Aftermath of the dead

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Our mountaintop plaza Wednesday afternoon.

A WEEK AGO this sidewalk was stuffed with tourists and endless stalls of Mexican handicrafts — the good, the mediocre and the incredibly beautiful.

It was leading up to our annual death fest, Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

But it’s over now, and the vendors have gone home, leaving only the tarped roof that extends over most of our huge, downtown plaza, and this too will vanish soon, stored somewhere till Easter Week. Life will return now to normal, peaceful and lovely.

We were not here, the first Day of the Dead I’ve missed in the 19 years I’ve lived on our mountaintop. The overwhelming tourist crowds and, even worse, the traffic jams drove us away. Think Daytona Beach on Memorial Day Weekend.

We locked the Hacienda and boarded a bus to Guadalajara, where neither of us had visited in about 20 years. It was comparatively quiet there in Mexico’s second largest city.

Three nights.

We went to the zoo (excellent!). We visited a Vietnamese restaurant to eat pho (pretty good). We took a tour-bus ride about town (so-so). We walked around a lot.

On the afternoon of Nov. 1, we were in one of the huge plazas in the city center. That’s where I shot the video below. True, I’m no Cecil B. DeMille. I’m not even Quentin Tarantino.

We stayed in a small hotel downtown that was two blocks from where I spent my first three nights after landing in Mexico alone on Jan. 20, 2000, the Hotel Morales. We would have stayed there this trip, but the Morales was booked solid.

Our last evening, we sat in the lovely lobby of the Morales, and I saw that young, weary traveler walk through the entrance at midnight with two bags. They gave me a room near the kitchen due to the dismal hour. It was the only bed available.

I’ll probably elaborate on that in January, the 20th anniversary of my Mexican adventure. I embrace anniversaries, clocks and calendars. I arrived on a Delta jet that managed to get off the ground in Atlanta just minutes before an ice storm closed the airport for days.

Getting out of Dodge for the Day of the Dead was a good idea. We returned Sunday afternoon to peace and quiet. The tourists had skedaddled. Our fleeing will likely become a tradition. If we go back to Guadalajara, I’ll make a timely reservation at the Morales.

It’s a far snazzier place now than it was back then. But it’s sweet to be home now.

Sick unto death

catrinaFOR MANY years before relocating to Mexico, I was a big fan of the Day of the Dead tradition. In my Houston condo, I had a ceramic Catrina on my bathroom counter, one that a Mexican crafts store outrageously overcharged me for, which I didn’t know then.

It had been marked up about 10 times. Double is the norm. Those crafty Mexicans.

By pure dumb luck I settled in one of the two most popular and highly publicized towns in the entire republic for Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is commonly known in Mexico. The other is Oaxaca.

This really tickled me 19 years ago. Now I’m just ticked off. The tourist mobs have grown to stunning levels and, for that reason, this year we are fleeing for the first time.

We’re riding a bus to Guadalajara late next week.

I have not been to Guadalajara since 2000. Our mountaintop town is located about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City. Actually, it’s a bit closer to Guadalajara. In spite of that, I have visited Mexico City a gadzillion times, and I have not returned to Guadalajara since my mother (R.I.P.) and my sister visited in that long-ago summer. I picked them up at the airport there, and then returned them a week later.

We’ll be staying in a downtown hotel that’s two blocks from the Hotel Morales, which is where I stayed three nights after flying to Guadalajara from Atlanta on January 19, 2000. It’ll be fun to take a peek into there for ole times sake. I tried to book a room at the Morales, but nothing was available for the dates of our visit.

We’ll be visiting the famous zoo and eating some Vietnamese pho, which I love. Other than those two things, nothing much is planned. We’ll just wander around. This will be our first trip to someplace “new” since our 2013 visit to Mérida. We don’t travel much.

What I remember most about Guadalajara is the atrocious quantity of pigeons that pollute the downtown plazas. I’m not a fan of pigeons, nasty birds.

But there will probably be more tourists here next weekend than there are pigeons soiling the center of Guadalajara. Gotta pick your poisons.

Memories of days gone by

Eronga
Town of Erongaricuaro.

NINETEEN YEARS ago, I received the first and last visit from family members above the Rio Bravo. My mother and sister. I picked them up one evening at the Guadalajara airport and, as we drove to a downtown hotel, my sister asked:

Are most of the people who live here Mexican?

She was 59 at the time and had never been to a foreign country. It was her first and last trip outside the United States. She’s 78 now and, I imagine, will never leave her homeland again. She prefers the craziness of California.

After one night in the Guadalajara hotel, we took a bus to the neighboring state’s capital where I was renting a house. A couple of days later, we boarded another bus to the mountaintop town where I live now and stayed in a hotel for four nights.

We were tourists.

And during that time on the mountaintop — before I moved here, mind you — we took a taxi to a small town on the edge of our large lake, a town with the mouthful of a name Erongaricuaro, also known simply as Eronga because it’s easier to say.

We walked around a bit, but it began to rain, so we returned to the main plaza to catch another cab, but no cab was to be found. We sat on a bench and waited … and waited … and waited. No cab appeared. It was about to get dark.

A chicken bus pulled up, one of those ancient, smoke-belching, retired school buses that were common in these parts back then. They have since disappeared, replaced by smaller, nicer, more modern forms of local transportation.

We climbed aboard the chicken bus and returned to our hotel on the mountaintop.

Two days later, we went back to the state capital for another night, and then we bused to Guadalajara again for their flight back to Atlanta. Neither ever returned, but they did come that once. My daughter has yet to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Eronga, parked the Honda on the small plaza, bought ice cream and sat on a plaza bench, the same steel bench on which I sat with my sister and mother 19 years ago. Facing across the street, I snapped the above photo.

I think about the visit of my mother and sister every time I sit on the plaza of Erongaricuaro, which I do now and then because it’s not that far from the Hacienda. But on that late, rainy afternoon 19 years ago, it seemed to the three of us that we were in the middle of nowhere. And then there was that ride on the chicken bus.

My mother is long dead. My sister lives, I think, in Arcata, California, and my daughter lives in Athens, Georgia. I have no other Gringo relatives.

But I’ll always have Eronga.

Swearing off San Miguel

YEARS AGO a friend said we were in a rut, that the two of us rarely did anything different and new. He was correct.

He was referring to travel, but the accusation likely was accurate in other life activities. I attribute it mostly to age. I used to enjoy travel far more than I do now.

I wonder if I’m becoming as big a fuddy-duddy as was my father all his life. He thought if you’ve seen one city you’ve seen them all. He didn’t want to go anywhere. Of course, that’s ridiculous. There’s a huge difference, for instance, between Houston and nearby New Orleans and even San Antonio, Texas.

I’ve never been to Omaha, but I bet it’s quite a switch from San Francisco.

I was sitting in the central plaza of Mérida years ago, or was it Puebla? I recall looking around and thinking that I could be sitting in the plaza of any Mexican colonial city. Why did I blow airfare and hotel costs to come here?

Colonial Mexican cities are indeed quite similar.

But I have decided to branch out a bit, travel-wise. Not to do it more often, but to go to new places. Part of this change is the decision to never, ever visit the silly city of San Miguel de Allende again. Never, never, never.

It had become a habit, a pattern, on deciding to get off the mountaintop for a spell, to go either to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast or to San Miguel de Allende. They are about the same distance from the Hacienda, but in opposite directions. We were in a rut. Didn’t really give much thought to other options.

With rare exceptions, when we travel we drive. We don’t fly. If memory serves, the last time we flew anywhere, it was to Mérida in 2013, just a year after we flew to Havana for our 10th anniversary. Both jaunts were on Interjet, a nice airline, by the way.

I’m not going to swear off Zihuatanejo because a beach is a beach, and it’s the nearest beach. We’ve gone to Zihua so often, however, that it’s getting a bit ho-hum.  And you’ll sweat your ass off. We haven’t been there in three years.

But we’re swearing off San Miguel. No more. Enough is enough. In spite of having some great restaurants, places you don’t easily find elsewhere in Mexico, it’s just a laughable town inhabited by some Mexicans and lots of goofy Gringos who parade around in funny clothing. It’s amusing at first, but that wears off.

I’m making a list of new places to visit. We’ll be driving, and they are either one day or two days away. We’ll spend one night en route for those two-day spots.

Having just begun this project, the list is short:

  1. Guadalajara. Oddly, we are a bit closer to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, than we are to Mexico City. Yet we’ve been to Mexico City a thousand times, and I’ve not been to Guadalajara in 17 years, and just briefly then. My child bride and I have never been there together.
  2. Xilitla, San Luis Potosí. This idea came from one of The Moon‘s frequent visitors, Peggy Langdon. She went to Xilitla once, and I saw her mention of it on Facebook. There’s a place called Las Pozos in Xilitla. I want to see that.
  3. Zacatecas. I’ve been there just once, many years ago. It’s my wife’s favorite Mexican city, and she’s been to most of the biggies. She’s visited every state save one, Quintana Roo. She racked up those trips as a result of her 14 years working as a civil engineer for the federal highway department. She loves Zacatecas, and we can visit Aguascalientes at the same time. Trivia Department: Zacatecas is Mexico’s northernmost Colonial city.
  4. Tequila, Jalísco. This idea came from Steve Cotton who visited there recently. It looks like a fun place. This would be a two-day drive. We’d likely overnight in the Gringo-infested town of Ajijic or nearby. Ajijic, like the aforementioned San Miguel de Allende, is always good for eye-rolling.

That’s the entire list for now. I’m open to suggestions. New places would have to be within a two-day drive. My ideal one-day drive is six hours max. More than six hours turns a drive into an ordeal in my book.

Don’t suggest places that require planes. If I get on a plane, I’m going to Colombia, not to the other side of Mexico.

As for San Miguel, I wish you well, amigos. Try to get on without me. I won’t miss you, but thanks for the hilarity you’ve provided through the years.