Sunday, December 27, 2009

nos encanta Catemaco

We made it into Veracruz (the city) by about 11. This state is so verdant and lush compared to Tamaulipas. The shapes of the mountains are so unfamiliar and their proximity to the gulf are in such contrast with the arid pacific coast. There are so many villages! And each has its own particular flavour and also, apparently, its specialty, as the roadside booths change so much from pueblo to pueblo. One village's booths will be dripping with bags of oranges, mandarinas and trunks of mini bananas, the next pueblo's will display row upon row of different-shaped glass bottles filled with jugos and licuados of every imaginable colour. There is no economic opportunity left untapped in Mexico. Every speed bump means a handful of vendors selling plastic cups of juice or little bags of goodies — salted or spiced cacahuates, fingers of jicama, peeled oranges, fried sliced plantain, sometimes chips, almost without exception profferred with the ubiquitous plastic squeeze bottle of chile sauce. The last 500 metres before a toll booth means a longer string of vendors. And I have to say we've come to really appreciate the speed bumps. There are no places to pull over once you're on the road. The occasional widening is invariably occupied by some family very good-naturedly hanging out around their vehicle as the man clambers around underneath the hood looking for the source of the problem). The topes give you a chance to really get an eyeful of it all. This trip has me gagging for a camera with shutter speed — all those beautiful, mundane vignettes.

We stopped in at the Aquarium in Veracruz. The kids were wowed by the fish & splashed by the dolphins while Wil bravely managed to keep his discomfort in large crowds in check. Boxing day -- what were we thinking?! Sometimes, we drew more attention than the fish. We have only seen one other whitey to date in all of Mexico outside of the walls of our campsite in Catemaco.

Last night we went out looking for some supper. Having to constantly ask for directions, which I think may be the only truly reliable map of Mexico, means I have gotten over my hesitation to talk to complete strangers in Spanish. We went out on the main road and I just walked up to some guy and asked him where he would eat if he had to find supper around here. Why did it surprise me that not only did he point out a place but then walked me over to talk to the owner to enquire what was on the menu for us. So sorry, she answered, it is the first anniversary of my father's death and we are all going to church. We found another place but had to stop at one of the dozens of Tegogolos stands on the road. "What are Tegogolos?" I asked. Lake snails. Prepared like ceviche with a topping of tomato sauce, lime juice, cilantro and chile. I wasn't brave enough post-tourista, but Wil dug in and said it was muy sabroso.

Today we wandered down to the Malecon, the road that faces the shore of Lake Catemaco, and got on a lancha with Francisco for a tour of the lake. We visited a popular Catholic pilgrimage site where the Virgin of Carmen (who knew there was another important virgin?) appeared to a local fisherman in 1714. The tour also included a stop at the Isla de las Changas, a very small island where a colony of very obese Thai macaques live. Francisco also informed us that Tegogolos are reputedly the Veracruzano Viagra! After our tour, we stopped at the Zocalo and walked around the church. Outside were dozens of women selling pretty little flower bouquets. Inside were hundreds of people, half of whom held the bouquets and were lining up to touch the statue of the Virgin of Carmen. People waited patiently for their turn to stroke the glass with the flowers and say prayers in her presence. It made me almost wish I had faith. Any girl under the age of six was dressed up like a doll, not like Barbie, more like fuschia silk dresses with lace trim, white fur collars, black patent-leather shoes and full-on tiara.

We got a real treat at lunchtime. Some music started up outside the campground and a pile of kids came running by the gate. Our kids went out to check it out. There was a rhythm section set up along the sidewalk and twenty or so young men dressed up in fluorescent costumes with huge papier-mâché heads, one like Santa, dancing in a circle to the music. They'd play a tune, shake their tin cans for pesos and move on, only to start again a few hundred feet away. Wil made the mistake of going out to look and was instantly swarmed. All we could see was a sea of colour with outstretched arms and Wil's head a good foot above it all. I think he was so shocked that he couldn't find the words to say "enough already" after he'd filled a few cans. After they had moved on I went across the road to a woman standing alone and asked her what the deal was. She explained that Quemar el Viejo (burn the old, burn the old man?) is a Veracruzan tradition that happens every year from December 24th and ends on the first — their way of burying the old year and welcoming in the new. She also told me about their new year Galeta del reyes, a special desert only baked once a year in which a little porcelain figure is hidden. The galeta is cut into as many pieces as there are people and the lucky finder gets to choose between a special holiday tamal or a cup of hot chocolate. The Mexican version of the Galette des Rois.

We're getting the wheels realigned in the morning and then heading toward the Yucatan.


miss Herbuté said...

wow !
so happy to imagine you all there..thank you for the detailed updates..always fun to read from you.

Jenny Wren said...

Love reading your updates. Snow here again which is great - so much better than freezing rain! Of course the sun is the best of all and I know you are making the most of it. Love to you all.

A Friend Indeed said...

According to Wikipedia, "La Rosca de Reyes" (NOT "galeta") is traditionally eaten on January 6 (Epiphany), during the celebration of the "Día de Reyes" In most of Mexico, this is the day when children get presents from the Three Wise Men. The children leave a shoe outside, filled with hay or dried grass for the animals the Kings ride, along with a note, before they go to bed. The Mexican “rosca de reyes” usually has an oval shape and is decorated with dried and candied fruits like figs, quinces or cherries. The tradition of placing a figurine of the Christ Child inside the cake is followed. Whoever finds the Niño Dios (bean, candy or baby doll)must take it to the nearest church on the 2nd of February (Día de la Candelaria)and has the responsibility to take the family to church,to have a party and to provide tamales and atole to the guests.
You must have come across a local version of the tradition. Does this sound like your "galeta"??

Claire said...

Sounds like all is going well.
Its great hearing all about the big trip!
All is well in Abercorn...tons of snow and happy people!

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