Trip Report 8/20-8/27 part 3

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Posted by scott from ( on sŠbado, agosto 31, 2002 at 14:24:55 :

Another day in paradise, as M says. We decide to go to Petatlan, a town we havenít yet visited. But first, we make some coffee (after our required phone call), slice up a mango, and spread out the pan dulce purchased the night before. J also has cereal and milk that M brought for him. Generally speaking, his appetite does not include a wide variety of foods and so M brings half the home pantry in order that he doesnít go hungry during our stay. Rice, beans, and quesadillas are pretty much his restaurant menu. Sitting on the balcony we can see that the day will be yet another nearly cloudless day. So much for those daily thunderstorm projections. We pack the backpacks with a few items, straighten up the room so that the housekeeper doesnít freak, and walk downstairs around 10.

Taxi! Thatís Jís trademark call. He loves to stand at the curb and yell ďtaxi!Ē And whenever Raul the bellman sees J, he yells it as well. So this morning, we have everybody yelling ďtaxi!Ē, and the front desk looks up in surprise and amusement. Our taxi driver is named Francisco and once he finds that we want to be taken to where the Petatlan bus leaves from, he tries very hard to convince us to forgo the bus and use his taxi service instead. M explains that the old gringo here prefers the more rustic travel. Feeling somewhat sheepish, and hearing that business isnít all that great this time of year, I suggest that, since weíre also probably going to go to Barra later in the week, perhaps he can take us there. Immediately he perks up. I suspect my wallet is going to regret this, but hey, weíre on vacation, no?

As Francisco drops us off at the bus depot, he makes sure that we know his name, his taxi number (360), and that he has our name and room number. What day are we going? How long would we stay? I make murmuring noises to try and be as non-committal as possible knowing that stuff happens and minds change, but in my heart I know that weíll be going to Barra within a day or two and that Francisco will be our guide. Just out of curiosity, I ask what heíll charge. 600 pesos. Gulp. Well, hey, [insert vacation motto here]. And I just hate to haggle on vacation, especially when I know that what I save means a heckuva lot more to him than it does to me. Ok, call us tomorrow to see if weíre going.

The bus is waiting to leave. Itís a typical school type refugee with a driver, a doorman, and a few passengers. Itís clean, but old. Well, ok, mostly clean. Within a minute of starting, la musica comes on, delivered from two massive speakers hung over the windshield. Open windows, settle back, and watch the world go by. The driverís course of action has him slowly making his way out of town, swerving towards the curb every block or so, honking his horn to attract the attention of any possible fare. And here I learn something new. If you donít want a bus, donít in the least look up, or look towards the bus, or in any way or manner suggest that youíre even remotely cognizant of the approaching vehicle. To do otherwise has the driver pulling over and if you donít, in fact, want to ride, you irk the driver and doorman.

Iím loving this. Getting there, as they say, is half the fun. Well, unless youíre somebody who has reoccurring nightmares of dying a painful death in a gruesome fiery bus crash after plunging off the side of a mountain. But more about that later. For now, once out of Zih, weíre cruising along the highway, passing a succession of small towns and ranchos. A burros here, a couple of pigs there. Chickens everywhere. Look, thereís a goat! Everything is green. Cocos and mangos hang from the trees. And yes, the trash is tremendous. Sitting in front of us are two older women drinking soda. When finished, each nonchalantly tosses the bottle out the window. I canít help but think that if somebody started recycling down here, it wouldnít just make a major improvement in the trash problem, but the subsequent transfer of cash could make a dent in the regionís poverty level. Thereís serious money sitting out there just begging to be picked up and traded for cold hard cash. As for immediate money needs, the bus ride is 8 pesos each, which I pay with a smile.

As we approach Petatlan, we realize that weíre not entirely sure where weíre going, or how big this town is, or where the bus stops, or where to eat. In other words, it's a typical day out. When the bus finally does stop and everybody embarks, we have a quick look around, and start walking back down the highway from the direction that we came. M seems to remember a sign for the church, but not exactly how far back it was. Itís hot. Itís dusty. And itís fun. And itís not long before we see the sign we want and turn left to walk up and over the hill that will eventually lead us to our desired destination. Along the way, we stop and ask just to be sure. When we reach the church, we duck into a nearby shop for a soda.

The church is big. It appears to sit on itís own small hill with steps leading up to it from three sides. Service is going on, so we decide to circumnavigate and explore. Ah, the gold market. Stalls line the streets, and vendors call out for you to look at their wares. But weíre not here for gold and so we slowly walk through, admiring a piece here and there, gently deferring to repeated requests to buy something. Outside the main gate to the church, a woman sells fruit cups. A man sells ice cream. Another sells fresh coco juice. Photographers with Poloroid cameras offer to take Jís photo sitting on a plastic donkey. Banners hang everywhere. The entire place feels like one big celebration and I wonder aloud if we didnít arrive during some sort of event. J sees a table with toys, and so for 5 pesos we buy him a small plastic truck. A man sells fishing nets intricately woven from white and green fishing line. Theyíre so beautiful, I nearly buy one to just to hang in the backyard. As I write this now, I regret not doing exactly that. They are truly works of art.

We continue walking through streets and find the indoor market next to the square. For J, this is a first, and the noise, the heat, the smells, the flies, all of it is overwhelming. Meat hangs everywhere. People sit on stools at counters eating bowls and plates of food heís never seen or smelled. Iím not sure myself what it is but rather than feel like a total tourist, I pass without asking. Out back, we walk the outdoor portion of the market where baskets of dried fish and fruits and vegetables are stacked in abandon. Itís a tremendous experience for J to see that not everybody buys food from a giant sterile white grocery store. And itís making us parents hungry. The first restaurant we come to, we enter. Itís more patio than restaurant, but the chicken tacos are good and the beer is cold.

Once finished with lunch, we find our way back to the church. Service is out, so we proceed to go inside. Stop. Signs on the door instruct us, in no uncertain terms, that short skirts, short pants, swimwear, and the like are NOT permitted inside. Weíre wearing short pants, of course. And so, while other in shorts do in fact move inside and out, we respect the wishes of the priest and remain at the doors. The church is large, and obviously active, but not, in our minds anyway, that special. Why? Itís hard to say. Wherever we travel in Mexico, we seek out the local church. This one has size, but not the charm of say, the beautiful little mission in Cerrocahui, or the resident psychic energy that emanates from the timbers from the old building near Cusarare. Stepping inside that church felt like the weight of thousands of souls came down on your shoulders. I mean in no way any disrespect here. This was a nice church. But we came, we saw, we left.

And by leaving, we walked down the front steps, paused to get ice cream and fruit, and then made our way back to the bus stop, stopping along the way for M to buy some religious gifts. As we walked through the neighborhood streets, I had just a touch of disappointment. Itís true that I didnít know what to expect and that surprise is part of the enjoyment of travel. But down deep I had hoped to find more of a quaint colonial town. Less taxis, less shops. And it may be that we just didnít spend enough time there to really find the true character of the town. It felt like a suburb of Zih and Iím guessing there's more to it than that.

Ok, so weíre back at the bus waiting to leave. Itís really hot now. The air in the bus is stifling and unlike our previous ride, this one is not so clean. Itís also packed to the gills with people. Travelling though Petatlan, it stops every 50 feet or so for more folks to join the fun. No music this time, which is ok, because it would have to be REALLY loud to be heard over the commotion. As we leave town and start rolling down the highway, things get interesting. Itís obvious that our driver fancies himself as some sort of racecar driver. Ok, more like a suicidal racecar driver who doesnít mind if he takes out a few dozen innocent riders with him. And for the first time in my travels through Mexico, I wonder if this was the right way to go. I mean, this guy is flying. Right side, left side, itís all one lane to him. Heís driving from memory with his eyes closed for all I know. The old man sitting next to me, whoís probably ridden this route thousands of times, holds his head in his hands and moans every time the bus sways perilously around a curve at a speed that I wouldnít drive with my Miata. M looks at me with wide eyes and reminds me that she didnít buy a rosary at the church. For this fun, we get to pay not 8, but 12 pesos each. I guess the extra money covers the extra excitement. But of course, we do make it back to Zih in one piece. M crosses herself as we stop at the depot, and although Iím not catholic, I consider following suit just for the thanks.

We catch a taxi back to the hotel, where we find chaos. Mega Merza has arrived. Some sort of convention, they have bussed in overnight from Mexico City. Raul rolls his eyes and says that luckily theyíll all be gone come Sunday. The front desk is crowded with people and I wonder if the pool area has sprouted a stage, tables, chairs, booths, and banners like what happens for the hotel's weekly fiesta (which theyíve apparently stopped doing for the summer this year). We shower, and head for the pool and some soothing drinks and find, nothing. The convention seems to be mostly over at Crystal. That calls for another drink.

And since itís Thursday, we decide to taxi back into town to enjoy a bowl of Pozole at Tamales y Atoles Any. Eating here is a first for us and all I can say is, OH MY GOD. Fantastic. And hereís the thing. Up to now, I havenít liked Pozole. Nope, not a bit. But this is delicious. Green, silky, spicy, and entirely satisfying. The complimentary mescal afterwards is a perfect finish to a perfect meal. The staff is also very friendly. We judge this to be a find even if we didnít find it. And we know weíll be back before the vacation is over.

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