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.

Sidewalk shoppers

New Image

SITTING AT A sidewalk table abutting the plaza with a nice café Americano negro and nothing but time on my hands allows me to notice things.

Just up from where I sit are lines of  sidewalk stands where people we call hippies (they don’t care for the term) sell wares like earrings, handmade drums, things you tie around your wrist to look artsy, stuff you move to make the sound of rain, Indian incense, that sort of gear. It attracts tourists, especially on weekends.

I took this shot last Saturday. The two women cannot be from around here. They just don’t look like mountaintop people. They look like big-city gals, maybe from the nearby state capital or Guadalajara or even Mexico City.

I’ve spent 40 years, more than half my life, living in tourist towns. New Orleans, San Juan and now here amid the cobblestone streets and bougainvillea. People from more prosaic spots visit and think, “I could live here,” but then they go home and die in Dubuque.

Overnight in Pozos

View from our hotel apartment.

WE PASSED the 15-year point in our happy matrimony back in April. We had intended to go to the beach for a couple of days for the occasion, but we never got around to it.

Then I remembered our previous visit to a place called Mineral de Pozos. That first jaunt was eight or 10 years ago. It was mostly a ghost town, having previously thrived due to mines in the area, but those good times were long gone.

We hopped in the Honda and headed there this past weekend for a way-overdue anniversary blow-out.

Pozos, as it is usually called, reminded me of Real de Catorce, another ghost town resurrected by tourism.

A Brad Pitt movie called The Mexican was filmed in Real de Catorce. It was a fun flick. Also starred Julia Roberts.

The traffic was insufferable. Can you see my child bride?

But forget Brad and Julia. We’re talking about Mineral de Pozos here. Way back when, the town had another name, Ciudad de Porfirio Díaz, after the old dictator.

During our first visit, I thought, “This place will never get off the ground.” It was primarily shells of old stone buildings, mangy dogs and deserted streets.

We had driven up there from San Miguel de Allende, just for a few hours. We didn’t spend the night.

We noticed a couple of hotels that were under construction. We poked our heads into one during that visit, and it coincidentally was the same hotel we stayed in Sunday night.

Part of our hotel.

It’s called Posada de Las Minas, and it’s a very nice place. The hotel consists of eight rooms and two apartments, the difference being that the apartments are larger and have kitchens.

Since the apartments cost the same as the rooms, 1,800 pesos, we opted for an apartment. The view from the windows and balcony was spectacular, and the hotel has a great restaurant.

Old street goes up thataway.

Since our first visit, Pozos has been named one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos. Magic Towns. We Mexicans are fond of thinking ourselves as magic in one way or another.

Here on the mountaintop is also officially magic.

If a Mexican town has a cobblestone street, the chances of the government calling it magic are pretty good.

The designation seems to have given Mineral de Pozos a shot in the proverbial arm because when we returned Sunday, things had picked up considerably.

Of particular note is an art school that’s being constructed on the edge of town, an art school that will be the largest in Mexico and, according to some, the biggest in Latin America.

We drove by the place, which is not yet open. It’s huge and beautiful, as an art school should be. Even the dusty neighborhood is being renovated in spots.

As mentioned, we were there just one night. The bed was comfy, the view was wonderful, the restaurant was delish, and the art school was stupendous.

We’re not likely to make a third visit, however.

It’s just a one-hour drive northeast of the Gringo-infested burg of San Miguel de Allende, which is where we had lunch on the drive up and again on the return trip.

But we’re back home now, and happy for that. And well into our 16th year of matrimonial bliss.

Little plaza in Pozos.