Sunday, April 20, 2008

Into the hills and history

Where did the week go? Well, for one thing we spent a big chunk of it up in the mountains. We went with our neighbors Danny and Nancy up to Mascota, Talpa, and San Sebastian del Oeste. It's ugly, awful. Stay away. Never go there.

Yeah, right. The only thing saving it right now from an influx of land-hungry gringos and rich Guadalajarans is that the people in the mountains are "real proud" of their property -- a euphemism for saying they're asking nose-bleed prices. The only thing we could figure out is that all the natives think that now there's a paved highway connecting Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara through Mascota, and what used to be a day's drive can now be done in two hours, everyone in Mexico and the United States will be beating a pathway to their door. Well, maybe. But when someone is asking $8,000,000 pesos for a property similar to one that rents for $3,000 pesos a month....reality check, please! Renting is sure the better option for a while.

It's something to consider if we start spending more time down here through the summers. For now, and for short stays, I vote for Meson Santa Elena, where we spent two nights. The largest suite upstairs behind the patio was around $700 pesos a night. Breakfast was an extra $80 pesos, and it just kept coming and coming and coming. We sat in that chilly-in-the-shadows-heaven-in-the-sunshine patio from 9 to 11 in the morning, grazing through one dish after another, listening to great music and just enjoying each others' company. OK, here's what we got in the order received: Coffee spiced with cinnamon...fresh pineapple/papaya juice or the sweetest fresh orange juice I've ever had...a basket of crispy thin (anise-flavored?) cookies, cakes, and pan dulce...a fruit plate with fresh pineapple, yogurt, and granola....omelettes to order served with bacon, frijoles, and all the little side dishes of chopped onion, chicharrones, salsa fresca, crema (not quite sour cream)....then (for dessert??!!) sweet corn tamales that were light and fluffy melt-in-your-mouth. And that coffee and orange juice just kept pouring forth.

Like I say, about 11:00 we waddled forth ready to explore Mascota. We didn't even make it the three blocks to the plaza before we found ourselves in a real estate office, and Danny being Danny and Larry and me interested bystanders, we made plans to meet up later that day. But first, after Mascota's plaza, I insisted we go to Talpa.

I'd been wanting to go since Hilda, my housekeeper, had told me about her plans. Millions of people visit Talpa every year, and this year Hilda, her son and her mother, plus husband Chano are making the pilgrimage. Tuesday May 6, they'll go to San Juan de Abajo, a small town outside of Puerto Vallarta, and begin a three day trek up the mountains and then down the dizzying Espina del Diablo (Devil's Spine), through a large orange stucco archway that says "Bienvenidos Peregrinos" which spans the narrow highway, and make it to the basilica in time for a Mass to the Virgin of the Rosary Friday afternoon, May 9. Having just driven that road, it is NOT something I would ever consider in my wildest dreams.

Neither would the dentist's assistant who filled me in on the whole Talpa scene while I was lying in the chair last Friday mouth agape. (Oh yeah. That's the OTHER thing that went on last week). She said that she had made the pilgrimage to Talpa, but that she rode in a coach which went ahead and set up camp for the pilgrims and provided them food and water along the way. Much better choice in my book. She told me some do the trek barefoot with nopales (that's prickly pear cactus leaves) tied to their shoulders. Again, not her thing. The most she's done is on her knees from the entry door at the basilica in Zapopan up to the altar. Slacker.

Zapopan, Talpa, and Mexico City -- those are the three MAJOR miracle virgin shrines in Mexico. They have major fiestas when there are millions of people who invade them, but they're pretty busy any time of the year. I took pictures. I'll get them onto Shutterfly in an album and talk more about this later. This kind of religion makes Danny, Nancy and Larry hinky as all get out. They indulged me. I kept saying you had to look at it like a cultural anthropoligist -- or an artist. I want to know how people tick -- what's going on in the hearts and heads around me in this country. My travel companions gave me tight little understanding smiles, nodded and made polite comments. They couldn't get out of there fast enough.

So we looked at property until the sun went down. Literally. Sometime in the late afternoon we ate again -- and I think once more LONG after the sun had gone down. It's a blur. I remember lots of thick rock walls crossing fields, adobe houses with tile roofs, and clouds of purpe jacaranda trees in bloom everywhere. It felt like Provence, only there the purple is in the lavender fields. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of growing lavender near Mascota?

I just couldn't face another marathon breakfast the second day. That's when we went to San Sebastian, whose praises I have already sung in a previous post. Nancy and Danny had never been, so we had to show them around the little town we love. The main difference this time is that the Hotel Pabellon has changed hands and I didn't find the atmosphere as welcoming. The Italian restaurant Minas Real wasn't open yet. But we did meet Debra of La Galera Hacienda Esperanza -- the place which had intrigued me on my two previous visits but had seemed unoccupied. Turns out she just opened for business this past January. And her guests in February -- Pat Smith and her artists' workshop -- the same group I went to Antigua with! There was one of Pat's paintings hanging in the living room. Pat does pick pretty places and she travels with nice people.

Pretty places. Nice people. We have no shortage of those. Home looked pretty good even after a short trip like that. And right now BED looks like the prettiest place of all. Night, All!

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