Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

"Vialidad" are the municipal police: the traffic police. There are federal traffic police close to the military base checkpoint. The check cars that look suspicious. How do they look suspicious? Well, if they have no license plates... Senor Lopez is busy in the afternoon, but there's a guy he wants me to meet, Senor Alfonso. Pronounced "Ahl-FONE-soh". "He's a little crazy, like you." OK. I set up a meeting with Alfonso, and now I've got some more time on my hands.

Two more green uniformed army guys at the bank. One three stripes, one two stripes. One wears a cell phone on his uniform in a fancy see-through case. They're in line at the "Caja especial de dolares" where I'm waiting to get more travelers' checks cashed. This time I watch the lady at the counter, she uses an ultraviolet light to make the hexagons light up in a pattern that matches but is not limited to the red ones on the right.

When someone asks "are you here for work or vacation?" it's a way of asking me whether the photo of him I'm about to take is something I'm going to sell. "In militian de Ciudad Real". Police are everywhere here! I don't really need sunglasses. I can usually stay in the shade on one sidewalk or the other.

I go to a market, and see the same embroidered placemats I've seen before: these have an asking price of 25 pesos, though -- so I bet I could have haggled for less. What's the point? I think I would feel as if I were helping to exploit these people if I were to haggle. I buy two colorful blankets. I negotiate her from 360 a pair to 260 a pair. Why haggle? Because I'm supposed to? But what about "fair market value"? These goods are really worth more.

Another lady punches up the amount on a credit-card-size calculator to show me the amount, because presumably she cannot say it in English, and I certainly can't say it in Spanish. Another lady uses her hands instead "10, 10, 5" means 25 pesos.

I go to Domino's Pizza. It's surprisingly clean -- the cleanest place I've seen here in San Cristobal. American culture isn't all bad! For the first time, I'm not worried about the quality of the food I'm eating in Chiapas. I get the Mexicana Pizza, and go upstairs to use the bathroom. Two guys are on duty whose only job is to clean up.

A TV on the well shows MTV music, the Greatest Music Videos of All Time. Aha's "Take on me" is apparently #14. I sit to eat. #13 is REM's "Losing My Religion", a particularly appropriate song for this area, where the Indians are indeed losing their religion to Catholicism.

The Mexicana has chilis & onions on it. Yum! But hot. Downstairs, there's some commotion and suddenly everyone is singing Happy Birthday (in Spanish) to one of the staff. I leave. The sun is so bright (when I'm not in shadow) that I stub my toe on a sidewalk bump I can't see properly. Pigeons here are white & grey, and grey w/green head.

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