Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15TH, 1999 -- OAXACA & MITLA RUINS (CONT.)

People who live in the Oaxaca mountains raise goats, sheep, cows, horses, mules, and donkeys. To get to Chiapas from Oaxaca, drive down the mountains, two hours flat around the coast, then back up the mountains.

I see small cows with a brown top & white bottom -- not mottled. We turn off from the paved mountain road onto a gravel side street. There's red dirt here, kind of like being on Mars! In the distance, on the mountains, there's a faint red hue amongst the scattered green shrubs and trees that dot the mountainside.

We see Tweety Bird and some other cartoon characters from the USA. Nicolas says that in Chiapas, such culture hasn't yet invaded -- but they do have Coca-Cola everywhere.

I ask, what are the mountain people like in Chiapas? A little closed-minded. They don't want to mix with other people. They think they are OK doing things as they're doing. They're poor but happy -- except that in Chiapas there are problems so sometimes they're unhappy.

Our guide, Nicolas, has a Russian name, but his family is Zapotecos. He has a brown skin color like a South Asian, and an eagle nose. He drives close to the edge of the mountain road on the left to avoid potholes on the right. And this is a two-way road. Yikes! No railings at all on this gravel road.

Nicolas says that if someone on the street wanted his photo, he would say no, because most people who take photos here are professional photographers who would make money. He says people feel exploited and their privacy is invaded. He says people in the USA think Mexicans are weird and backwards but we say NO -- we're humans too and our culture does make sense.

Nicolas has family in California, which he visited as an illegal alien, and they were surprised that he spoke Spanish. They thought he was an Indian and would dress like one. They thought he'd never speak Spanish in his life. Another cousin thought it was weird that Nicolas ate a hamburger!

We pass a home I'd like a picture of. Nicolas stops the car, and calls to the old woman. There's this incredible look on her face of the necessity of money. We give her 10 pesos and she goes "oh!" with her face and ambles right over to the car. She's wizened and has a wrinkled face, but I bet that's the sun's effect. I bet she isn't older than 50. She looks more like 80.

"Hierve El Agua" -- some sign I saw. We drive up to a "natural spring" that tourists go to. There are food vendors lined up by the mountain edge but we don't dare eat or drink anything. Our guide has a different idea about food safety than we do. He offers an orange, but we say no. He insists that it's safe, but then I ask, "Is it safe to drink the water?" (which we KNOW it's not) and he assures us that it is. OK. No safety tips from the guide or we'll end up with stomach cramps and diarrhea.

This is a mountain vista. We walk down a trail. The rock is volcanic and very uneven and craggy. It's pitted like moon rock. The dirt is grey but slightly red from the clay. It's very windy up here. My hat is yanked against my chip strap many times. I can hear the wind blowing through the trees.

It's very peaceful and silent here. Everything has been dried out, presumably the wind whips away any moisture. Shrubs and long grass here. We see an expanse of mountains around us. It's all covered with trees, except one sheer cliff face, white, where bushes cannot grow. Red ants on the ground. He shows us the natural spring. Not that big a deal. The view is much more impressive.

Chiapas crops: corn, beans, coffee, depend on the rainy season. Yes, San Cristobal is in the mountains, but there are some flattish places where crops can be placed.

Cacti grow on a hillside studded with rocks and yellow dry grass. The grass is two feet high here. Yellow or brown. It looks dried out. "piru", a tree or bush I believe. You make tea with the leaves to help a stomach ache. Very gnarled branches and green leaves at the tips. Small, fern-like leaves. A mint-like smell.

The corn fields in the distance look like brown "ripples" on the land. Piles of brown the size of a cow dot the field. Nicolas says those are piles of corn husks, fed to cows, donkeys, and horses.

Another gust of wind. It's very windy! The gust picks my hat off my head and puts it back onto my shoulders, held by the string. Little drops of water are picked up from the river below and find their way to my face. A stronger gust buffets us, causing rustling wind noises as it rushes past our ears.

The shrubs and trees are green here, but there are dots of bright yellow flowers on the shrubs, and dots of white and red flowers on the trees. There are yellow butterflies and even tiny one inch purple flowers from the bushes.

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