Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS

Good morning. Last night I called a tour guide, who told me to wait here. The air is fresh. The chill is burning away as the sun comes up around 8:30am. The huge thing in the center is a deli on a big platform.

I buy a Fanta and sit on one of the hard green metal chairs. They all say "Coca-Cola" as does the multicolored sunshade umbrellas things around each green metal table. Shoeshine boys approach me -- eager -- but I point to my feet. I have sneakers, not shoes. They want to shine them anyway.

Honking of horns. The square is not too large. All the grass areas are fenced off with more of the same dark green metal. A short man with a backpack carries a load of Spanish newspapers. The newspapermen hustle and I'm approached by three. A shoeshiner calls out "shoeshine" in English.

A 10-year-old kid pushes a cart marked "helados", popsicles, wearing a striped traditional wool jacket with a hood. The stripes are vertical: grey & dark blue. The shick shick of a handheld broom as a man cleans up the area in front of his shoeshine stand. Stands line the plaza. I can count maybe eight or more shoeshiners. A typical one has a rusting metal chair with a canopy over it which is dirty and tan, and also says "Coca-Cola".

A merchant carrying a rack of amber jewelry approaches me. He goes from 100 pesos to 50 pesos for an amber necklace. He communicates that in the few English words he knows. I offer him 5 pesos just to take a photograph. He holds out for 10. Okay, wise guy. That's about one dollar. Bugs are imbedded in his amber. "No thanks," I say, "I've got enough tree sap with bugs at home." When the guy smiles, his teeth -- all his top ones in front -- are outlined with a silvery metal. Possibly tin? (I'm told later this is merely an Indian decoration.)

To one side of the plaza is a church. But to one side of the church, barely adjacent to the plaza, is another plaza-like space. Holy moly -- they have the sit on Santa's lap thing set up there -- just like Oaxaca! It must be a national program, but I hadn't expected the incursion of Coca-Cola culture this far in. Chiapas is the backwater of Mexico, bordering Guatemala and containing the real "hold outs" -- Indians who don't want to be part of modern society. This is the Plaza 31 de Mayo by the way. I wonder what happened on May 31st some year.

There's a loud cheeping, chirping, & calling from birds. A woman sells scarves. She's short: five feet high with a black shaggy (animal skin?) dress. Dark hair in braids. Sack over her shoulders. There are pigeons here just like the ones from home.

I count four groups of obvious tourists, probably also here to meet tour guides. No, six groups, but two are loners like me. One has a scruffy big blonde beard, long hair & sunglasses. Another is thin, with thin blue jacket & hiking boots, hunched over a notebook on a park bench: dark green metal.

I grab a garbage bag from a hotel because I've just bought some of those Marcos dolls! Three little girls & a senora with two teeth entirely silvered going "marcos, marcos" at me. I haven't seen those tooth decorations elsewhere in Mexico.

More tourists! They're descending on the town square. (I later learn that Amy saw more tourists back in Oaxaca, also, because this weekend is the big December break when people travel. So if this is "a lot" of tourists, there must be almost none at all during off times of the year.) For the book, this would be a great place for two Caucasians to meet covertly, because they wouldn't stand out as much. Normally gringos are out of place.

A lot of the tourists are sitting together chatting, getting mobbed by sellers. Hawkers often say "amigo" to get your attention. I have to say "no, gracias" usually 3-5 times while they show me different wares. There are lots of tourists: a dozen? An old lady with dyed red hair and a horrid yellow floral shirt & brown leather handbag. Rich, but ugly.

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