Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Pre-Christmas Escape to the Back of Beyond

What does a hostess do the day before she’s expecting houseguests from New York and thirty plus people for a dinner buffet? Run away! Run away! That’s what I did, and I’m not sorry one little bit. Tuesday was a day to remember.

What had started as Oh Lucy, why don’t you and your family come over, meet Carol and Bernard, and we’ll do a turkey or something, was growing exponentially. Larry was getting a wild gleam in his eyes and I was looking nervously at the number of potatoes I had on hand. We had both collapsed on the couch in the house where Lucy’s folks were hosting a little “drinks party” – that’s what the British call it. They were planning an outing for the next day with
Vicente Peña’s new comfy little tourist bus, a visit to an Indian village up in the mountains north of Tepic.

“Why don’t you come with us?” Auntie Karen asked me, she of the perpetual stand-out-in-a-crowd white hat. No way, I thought, but as the plans progressed I realized this was an excursion I didn’t want to put off any more. "Count me in!" I said.

Our route followed Highway 200 northward. I’d been to Tepic when we signed the papers to buy the house. The lawyer’s office was just off what I thought was the main square. I hadn’t been impressed. For good reason.

That wasn’t the main square. THIS is the main square. We stopped and looked all around.

It has a beautiful cathedral

with an impressive mural on the ceiling above the main entrance.

The inside is lovely.

and there are banners hanging beside the front entrance.
Across the street there are fountains, trees,

and a huge Christmas tree courtesy of the Coca-Cola company.
Further along in the main plaza there is also an artisans’ market, classy shops, and the food market

where you can buy menudo and pigs trotters,

quail eggs, rattlesnake skins,

and chewing gum shaped like little shoes.

There were also mandarinas – fat and juicy tangerines that smell like Christmas trees if you close your eyes while you peel them.

Tepic is a city of some 450,000 people, and is the capital of the State of Nayarit.

It’s most famous citizen is the poet Amado Nervo (1870 – 1919).

His massive portrait presides over people waiting in line at the Capital building. It would be fitting if they’re getting marriage certificates because Nervo’s poems are romantic, moody, and full of sensual images about first kisses, first loves, first touches, first glances. He was a diplomat, representing Mexico in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo.

We worked up a good appetite visiting the square, and headed happily for Maria’s brother’s restaurant – Quetzalcoatl, one of the first if not the first vegetarian restaurant in the city. It has been going strong for over twenty five years. Maria and Juan have the closer-to-us restaurant
Rincón del Cielo up at Punta Raza. Good cooking runs in the family genes. Even strapping Sam, Lucy’s brother, chowed down eagerly on the buffet. We spent much more time than Vicente had allotted for lunch, as everyone kept going back and trying something else wonderfully tasty.

We went through several pitchers of green juice – a mixture of pineapple and parsley.

We had another hour and a half drive before we reached the large dam that holds back Lago de Agua Milpa. The lake isn’t huge, but it holds three times the amount of water as Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake in area. Agua Milpa is deep, with an average depth of 200 meters. That’s well over 600 feet! It’s even deeper these days, as there was so much rain this past year.

Those wooden frames out in the water show where last year's embarcadero was, now under water. For the first time in the twenty year life of the dam, last summer authorities had to release water into the valley below to keep the lake from overflowing. The resulting wall of water was ten meters high and cut right through a small mountain in its way.

Our intrepid group set out in a minuscule boat for a twenty minute ride across the deep, intent on seeing Indians where they lived, rather than in the square on market day in La Peñita.

The village of Potrero de La Palmita lies on the shore of the lake where the Rio Grande Santiago (Mexico’s longest river) meets the Rio Huaynamota. There have evidently been a lot of changes in the last few years.

Potrero de La Palmita is not a Huichol village, but primarily Kora, and they are much more social. Evidence of this is that they have opened a guest house for those seeking “alternative tourism.” That’s when you really want to get away. They do NOT have a website, but I picked up a brochure.

You reach the guest house by following a newly constructed rock ramp up from the shore.

The accomodations are stark, but the view is amazing. And the Kleenex box they provide is a work of art!

On past the guest house, it is another short hike to the village.
There is a new health center.
An ancient generator that was only used in emergencies has been replaced by strategically placed solar panels. Here is a small one just outside one of the typical houses.
Most of the houses are built up on stilts to protect the occupants from snakes and scorpions.

The word went out that we were there, and the women of the village gathered at the market center to display their handiwork, mostly weaving and beadwork. We had come intent on buying, and were careful that every woman sold something to our group.
I made the major purchase of the day – a beaded image created by Teresa, shown here with one of her children. It took her three months to complete this image, made with the tiniest of little glass beads. I paid her asking price of 800 pesos, and watched the excitement of her children and other villagers. Vicente told me this was a major cash infusion to an economy that really needs it. Tour operators from Puerto Vallarta have quit sending trips up this far, as it is such a long trip. The guest house business has not kicked in as yet either. He assured me that spending money with the women is what makes a real difference for good in the village, as every centavo will go for the benefit of feeding and clothing the children. And Penelope, this is where the three boxes of clothing you sent to me in Lubbock and we carried down with us last September ended up. Best to get them out of our basement and onto bodies that need them, and it was fitting to get it down just before Christmas.

It was almost dark as we made the return trip back across the lake, the lights of the dam finally coming into view as we rounded a corner. This is where you can see stars and stars and stars. An hour and a half later, closer to Tepic, I reached Larry on a cell phone, warning him not to look for us soon.

There was one more stop in Compostela where we had coffee in a second floor shop facing the lit cathedral. It is a very old town, founded in the late 1500’s as the capital of Nueva Galicia, a territory which encompassed basically all of Western Mexico. But the resistance from the native tribes towards the Spanish and their modern ways was so intense that Compostela was essentially abandoned and the government was moved east to Guadalajara. The Huichol and the Kora never were conquered by the Spanish. They never gave up their traditions, their way of doing things. So today, we tourists go to visit them and buy their beadwork. Sort of makes me think twice about holding on to “the way we’ve always done it.”

So here’s a new tradition fit for the time and place where we live now: Merry Christmas! – two days late. A
nd PS -- the Christmas Eve party was a great success anyway.


Laura said...

why don't I live where you live? I'm buried in snow up here!

Unknown said...

HI Susan - loved reading your blog of the trip to Potrero de La Palmita. I really felt as if I was there with you.

I've just remembered - I was there with you!!

I have some photos of the trip you might like to have. Drop me an email?