very much to come to the Writers’ Conference next February and we will try to make that happen. – The University has a very weird plan that is quite hard on Francisco. Apparently many students there are wealthy. So the University imposes “projects” on them. They go to poor villages and have to buy computers for the kids, or build a kitchen in the school, or who knows what. Francisco just tells them, “No way can I do this,” and they let him work in the village instead of pay, but he has so little time for these “projects.” The whole thing adds a lot of stress for him, but he cannot refuse to participate or they will kick him out of classes. – Little Susan warmed up to me enough to give me a beso, but she still would not let me hold her. She’s 16 months and walking like a trooper. (I took my first step at month 16. Guess I’ve been slow on the uptake all my life . . .)
Franciso, Ana and Susan live with Francisco’s mother and five other of his siblings. One of them has epilepsy and is retarded, and one is a bad alcoholic. We did not see his mother this time, but she is a bright spirit. – Ana and Francisco would love to move out on their own. We hope we can help them with this if we can sell one of our spec houses.
Hugs goodbye to Ana, Susan, and Angelica, and we headed back through the market with only Francisco, who insists on carrying all of our parcels. The market was much quieter than this morning. Mayer was hoping to find just three or four more of the bird huipiles. He is extremely particular, wants only the finest embroidery with certain colors and certain size birds. We already have many of these and want to add only what we lack in the collection. And, Mayer needs to get a good price. So there is much negotiating and many disappointed sellers after we look at many items. They don’t act or say they are disappointed, but you can tell they really want to sell. Mayer is good, he jokes and compliments, but he can’t buy everything, and he needs to look through a lot to find what he wants. He did find three good ones at prices he liked.
Then we walked down to the waterfront to catch our boat back across the lake. Oh dear, the harpies were out. At the wharf, we were assaulted by ten women all desperate to sell us huipiles. They all have a little English. Imagine ten woman shouting at us all at once, holding out their huipiles, throwing them over us.
“Buy from me. This one cheap, Good price. You no like the green. This one many colors. Beautiful. This one many birds. You no buy from me. Just one piece. Good price.”
They are absolutely ceaseless and surrounding us so we are trapped. Mayer had bought all he planned on buying, but these were sooo well priced and several were soo beautiful, I could not resist. I bought a one – and then another – which only exacerbated the problem. We climbed on the boat, waiting for departure, and they came on the boat with us and would not stop.
The boat trip was spectacular with clear views all around. After the big lunch we were not hungry but used our free “welcome” drink coupon for a drink at the bar.
Monday, April 15
Our van driver met us at 7:00 for the drive back up to the border, with us and three huge duffle bags stuffed with textiles. Mayer:
Textiles are my second love after ceramics!
We never know what we are going to encounter at Mexican customs. We have our facturas in order, and last year, they breezed us through with a reasonable duty on the textiles we are importing. Very different this time. We got Number One Asshole who was determined to get his thrills giving us a bad time. He hassled us, he threatened us, tilt us we had to get a broker. Our favorite line was, “These are Guatemalan facturas. You have to get Mexican facturas!” (Excuse me? We bought these in Guatemala. How are we supposed to get Mexican receipts for them.) – We used the Mexican standoff technique. Just sit there until they go away. It worked. He finally give us a bill for more than was faire, and we just paid it and went our way.
We reconnected with our van, safely parked at that dreadful hotel and drove to Comitán where we had reserved a nice, modern hotel but with awful food. We were too tired to look elsewhere.
Tuesday, April 16 – Amatanango
The village where we buy our jaguars from sweet Esperanza is on the way back to San Cristóbal, so we had arranged to stop there to pick up all she had packed and ready for us. – Back in San Cris, we had dinner at the most delicious Japanese restaurant. Trip advisor raved about it so we walked there only to find that she was closing at 6:00 that day. When the sweet woman saw our sad faces, she said if we were willing to have only the rolls on special that day, she’d fix them for us. So sweet of her and they were the best Japanese food we’ve ever had. Unbelievably delicious. The restaurant is called FRIDA, and it’s on Guadalupe, a few blocks above the Andador.
Wednesday, April 17 – TeHuantepec
We picked up the iron crosses, all packed up for us at Guadalupe Hermosillo’s and headed down the mountain to Tehuantepec at the isthmus where we enjoyed a wonderful swim at HOTEL CALLI. There have been times when we made the drive from San Cris to Oaxaca in one day, but we are not that sadistic anymore.
Thursday, April 18 – Oaxaca
Today was the day for the drive over the mountains to Oaxaca City, one of the curviest roads ever. The mountains are spectacular beauty, and the drive was as easy as ever this time with very little traffic and almost no trucks. One can get stuck behind a slow truck for a long, long time on this curvy two-lane highway, but it did not happen to us this time. -We did pass, coming the other way, a convoy of about ten huge gas trucks. It would have been horrible and dangerous to be behind that. You’d never be able to pass. – In his effort to stop the huachicoleros (gas robbers), Lopez Obrador promised to start delivering gas in convoys of armed trucks instead of pipelines. I’m sure that’s what this was.
Because it is Semana Santa, we were not able to obtain a reservation in either of our two favorite hotels, so we are in HOTEL ONE. Not very romantic but entirely satisfactory, though the room is small!
We arrived in time to walk all over this dreamy town. The Textile Museum was open with an exhibit of woven belts and sashes from all over the world that knocked our socks off.
We had dinner at BOULENC, the great new “in” place. I had a divine broccoli sandwich! The restaurant is situated inside a ruin, extremely cool!
Friday, April 19 – Oaxaca
I stayed in the hotel room to catch up on work while Mayer had a most successful shopping day in Arrazola, where he buys wonderful wood carvings from Franco and Nellie Ramirez. – We had dinner at another great find: CASA TAVICHE. The food was exceptional. Again we walked all over, going into galleries and shops. We found some wonderful tin mirrors for the gallery at the Women’s Collective on 5 de Mayo. In our favorite large antique store, we got to chatting with some folks and it turns out they are friends of our friends Diane Varney and Rob Lerner. So fun! We will have dinner with them tomorrow!
Saturday, April 20 – San Marcos Tlapazola and Teotitlán del Valle
Finally, an adventure day! I adore being in Oaxaca, but the adventures of new towns are fewer now that we’ve been doing this for so long, and I miss that. Today was both and adventure and serendipity. – The mountain town of San Marcos is known for red clay pottery, and we learned that today they were having a special festival. We drove the hour or so to the town, dramatically situated at the edge of a wide valley, right at the foot of a huge mountain. We arrived in time for the excited speeches, all accented every few minutes by the inevitable brass band. There were tables and tables of the red ware laid out. We reviewed it all and in the end, found nothing that we wanted to buy for the gallery. The work is not very high quality, and all of it was the same, same, same. There was no one with any imagination, nothing innovative at all.
But then we discovered that we were very close to Teotitlán del Valle, the famous weaving town. We had hoped we’d have time this trip to go there, and here we were. Our first stop was the home of Jacobo Mendez, who is a friend because he comes to San Miguel every year at Day of the Dead for a special sale. He was surprised and delighted to see us. He and his wife and son were very welcoming, and he spent more than an hour visiting with us, demonstrating the way he creates some of his dyes, all from natural sources. We looked at many rugs and, to our surprise, selected three to buy. They are just too hard to resist, and he gave us amazing prices. His work is extremely fine, way above the average work in the village.
We went to the market place in the town to just stroll and look, and we were drawn into one booth where we liked the quality and colors. The weaver turned out to be a lovely young man, David. We got all friendly and spent an hour with him and ended up selecting several rugs from him.
Now we are off to dinner with Diane and Rob’s friends, and I’m going to send this.
An Unforgettable Experience of México