Friday, December 12, 2008


The last day of the Guadalupe festivities seems to be fairly calm so far, and we were able to sleep in until 6:00 this morning. We also were able to miss some of the noise last weekend when we headed to Campanario to attend the quiceañera (15th birthday party) of the oldest daughter of my host family.

Quinceañeras are a big deal throughout Mexico, maybe something like a debutante ball. There are stores which specialize in quiceañera gowns–which look basically like little wedding dresses–and there are reality TV shows dedicated to the outrageous 15th birthday parties of the super rich. In rural poorer Mexico, families might have a small church service and invite family and friends over for a meal and maybe a cake.
our god-daughter, María de Jesús, and her cake (we didn't choose the blonde-haired Cinderella decoration)

At this party, Jess and I were the padrinos (god-parents) of the cake. Basically, this means we buy the cake and are recognized as guests of honor during the party, which involved some delicious turkey mole. Being god-parents is pretty exciting, but is different from the idea of god-parents in the U.S.

In Mexico (or at least in Chiapas), by the time you are an adult, you have not just one set, but probably between 5 and 10 sets of god-parents. You get god-parents at your baptism, your first communion, school graduations (kindergarden up through highschool), and maybe your 15th birthday (only for girls). At weddings there might be a god-parent of the rings, a god-parent of the cake, a god-parent of the band, and even a god-parent of the rented tables and chairs. Basically this is a good way to do some social networking and to spread out the cost of these events (as a school graduation god-parent, for example, you might by the school uniform for the next year).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Everything we don't know about the morning

I woke up at 4:30 this morning. I woke up at 4:15 yesterday. So did Jessica. It's the Virgen de Guadalupe festival here, and all over Mexico – while the Iglesia Real de Guadalupe (prominently featured in many pictures out our front windows) in San Cristóbal is among the more important such churches in Mexico, it is by no means the biggest and baddest (we've heard tell of pilgrims crawling on hands and knees for miles this week to beg miracles at the Iglesia de Guadalupe in Mexico City).

Thing about parties here is that everybody knows it's a party only because there are fireworks (small airborne bombs) exploding every 10-30 minutes, 21 hours a day. I mean, how else are you going to let everybody know? You can also manage that, at least in part, by posting a live band at the church, beginning each morning at 6, and playing until early afternoon, sure, but that's going to get you only so far. Better to be safe, and do both. And processions: hundreds (literally hundreds) of small processions of barefoot youths, bearing torches and drums, running through the streets in the pre-dawn hours, beating those drums and chanting (yelling), so to be heard up in heaven, as well as by those of us still in this earthly realm. Yes, now I know there's a party on. Oh, and yesterday everyone was painting mustaches on their infants.

Where is the church? Is it foggy? No, that's just smoke from the cuetes.

If this 13-day party sounds like enough to send you on something of a tirade, let me share with you the experience of one of our American friends here, also suffering through his first festival de Guadalupe. Dan (our friend) was hanging out with his three Mexican roommates – all cool people, tolerant and relaxed – and he was venting a little of his frustration at the early city-wide wake-up calls and such, as follows:

"Pinche antorchas (fucking processions). Pinche cuetes (fireworks). Pinche fiestas."

At this, the roommates are smiling and nodding in commiseration with their clearly frazzled friend.

"Pinche puta de Guadalupe!" (pretty much: Fucking whore of Guadalupe)

Suddenly the smiles are gone. No one is nodding. Dan notices the change, and looks around at his roommates in the thick silence. No one is looking at him. After a minute, the very kindest of the roommates, still looking away, tells him, "It's ok, because we're all friends here. But you won't say that again."

So don't get too worked up. More than the Virgin Mother, Guadalupe is probably the most salient, internally-appreciated symbol of Mexico and her people. Now and again, somebody notices some natural phenomenon that has taken the shape of the Virgin, and people come from all over to look on the milagro, such as happened just a couple of years ago in Mexico City, when construction work in a subway station led to a water leak that created a peculiarly-shaped stain. Pilgrims came from all over the country to see this subway-station stain. Just to illustrate, this is serious business here.

Anyway, let's get on to some lighter fare. Ephraim was in town for almost 10 days, and my parents were here for Thanksgiving weekend, and a great time was had by all. Ephraim's trip began with a trip to Palenque and the Panchan. We were greeted there by a troupe of howler monkeys, climbing and jumping and howling, all in plain sight, up in a big jungle tree. Thanksgiving was lots of fun, and some of our American friends here in S.C. came over for dinner, so it was a bit of a crowd. The next day we drove a couple of hours to see the ruin site of Toniná, which was awesome. Not as sprawling as Palenque, Toniná is a whole complex of temples and towers climbing up a hill, from which you can look out on a wide rolling charmingly cow-populated valley. We took a picnic.

Now we're by ourselves again, but not for long. It's back to Oregon in just one week, and we are getting a little excited. Not so much excited to leave (though leaving these early-moring cuetes will be quite a thing), as excited to get back to people and places that we really like to see.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

a big hill

Today Jess and I climbed up a big hill to visit one of my Chol-teachers, Nicolas, and his family. (This is the same hill Gillian and I climbed up a few weeks ago when we took nice pictures of Nico and his wife, but this time my computer didn't break afterwards.)

Tomorrow I'm off to Campanario for a quick visit, and then will meet up with Jess and Ephraim in Palenque on Tuesday. Then back here to get ready for our Día de Gracias. We'll miss all of you Cambridge-Thanksgiving revelers this year and hope you have good ones (but that you miss us a little too).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

back from el norte

After five days in Hermosillo I'm happy to be back in the south. I went with a group from CIESAS and presented at a linguistics conference at the Universidad de Sonora. The conference was great, and it was exciting to see a different kind of Mexico. Hermosillo is in the desert and I didn't see a cloud, or much in the way of greenery, for days. Everything was very flat, except for a hill near the center of town. I went up with a group of linguists (left) to check out the views.

Despite the name, Hermosillo is not especially hermoso. The downtown area is, in urban planning speak, rather blighted (if Jess did have to stay in Mexico for a job, there would be plenty of work to do here). Not very pedestrian friendly, not much going on in the streets, and a lot of run-down or closed businesses. People in Hermosillo apparently do not walk (they looked at us in horror when we told them we were thinking of walking to the top of the hill above). One person attributed this to the fact that if you walk very far in the summer, you die. Last week it was in the mid-90's most of the time. This is November, which is their winter too. We were told in the summer highs can reach 54 celsius. I just plugged that into a converter and it tells me that means 129 degrees fahrenheit. Despite the heat, people in Hermosillo were extremely friendly and had very nice Norteño accents.

On the last day of the conference, the organizers took a group of about 50 linguists to a small beach town called San Carlos (below). I'd never been to such a desert-y beach before, but the cactus-covered hills in the background were lovely, as was the turquoise blue water. You can see by the hotels in the background that San Carlos is growing, and I felt the need to apologize on behalf Gringolandia for the drunken American teenagers screaming as they drove ATVs through groups of sun-bathers and their jetskis through groups of swimmers.

A very nice trip but it's good to be home, though we only have about half of the fahrenheit degrees here in San Cristóbal as they did in Hermosillo and I think I am getting a cold.

Finally, here is our city in the news (thanks David!). We're looking forward to showing it off during visits from Ephraim and the Burgesses next week.

'Stay in Mexico'

Why'd you do it? Why did you break the economy?

Suddenly, everybody I talk to about jobs back home – which used to swim like a school of tuna – tells me to prepare for a "long, hard search". I've also heard "just stay in Mexico", that from my current employer, the guy I was most hoping for job-search help from.

What is this? What have you done?

Whatever it was, I'm none too happy about it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our dogs and their business

We've got a lot of dogs in our neighborhood, and the way they go about their business deserves a little explanation. First of all, most dogs here are kept out in the street, at least during the day, and often at night as well. Our neighborhood doesn't get a lot of car traffic, and that which it does is forced to move pretty slow – we're on a narrowish gravel street – so it's not all that hazardous for them around here.

These half-street/half-pet dogs do things in a way that is almost totally unlike dogs back home. I feel like in the U.S., dogs are in one of 2 modes: "hang-out", which involves lazy sleeping, or play, or ambling about a closed space, be it a house or a yard; "out-and-about", in which the dog follows its human companion for a walk about the world. There really isn't much else.

But these dogs in our neighborhood live their lives outside, and just don't seem to have these same categories for behavior. They hang out plenty, and they go on walks, and do all manner of other things, as well. But everything these dogs do is almost entirely self-directed. When the dog is hanging out, it's not because it doesn't have anywhere to be. It could be anywhere – seriously, several of these dogs have a foraging radius (think of the way that wildlife biologists talk about wolves and bears in their natural habitat) of 8-10 blocks. Others keep pretty close to home – Nacho, pictured at left and one of our favorites, only ranges up and down one block, always on the same street, and can often be found on this same doorstep (thanks Peter for the photo).

But when these dogs are going somewhere, they are going. Another of our favorites, a Chow mix we've named Guapo, has an especially wide range. I have seen him 10-12 blocks from here, down the hill, in another neighborhood entirely. And when this dog is going somewhere, as he often his, there really isn't much going to stop him. He's not asocial about it; he will stop to sniff and tussle with groups of other dogs, and will look up at us as he goes past, but his very directed, trotting pace can't really be made to stop. It is a pace that says "I've got somewhere to be." And this is not especially uncommon among these animals. They go places, and not because anyone tells them to, or drags them from a leash. They've got business, and they're going to see it done.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

dangerous not to swim

Here is an example of an especially badly translated English sign, at the waterfalls in Agua Azul. Jess heeded the sign, while Liz, Walker, and I risked it on the shore.
I've also finally posted more pictures on our Picasa page.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy to me

I went all 27 yesterday, as many of you have congratulated me for (thanks!) and last night we had a little fiestita here at home to celebrate. Walker and Liz were in town for one last night, and our friends Maestro Peter and Student Doctor Dan came over to party with us. It was clear to me that this was going to be a good birthday when, smoking a cigar in the back yard with Walker, Jessica came through the gate with an enormous red-and-white star-shaped piñata.

Piñatas here are made out of clay, and then covered in paper and streamers and what all else. But clay? This thing weighed 8 pounds easy, and when – later in the evening – I broke it with a dining room chair, it came apart in a soaring explosion of candies and other sundry treats, all over the heads of our guests. Really special, and all captured on video (and in the photo, below).

It was a great night way beyond the piñata. The food turned out really good, the boysenberry margaritas were fantastic, and the after-dinner game of successive rounds of draw-pass-describe in writing-repeat was really so much fun. Importantly, everyone brought me presents.

día de los muertos y votación

Liz & Walker just got in their taxi for a long trip back to Boston, so now we are home alone again and back to work. But it's been a really exciting week since the last blog post. On November 1st and 2nd Día de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico. Families make altars in their homes – the ones we saw involved photos, candles, fruit and sweet bread, alcohol, lots of flowers, and pine needles – eat meals together, and go to the cemetary to decorate graves and talk about the deceased. On the second we travelled uphill to the autonomous and traditionally conservative Tzotzil-speaking town of San Juan Chamula. We walked around inside the church (right), which is not your aveage Catholic church (see the link).

From there we walked up to the cemetary. It was late afternoon on the 2nd, and we had clearly missed the party, but the aftermath was pretty amazing. Almost all of the hundreds of graves were covered in pine needles and flowers, and there were empty cans of beer, soda, and posh all around. It was a pretty lovely place to be.
Then it was election day. Someday when our children ask us where we were when Obama was elected president, we will have to tell them that we were in a sports bar called Tequila Zoo in San Cristóbal, Mexico watching coverage on CNN International. Gringolandia was out in force, though there were a number of Mexicans in the crowd as well. It is worth mentioning that the group of gringos who are living in Chiapas are, to put it mildly, not McCain supporters. The older residents – many retirees who decided they could live better off their savings down here – are perhaps the roudiest of the bunch, and often need to be shhshed from their heckling so that we can hear what is going on on the television. The night ended with chants of !Si se puede! and tequila shots all around. We are even more excited about coming back home in a couple of months and it feels a little less embarassing to be an American living abroad.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


We are very happy to have two new visitors this week, Liz and Walker here from Boston. They got in Thursday night, and yesterday morning we set off on a mini-roadtrip to Palenque. On the way we checked out Agua Azul, a big waterfall, and then got to our cabaña in the Panchan (Chol for "sky" or "heaven"), a new-agey jungle hippie haven with excellent Italian-Mexican food and good places to sleep just outside of the entrance to the ruins. We were just in time for a delicious dinner at Don Mucho's ("Mr. Lots"). In the morning after breakfast, again with Don Mucho, we set off for the ruins.
The ruins are pretty impressive. A very nice mix of huge nicely-restored palaces, and also smaller sites in the jungle, overgrown with trees and vines. We spent a few hours climbing up pyramids, then headed back through Chol-country to San Cristóbal, stopping for empanadas at my favorite empanada stand in the small Chol-speaking town of Francisco I. Madero, where I usually wait for combis on my way to Campanario.

Today we are back in San Cristóbal on the first night of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It's my first time in Mexico during this holiday, which we understand is mostly celebrated with families in the home, or around gravesites in the cemetary. But tonight we are going to a public celebration involving live music, dancing, and costumes, along with traditional alters made by small local businesses.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's cold on the mountain

Got cold here this week. We came back from Guate (on the subject of Guate, here's another shot from the lake, left), then left early the next day for Campanario, and when we really arrived back home for a while on Sunday, it was cold here. Not cold like it is in Boston – we keep up with WBUR everyday, and hearing the weather report there is pretty fun, in a way that is hard to really figure out; I'm sure a better anthropologist would have things to say about it – but it only reaches the mid-50's or so during the day, and drops into the low-40's at night. And here's the kicker: houses here have no insulation or indoor heat. We've now got 4 blankets on our bed, and they do a pretty good job for us. Right now I am wearing long johns and a thick wool sweater, a wool cap, jeans, thick socks and shoes. This is inside, working at my desk. I think in Salto de Agua (a smallish lowland city we pass through on the way to Campanario) the other day it was maybe 85. Until now, I've always much preferred our San Cristóbal climate to what was on offer in Salto, but today I'm not so sure.

We do seem to have passed beyond the rainy season. It is clear and sunny this morning, our clothes are out drying on the line. The clouds still come in in the afternoons sometimes. Here are clouds over a nice street (right).

Walker and Liz will arrive tomorrow, and give us good excuses to descend from our mountain home and be warm again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

slice the tomato fresh

Don't get me wrong, we think it is really nice that many of the restaurants around here have menus with English translations to help out us travelers. But sometimes these menus could really use double-checking by a native speaker. Here are some of our favorite menu items:
  • Hawaiian pizza with ham and pinecones (=pineapples)
  • bagel with cream cheese and salmon filled with smoke (=smoked salmon)
  • salad with slice the tomato fresh (=fresh tomatoes...or a new English resultative?)
  • pizza with Spanish ham mountain (= serrano ham; cerro = mountain)

Here in San Cristóbal it is getting colder and dryer. Not as cold as it is getting up north, but we miss our heaters at night. Above is a picture of the view from our backyard, courtesy of Peter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Astral travel

We returned last night from Guatemala; a few things about that –

1.) Lago Atitlán easily ranks as one of the more amazing places I've ever been. Hard to make words do it, but: big, very clear lake, ringed around by very steep, jungled mountainside and 3 volcanoes. The best part of the whole trip may have been just the lanchas, the water-buses that run regularly between the lakeside towns, and from which we could watch the lake and awesome shore/mountain roll by.

2.) Antigua is nice. But I am happy to say that it isn't as nice as our new home, San Cristóbal. I'm a little proud of our city for that.

3.) Back to the lake: did you know that you could take a month-long course, including instruction in meditation, metaphysics, and (best of all) astral travel, in one of the lakeside communities? Of course you did! You astral travelers, you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

viajando en Guate

Remember how a couple of weeks ago Jess' computer died? And then was magically revived by a nice program called DiskWarrior? Well the same thing happened to my Macbook the night before Jess, Gillian and I left for Guatemala... except my computer was so dead that Disk Warrior couldn't even find a hard drive to repair. So we are again a one-computer family for a little while. Happily almost everything is safely backed up, and the fancy new Macbooks just came out, so I have something to look forward to. In the meantime, I will be getting a nice loaner from a friend.

Maybe the saddest part is that Gillian and I had just gone to record Chol ejectives in the home of a Chol-speaker living in San Cristobal with his wife, a Tzeltal-speaker from Oxchuk. We were taking some pictures of the beautiful view of the city from their house in a neighborhood called Cascajal, high up on a hill in the outskirts of the city, and offered to take a picture of Nico and his wife and give them a copy. They were excited and she spent about 20 minutes putting on her beautiful traditional hand-woven Oxchuk outfit, and asked again whether I would really bring them the pictures and I assured her that of course I would. I had just off-loaded these pictures to my hard drive and deleted them from my camera when it died. So it was a good time to goon a mini-vacation.

Today is our last day in Guatemala. We spent two nights at Lago Atitlan (above), a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes near the small city of Panajachel. We swam, ate good food with views, walked up to a village on top of a hill, and shopped around the Guatemala-kitsch market (a little different from the Chiapan-kitsch markets). Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Antigua, and tomorrow morning early we head back to Mexico where Gillian and I will continue recording Chol ejectives.

Antigua is beautiful. Our Lonely Planet chapter on Antigua starts with something like: "In all the long boring conversations about where the 'real Guatemala' is, Antigua is surely never mentioned. But also should not be missed." This seems pretty accurate. Antigua is beautiful, clean, friendly, and safe, with old colonial buildings and views of volcanoes. It has a special "tourist police force" to give us directions and escort us to places near the city. Last night we ate crepes for lunch and a delicious dinner in a small French restaurant. There are Guatemalans around, but it's not clear where they actually live, as the main streets seem to be full of hotels, museums, beautiful old churches, restaurants, and shops. We're not entirely sure what we'll do today, but it will most likely involve walking around and looking at old buildings and sitting in nice cafes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

sábado gigante

Here are the promised pictures of the giant mechanical bugs by the cathedral from the other night. They were pretty amazing.
We have a visitor named Gillian, which has been lots of fun. Today we all got some breakfast and then Jess went to work while Gillian and I walked around and looked at things, and then recorded some Chol, and made some lunch. This evening we went out and heard live music (more of this Festival Cervantino Barroco, which is going on all week), and we will get up and record more Chol ejectives in the morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

¿dónde está Campanario?

I just discovered that Campanario, the Chol-speaking village where I go to do work, is now visible on Google maps. Just in case you ever need to come find me, it looks like this:

View Larger Map

I made some little landmarks that you should be able to read about by clicking on the icons.

We are getting ready to head down to the Tuxtla airport to pick up Gillian, who should be arriving in a couple of hours. We're excited to have a visitor.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gringolandia debates

We've just returned from mini-Gringolandia: a private room at the Piano Lounge at the Hotel Villa Real San Cristóbal, where some 40 or so Americans have gathered to watch Wulf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper (dreamy), and John McCain's lizardfaced grins.

Everybody on CNN and even some of our gringo audience in S.C. seems to be saying that Mr. McCain had at least his best debate, if not actually doing better than Obama. Can they be serious? Can anyone watch that man "debate" (actually a series of loud indrawn breaths, fractured interruptions, and nervous, reptilian smiles) and think that he might somehow qualify as president material? It stuns me.

Tonight did not in many ways resemble last night, when we stood in a crowd of thousands of Mexicans, watching four or five giant (15'-20' tall) mechanical insects that stalked among the crowd, to electronic music. Our friend Peter took a bunch of pictures last night, so we will get a couple up here soon; giant mechanical insects battling in front of brightly-lit half-century old cathedrals is not, I imagine, an easy thing to acurately picture without visual aid.

(Aside: Is that John McCain's house? No, it's just the Iglesia de Guadalupe, the church out our front windows.)

Anyway, (try to imagine me snorting and grinning, McCainesque, as I say this) it's nice to get to participate in Gringolandia, even if only in this kind of satellite fashion: in private rooms of fancy Mexican hotels.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

commenting made easier?

Some of you have said that you couldn't make comments on our blog. I just changed a setting, so perhaps you can now. We like to hear from you!

back from the village

I'm back from a few days in Campanario. Jess stayed in San Cristóbal to work, and I headed out with my notebook, recorder, and over 100 photos from the inauguration of the Catholic church to be distributed to various parents and god-parents of baptized and confirmed children. Campanario looks like this:
Virginia, the woman I have been staying with since I first started going to Campanario, really liked her pictures. But then looking through the rest, explained to me that I had taken pictures not only of nice families, but also of some not-so-nice families, and now we were going to have to go give them out. Oops. (The picture below includes some members of the family I stay with, and the bishop in his funny hat.)

She asked how much I was planning to charge for the pictures, and I said nothing, they would just be gifts. (They only cost me 2 pesos each to develop.) But she explained that you don't just
give out photos as gifts... especially not to the not-nice families. (Usually the photographers who come for things like school graduations charge 15 pesos a photo.) I insisted I would just give them away, so she then explained that some of these not-so-nice ladies, when I had first come to the village, and said things like "what is that güera doing here?" (she knows I don't really like being called güera, feminine "whitey") and "why don't they tell her to go back to where she came from?". So we agreed that I would charge 5 pesos and in the end we split the earnings. Picture distributing, and the gossip surrounding it, occupied a good chunk of my trip, and I got to visit with some people who I've never really met before. It was lots of fun and I am becoming fairly competent in Chol chatting.

The family also really enjoyed the story of the abandoned puppy, which made me wonder if I should have brought it to them. But then last night (tamale night), we bought tamales from the family who adopted the puppy and they say she is doing well and eating lots. I think she will enjoy city life.

Virginia also wanted to know all about the house we are staying in in San Cristóbal. Is it a whole house you're renting? or just a room? You have to clean the whole house? I said yes, and she looked at me with some surprise. You sweep it yourself? You do the laundry? I think because I have shown myself to be so incompetent in some basic areas of women's work–carrying water on my head, making tortillas, washing clothes on rocks in streams–it is hard to believe that I can take care of my own home. I explained that yes, I did, but we have a washing machine so it is easier. She wanted to know if Jess also did these things. Did he cook? I said he did. She looked at me suspiciously. Did he wash the dishes? Sometimes. I had to lie when she asked if he swept, because I think the idea of a husband sweeping would be just to much to handle, and would make me look like a bad wife.

In keeping with the theme of cute animal pictures, here are some who hang
around Virginia's kitchen. Chickens aren't especially cute after they lose their baby fluff, but snuggling with cats helps.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Where we stand

A quick note, just so you all don't think I wasn't around for this whole puppy thing: Contrary to our positions during the initial 5 or so minutes of our relationship with little Tuxtla (the puppy), it was Jessica who, minutes after we left the puppy with new friend Doña Flor de Maria, was claiming to be "pretty sad", and "missing" the puppy. For my part, I'm just thrilling at the idea of sleeping through the night again.

puppy gets a new home

Last night we discovered that the puppy slept a little better if we added a bottle with hot water wrapped in a towel to her bed, but this fake mom didn't totally do the trick and we still had to get up a few times to try to figure out what our yowling little puppy wanted. The yowling continued this morning when we gave her another flea bath:

But we clearly underestimated the cuteness of our mangy little puppy. After she dried off we set off on our trip to the vet, for more puppy torture. In less than two blocks we had already stopped a couple of times for ooh-ing and aw-ing, when we met our puppy's new caregivers.

A woman and what we think may have been her grand-daughter were standing outside and ooh-ing at our puppy. We stopped and explained that we couldn't really keep it and would be happy to give them the puppy. At first the woman said she already had a puppy, but then after some more puppy-gazing asked how much we wanted for her. Shocked, we told her we weren't selling her, and that we just wanted to give her to a nice home. And we explained that she still has a few fleas, and needs attention in the middle of the night, and hasn't had any shots yet. But this woman was unbothered and told us she had flea soap and would take her to get vaccinated when she was old enough. And that was that. We went the two blocks back up to our house to get the food and other puppy paraphenelia we had acquired since Saturday. She said we could come down and visit her whenever we liked. Here is the puppy with her new mom, Doña Flor de María Gomez Martínez:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Puerto Arista perrito

So we went to the beach this weekend and brought back this little souvenir:
How did we become puppy parents this weekend? Friday afternoon we rented a car, picked up Peter, and headed for the Pacific. The drive took longer than expected, and it was hot and humid when we arrived, and already dark, but we found a hotel and some delicious fish and called it a night.

In the morning, after a walk down the beach we were having breakfast under the palapa on the beach outside our hotel when we saw some kids walk by and stop to play with what we at first thought was a little cat out in the sand. They left behind a tiny yowling puppy, flea-bitten, hot, and hungry, but otherwise in pretty okay shape.
The kids came back by and told us it wasn't theirs, and our waiter explained to us that local street dogs sometimes abandon runt puppies on the beach, maybe knowing that they can't feed them all.

After weighing our options, we decided we there's was nothing to do but take her with us. She isn't more than a few weeks old, hadn't even managed to get herself to the shade, and the big vultures nearby looked ready for a puppy lunch. So we went into town, got her some water, some flea powder, some puppy food, gave her a bath, and little Tuxtla cleaned up pretty well. The hotel owners were very nice and helped us find a box for a temporary bed. She cried all night, but has made it with us back to San Cristóbal with us and is looking much better. Here is the castle Peter made for her:

So now what? We can't actually keep her, but figured if we clean her up we can probably find someone here who would like to have a puppy. Peter's roommates are good puppy-parent candidates, or we'll check with neighbors and the local hippies. She is really pretty adorable.

Our unplanned perrito occupied much of our beach time, but we also managed to eat a lot of fresh fish, lounge in hammocks, swim in the sea, and at night we walked down to a nearby turtle sanctuary and watched 600 or so day-old sea turtles get released into the ocean.
(They have to be released a little ways up on the beach because in about 15 years their tiny turtle brains need to remember where this beach is so they can come back to lay their eggs. Apparently just a few yards of walking on it will do. Not all of them caught on right away, so we got to help turn stray turtles toward the sea.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

It ain't apple picking

It's Friday, and it has been a good week for us, here – Jessica is getting things done, I am picking up work, both paid and volunteer – so it's time for a little vacay. So this afternoon we are headed to the beach, with our new friend Peter, and maybe our other new friend Emily.

Puerto Arista, where we are headed, is about three hours' drive from here, South and West. We will be renting a car here shortly, meeting Peter (and maybe Emily?) for falafel, and then rolling out. We should be there in time to catch a sunset like this one. It's hard here sometimes, as I'm sure you all can tell.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Disk Warrior does the job, or All & every thanks to Omer

I don't know if it comes across to you out there, but right here this feels different. Different because I am writing again from my own Apple Macbook laptop computer. After two-and-a-half weeks without this my best-non-animate-friend, we are reunited, thanks in no small part (in fact in every part) to Omer, who on hearing of our plight immediately sent us disk-repair manna. This is such an excellent development. The tequila is open, and it's only 4:30.

On another note entirely: there's something interesting about Mexico, that I think isn't limited to just this place, but which I've only ever witnessed here, is the ubiquitous presence of the army, in particular, and heavy firearms, in general. Walking around town, it is hard not to notice the private security forces in their bullet-proof vests, and carrying shotguns and smaller automatic weapons (folding-stock sub-machine guns are most common, but I've also seen machine pistols and something that looked like an Uzi). Police often appear similarly outfitted. Driving between cities, one is almost sure to encounter – if not be stopped and searched by – military personnel with really big full-automatic rifles, usually out and in-hand.

And it isn't just the presence of the military, and their weapons, that is notable. I think that really it comes down to a different idea of what that military and those weapons are for. Where we come from the army and such are an uncommon sight, and not unwelcome or unfriendly, as their function is to protect all of us (sure, but we're talking about the idea of the army, for now) from threats from elsewhere. But in Mexico the army's role is instead to protect some the citizens from other parts of the citizenry. It isn't probably coincidence that this division (protected vs. protected against) typically breaks down along lines of wealth and race. Maybe this really isn't so different from how things work at home, but here the guns are lots bigger.

The breakdancers we watched in the Mexico City zócalo, however, looked unbothered:
(You can see more pictures by clicking on the "Jessica's pictures" link on the right.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

the sky is back

After three days in Mexico City, we are back in San Cristóbal and it is very nice to see the sky again. Sometimes it might have just been actually cloudy, but a lot of the time the clouds were sort of a dull gray-brown color and really too low to be actual clouds. Basically, the air was disgusting.

But we saw a lot of good stuff: the National Museum of Anthropology, the Modern Art Museum, Diego Rivera and Orozco murals in the Palacio Nacional (the men with guns did eventually let us in) and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and some very beautiful neighborhoods. We also enjoyed some exciting Mexican food, including tostadas with chapulines (grasshoppers) and some excellent stuffed chilis.

One of the more striking experiences was riding the metro during rush hour. On one regular non-rush hour trip we walked toward a far end of the platform. Just after I passed by, some men with guns (there are lots of these around) suggested that Jess should not follow me. We then noticed the signs above that said "women and children only". The first three or so cars are reserved for women and small children, and we understood why when we tried to catch a train that evening around 6:00 at one of the busiest terminals downtown.

The station was packed when we arrived and when a full train pulled up, we decided to just wait for the next one. The next one came probably less than a minute later and by then the station was again completely full. On the scarier trains, people were being violently shoved in by mostly teenaged guys. At the far end of the platform it wasn't much better, except that the shoving was less violent. We watched four trains go by before we even had a chance to get in. Again though, it wasn't that the city wasn't running enough trains. They were arriving full, back to back. And for 2 pesos (20 cents), and otherwise pretty excellent service, it was hard to complain.

Finally, after two days of hard walking, we decided it was time for a break, and caught a ride on the Turibus, which took us around the city and conveyed to us via headphones lots of silly information in a very strangely accented English. This is how much fun we had:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cars, guns -- yeah, it's Mexico City

We are in rainy and big Mexico City, taking a big-city vacation from our small-town living. We are staying with my former classmate and wonderful host Rodrigo, which has been super. Last night we actually had our first tequila since coming to Mexico, nearly a month ago. We liked it. Might get some more, to start keeping at home. Rodrigo told us that Tequila really isn't just for tourists and MTV Spring Break, but that it is common to have a shot each night before dinner. It's more for sipping than for slamming (that and body shots are just for Spring Break), and goes nicely with this spicy tomato-chili-lime juice stuff that you drink along with it.

Mexico City has a lot of people in it, and a lot of cars. Walking around means taking your life in your hands at every street crossing (if any moms are reading this, we are exaggerating slightly on this point). It does also have a great subway system though, that I'd take over about any other transit system I've used. Now we've got to run, and see if the really ornery military guys with the big guns are going to let us into the Palacio Nacional to look at the murals this time.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

you thought the ocelot was cute...

Four combis and six hours later, we are back in our home in San Cristóbal. All told, a great trip. I recorded a few good stories, discovered a Chol construction I have never seen or read about before, and photographed a number of baptisms, first communions, and confirmations. Here is what the new church looks like. It is now the tallest and fanciest building in Campanario by far, much to the dismay of the Pentacostals down the road.

As Jess wrote in the last post, Wednesday night was spent with the padre from Tila (the county seat) doing baptisms in the old church. Two cows were killed and lots of tortillas were made and we were served a beef stew that involved delicious potatoes and carrots flavored with some parts that we didn't eat that we think definitely included lungs.

Thursday morning the bishop arrived from San Cristóbal. This is a very big deal. It's a very long trip and no bishop has ever set
foot in Campanario before. A couple of hours before his arrival the Catholic icons (virgin Mary statues, crucifixes, etc.) were moved from the small old church in a procession involving incense and music and some singing. The procession waited at the road, the bishop arrived, and the new church was consecrated and the idols were put inside.

The consecration involved dipping flowers in holy water and sprinkling the water around the church and also–this is something I don't remember from my Catholic upbringing, though I only made it as far as first communion–burying meat and lighting a candle at each of the four corners of the church.
Then the mass began (half in Chol, half in Spanish), first communions and confirmations took place, and I was invited by the padre to give a Chol grammar lesson to a group of nuns in Tila.

After mass, we were invited to eat mole in a neighbor's home. This was an excellent surprise, as often the meal for the invitados is pollo en caldo, which basically means a whole chicken (head and feet included) cut into parts and boiled with some vegetables and seasoning thrown in. Eaten with tortillas. Everybody else seems to love it, but I haven't managed to develop a taste for it. Later in the afternoon many of the visitors started to leave and everything sort of calmed down after that.

But, let's get to the point: what could be cuter than the ocelot? Last night we went over to Don Jesus' for a visit and as we were sitting on the porch heard something like a whinny coming from inside the house. We peaked in, and there stood a baby cow. Its mother is sick and so it has been living around the house and drinking from a bottle. It was too dark to take a picture then (the electricity was out), but we went back this morning to bid farewell. It's not quite as cute tied up outside as it was standing alone in the living room, but here it is.

(Can we really check "no" on the customs form box that asks if we have been in close proximity with livestock?)

Friday, September 19, 2008

La vida agricultura

We have been in Campanario since Wednesday, taking in some good Chol and just basically doing the rural thing. It's really pretty fun having chickens in the house with you sometimes, and if that's never happened for you, well how would you know? We will make our way back to San Cristóbal tomorrow, and will have pictures from this trip to post.

Wednesday and Thursday the community celebrated the opening and consecration of the new Catholic church there, with the arrival of a priest from Tila, a couple hours away, on Thursday night to do baptisms, and the bishop all the way from San Cristóbal, to consecrate the new church, as well as perform first communions and confirmations. So we got 2 masses, and about 9 hours of church time, in our first day and a half here. Jessica was a pretty huge hit with the digital camera, and the next time we're back we will have about a hundred pictures to go door-to-door handing out.

We're in Salto de Agua now, a larger community about 30 minutes away by combi (pickup truck cum taxi-bus), using the internet, visiting friends and getting some groceries. Tonight Virginia is going to make empanadas, which will be a treat. We're looking forward to those, but also to our return to San Cristóbal, and our own kitchen and the plethora of nice little restaurants there. And to sleeping where there aren't quite so many roosters, quite so close by, to wake us every morning at 4:30.

Monday, September 15, 2008

two of our favorite ladies

Eating Argentine, and a pretty kitty

So about 2 weeks ago we went to dinner at a small Argentinian restaurant here in San Cristóbal. Initially, there was some confusion about what menu items were available that evening, and how much any of the three bottles of wine we were shown would cost us. Finally, though, the owner showed up, and the rubber really hit the road. We got our wine, placed our orders, and the food came back amazing. Jessica and I both call it maybe the best chicken of our lives (and we had different dishes).

On the basis of this past success, last night we decided to go back to our little Argentinian restaurant, with our new English-teacher friend, Peter. Actually, we were kind of corralled into the place, as it was dumping down rain, and we were going door-to-door, trying to find a place to take us in. The first two places we ducked into were closed, so we ended up Argentine.

3 words: Worst Dinner Ever. Seriously. 2 weeks after a shockingly delicious meal, last night we were treated to the greatest restaurant disaster I've ever been witness to. We waited 3 order. At first they didn't have charcoal for the grill. Later there wasn't any chicken, salmon, or potatoes (critical ingredients to nearly everything on the menu). The oven exploded at one point – it had been on but unlit for some time, I guess – burning the cook's arms (we felt very bad about this). Finally, after 3 1/2 hours, our chicken – frozen, not fresh – was served with a 'tomato sauce', i.e. ketchup, and arrived 25 minutes before Peter's salmon. We had both finished everything on our plates, despite waiting as long as we could and eating slowly, before his dinner arrived.

How did this happen? Why did we stay? Well, the first 90 minutes was really pretty enjoyable, what with our wine, good conversation, yummy bread, and jokes about the uncertain fate of our meal. And, to be fair, when we ducked in from the rain, they told us it would be "20 minutes" until the kitchen was up and running. Then, as things got really dicey, they just kept running out and coming back with this or that, telling us that "any minute now", everything was going to slide into place. And we couldn't help but imagine, like last time, that the owner would at some point burst through the door, disappear into the kitchen, and emerge, moments later, with steaming platters of deliciousness. I guess by now you know that never happened.

On another point entirely, thanks to Ephraim for reminding us to get the Ocelot (actually a Margay, we think) up here. The pretty Brazilian kitty is below (thanks mom for the great picture).

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Now on our third weekend here in San Cristóbal and tonight we have plans to meet up with some local Americans I met on the colectivo to CIESAS. Today we went out to a nice breakfast and did some neighborhood picture-taking. Below are some streets near our house:
Wednesday morning we'll catch a bus to Campanario to join in the festivities for the inauguration of the new Catholic church there. It sounds like it is to be two days of baptisms, catechisms, and weddings. My plan is to do make some nice audio recording and to eat some good tamales.

But before we head to Campanario, there is celebrating to be done here. This Tuesday the 16th is Mexico's Independence Day. This is not the day Mexico gained independence from Spain, but rather the day in 1810 that Hidalgo–also known (really) as Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla Gallaga Mondarte Villaseñor–rang the bell in a chuch in Dolores calling everyone to fight for liberty. This was the Grito de la Independencia, which is reenacted every year, with the original bell, by the Mexican president in the zócalo of Mexico City.

So we are told that beginning the night of the 15th everyone will be out in the city wearing traditional Mexican garb and large sombreros and in the plaza we'll have live music, lots of foodstalls, and, given what goes on the rest of the time, probably a lot of noisy fireworks. We are already beginning to see flags everywhere, and there are lots of little carts like the one below selling red-white-and-green paraphenelia: