Saturday, June 09, 2007

Chacala to Mexcaltitan

A few days ago I was visiting with some friends of mine, here in Chacala. We were hanging out under their palapa, watching people gather for a Mass, at the church.They invited me to come with them on a trip to Mexcaltitan. It would be on Friday, and we would drive in a large, ten person van this large family shares. Of course, I said yes. I have been curious to go there ever since I read about it a nice tourist book called “ Western Mexico, a Traveller’s Treasury” written by Tony Burton in the early 90’s. It’s a little out of date, but the history pieces are great.I didn’t get the details of what the trip was about, or who exactly was going, but I didn’t care. Mexcaltitan is on a isla, an island, in the middle of a large lagoon, about twenty miles from the ocean. The lagoon is salt and fresh water. It’s turns out it was very muddy, and not especially appealing. I didn’t see anyone swimming. And I don’t imagine the septic or sewage system is up to the job.Anyway, we left Chacala at 5am. Or that was when we, my neighbor and I, were supposed to be picked up. Of course, it was more like 5:45am before the van showed up. But we sat on the steps and watched the stars. We drove down to the family's restaurant on the beach, and picked up some more people. We ended up with eleven people. We got into Las Varas a little after 6am. And waited for a half hour or so.It turned out we were meeting some other family members, with a car, and were waiting for some other folks to arrive on the bus from Tepic. We kind of wandered around the main intersection in Chacala, waiting for the bus, and going across the street to the bathroom in the Pacifico Bus Terminal. Nothing else was open except for a couple of coffee/fruit juice stands, with sweet bread and fruit. And the Pemex, gas, station.

Once we re-organized we had nine passengers in the van, and six in the car. And three big bags on mangos. Two on the roof, and one in back. And everyone’s stuff. None of us were traveling lightly. I even had a pillow. We drove north thru Zuaculpan, and thru San Blas, and then stopped in Hildago. I thought it was a bathroom stop. And it was, but it was a breakfast and shopping stop too. A really ordinary town with a Mercado that had nice clean bathrooms. We all ate and wondered around town.Finally, the wagon train leader, Salvatore, got us going again. We went thru some other smaller and middle sized town, including Santiago ICX. Which I had never heard of, but was pretty big. I had a newish map and some of us studied it. One person explained the map was incorrect, because he knew for sure the Guadalajara was north of Tepic. He was incorrect, but what can you say. Guadalajara is actually almost south of Puerto Vallarta. Anyway.We had successfully passed thru three produce and plant inspection stations as we came north. Our driver showed his official inspection papers and we sailed thru the first three stations. But the inspector at the third station must have been hungry for mangos, because he confiscated the two bags on the roof. Everyone tried to argue with him, waving the inspection documentation in his face, but he was adamant. He wanted those mangos. So he pulled out his knife and cut the ropes in about two seconds. They were on the ground and he wasn’t giving them back. So off we went. Everyone was silent, and it felt like they were angry. After a few minutes of silence we started talking about other things.When we got to the place where you leave your vehicle and transfer to a launcha, I noticed one of our gang found a wheelbarrow. He got the third sack of mangos out of the truck and into the boats. Everyone was smiling. The mangos were a gift for the family of our driver’s wife. Who have lived in Mexcaltitan forever.The most interesting thing about this town is that it floods two or three months a year, and you walk on the high sidewalks to get around town. There are no cars. Just handcarts and wheelbarrows. Lots of people garden in cement boxes on the streets in front of their houses, or on the sidewalks.This is also probably the where the name ‘Mexico” came from. People from this island wandered for two hundred years, trying to find the place they saw in a vision. They finally found the area where D.F. is now. It was an island then. They also looked at the lake near Guadalajara and the Patzcuaro Lake. Which also has an island. Anyway, that’s the popular theory.

It was about a ten minute ride across the lagoon in our three launches.. Two of the boats landed don the normal dock. And one went up the side of the island a ways to deliver the mangos to the family home.When we arrived, I was introduced to family members. Then some of us wandered around town. It’s about six or seven blocks by six or seven blocks. There are dirt walkways which will become canals in the rainy season between the rows of houses, and high sidewalks on each side. I was taking photos and we were hanging around the nice shady little plaza for awhile, when I realized there was a Mass starting, at the nice little churchIt was then I realized, we weren’t just visiting. We were here to honor the anniversary of the death of our driver’s wife’s brother. I think he died fifteen year sago.I listened to the Mass from outside, on a nice metal bench under a tree in the Plaza. I fell asleep. When I woke up seven or eight little boys were staring at me. I finally figured out that wanted me to get out of the way, so they could climb the shade tree.They visited with me until the Mass was over. They told me all the English words they knew, and then wanted to know their names in English. They were not shy and all, and it was fun for me.After a small break for icey fruit drinks, we walked over to a pretty big house, which has a nice big shaded area overlooking the water. We ate there. About 40 people. Men visiting with the men, and women with women. And the kids that were big enough to walk were running around. Some of the men were out at the end of the dock. Cleaning ostien, oysters. Someone from the family remembered that I was collecting oyster shells last winter, for a project. They started putting aside nice flat shells for me. After maybe two hours of eating, I decided to go walking. It was hot and I was sleepy.This is a nice small hotel, overlooking the water. I think it had about six rooms, but I didn't get the prices. I went to the nice little museum, and took another nap on the metal bench. A couple of people from our group found me there. They wanted to go over the a nice waterfront restaurant. It was nice and cool.

It turned out one of the kids, a guest, was not happy with the menu at the house. So she had empanadas and we had chips and drinks. When we got back to the house a band had arrived. A very nice band, with two good singers. So people listened, and talked, and ate, and some danced.I love how much people here seem to like visiting with family and friends. All ages, Even in the van coming up, everyone was talking about this and that the whole way. The conversations sound friendly and jokey. But I miss lots since the conversations are all in Spanish. Of course, there could be subtle undertones I don’t understand. It was nice to be traveling together, laughing and joking and talking about what we saw.

I think my favorite parts of Mexcaltitan were the lovely colors of the houses, and the lack of motor vehicles. My guess is the paint colors were part of a some government tourist funding project, where people got free paint, but had to choose from certain colors. They looked very nice. I liked the colors a lot. And the quietness.

Anyway, after hours of eating, talking, visiting, and wandering around, we finally headed home. We drove straight thru to Chacala, and made it in under two hours. Everyone was happy with that, but me. I was scared to death most of the way home. The driver didn’t want to drive in the dark, so he was passing and speeding like crazy. Next time, the bus. It was a great day though.


1st Mate said...

What a pretty place, now I want to go there too. No cars? Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Great pictures Andee!. Mexicaltitan looks like a place that would like to visit...

Mike D.