Wednesday, December 29, 2010

san luis potosí to xilitla

Grateful to be done with the cobblestone road, we drove past forty army vehicles parked on the side of the highway north. Young men in fatigues in and atop jeeps and tanks holding machine guns and the like were waiting, maybe off to take on the narcotraficantes. Mexico's compulsory military service has undoubtedly taken on new meaning for these boys and their families since the new drug cartel came to town. It no longer means stopping tourists to have a curious and harmless poke around their van. Now it's life and death. We stopped for lunch at a dusty little pollo asado stand by the road. The sign was painted on four sugar bags sewn together, the walls of the stand a stack of palettes cleverly strapped together on their sides.The mother cooked up the chicken and her daughters brought us tortillas and salsa. Hunched-over granny paced back and forth behind a fence while small dogs and chickens circled around us, vying for anything we might drop. Back on the highway, something new — a few square yards of sun-faded fabric tied to some tall branches planted in the dry soil and, in its shade, little family clusters, mostly women and young kids, waving us toward them with hands or rags or baseball caps. A tactic not likely to garner a lot of success when your clients are driving by at 100 kilometres an hour. We couldn't figure out if they were selling something or just out and out begging — something we have rarely seen outside the biggest cities in Mexico. A little further down the road, more people waved us over but this time they sat near branches tied together in a big square. Stretched vertically in the square were translucent snake skins drying in the sun and above each skin hung a little bottle hanging on a string displaying liquids of different colours. I'll have to look into that one.

On to San Luis Potosí, a good-sized city that unlike many in the centre of Mexico, doesn't get a lot of press. We couldn't figure out why. We opted to spend the night in a hotel rather than in the camping that was way out of town. The colonial centre of the town is intact and gorgeous. No litter to distract you from the beauty of the town. Much of downtown (the centro) is closed to traffic and there is square after square after church after cathedral. We didn't see any other gringos but we didn't get the unabashed stares that we came to expect in this part of the country last year. City folk are just too cool to stare. The morning was freezing. We had breakfast at a little breakfast diner — our first fresh-squeezed orange juice of the trip. MMMMM. Our meals all came one after the other, with almost enough time to finish one before the other came. This with no comment from the waitress. Par for the course, I suppose. We started on stools at the bar but finished in a booth because we were all so cold. We could see our breath while we ate. The central market was a treat, just a couple of city blocks worth but full of real things, not tourist tchatchkas. Among other things, we picked up some bolillos (very much like Portuguese rolls), perfect avocado, tomatoes (which are exclusively the roma variety), our first jícama (a crazy root veg that is like a cross between a potato and pear), a shopping bag and some arrachera (flank steak cut across the grain and delicious). After the market, we went to the fascinating Museo de la Máscara, an amazing museum of masks in an ornate building on the edge of a square. Full of masks from all eras of Mexican history — primitive, elaborate, scary, funny — masks aren't just for wrestlers in Mexico. There are elaborate dances from every state in the country and many involve masked characters enacting ages-old battles, good vs. evil, spanish vs. indigenous peoples, christians vs. heathens. A fascinating walk through the eras and folk-art tendencies of Mexico.

Back to check out and then into the van toward Lago Media Luna (Half moon lake). The drive was spectacular, out of the desert, briefly through a jungle, then through the Valle de los Fantasmas, a valley of stunning rock outcroppings, through more mountains and then into orange land — acre after acre for kilometres of orange groves. We headed south off the road just before Rioverde, toward the lake. Along the right hand side of the road ran a crystal-clear pale green canal full of lily pads and water birds. A couple of times we saw Mexican kids floating in the canal, all hanging on to yellow ropes stretched the twenty or so feet from one side to the other. At the end of the road a turn-off into the Parque Estatal Manantial (State Spring Park) and found a couple of hundred cars parked under small trees in a sloping field and beyond it a small ticket booth and a gate. We asked if we could camp here in our van. "Sure, in the parking lot,' was the answer, 'you just need to pay the entrance fee for the park." which was 90 pesos (about $8). We found a flat place to park (very important when you're sleeping beside someone who weighs a hundred pounds more than you!), donned our bathing suits and headed into the park. Through the gates we were met with a series of canals at most thirty feet across weaving their way through low pines. The clear, blue water is fed by hot springs and there is an impressive current as the lake water moves through the canals (explains the yellow ropes). We felt very, very white among the dozens of Mexican families, some in bathing suits, some in t-shirts, most wearing lifejackets playing with their kids in the 80 degree water. We jumped in the canal near the lake and floated with the current back to where most of the families played in the shallows. We couldn't figure out if we were being stared at because we were the only gringos or because we allowed our small children in the deep water with no flotation. I suspect that most Mexicans cannot swim (no access to water, no luxury of free time to teach or learn).

The kids all started the next day flying into the water off the rope swing, from the 5 degree air into the 25 degree water. Then we hopped into the car and headed toward Xilitla & Las Pozas, Edward James's surrealist fantasy world in the jungle.

1 comment:

A Friend Indeed said...

This is such fun to read !