3/30/19 – 4/4/19
Parque Nacional Arcotete is a hell of a ride up the mountain from San Cristobal. The GPS was misfiring, so after several wrong turns and having to re-climb a few peaks we rolled through the gates. It is less than ten miles from the city, but you would never know it. The stone sidewalks, polished to a near zero coefficient of friction from hundreds of years of foot traffic, give way to little dirt paths between tin roofed cinder block and stone homes. As the elevation climbs, the temps and economic standings of the locals drop. There is always a hint of burning pine in the air from little stoves that double as a source of heat. The highlight of the park is a remarkable set of limestone caves with several holes overlooking a ravine carved out by a slow river. I took a nap near one of these windows and awoke to a few kids getting stoned under a nearby stalactite.
We were up at five thirty on the thirty first of March. I walked Soph to the bus station and moved my things to a cheap but clean hostel on the outskirts of the city center. She had to return to the states for her citizenship exam.
For the most part, nothing transpired in the coming days. I took some Spanish lessons and sat around the plaza drinking hot chocolate and writing. Occasionally an indigenous kid would try to sell me chicklets. When I declined his offers he would press his dirty palm into the keyboard of my laptop and run away. One day I was pretending not to hear or see him as he stood next to me giving the hard sell. I saw his fingers move to cause certain destruction to a spreadsheet I was working on. My own hand snapped instinctively and grabbed his forearm. “No tocar!” He looked shocked. I let go of him. He disappeared and I felt terrible. Ten minutes later he walked by and hissed at me. I vowed to squeeze harder the next time.
After purchasing a bracelet from a little girl who knew fully how to take advantage of the fact that she was the most beautiful little seven year old in the world I was approached by her antithesis who proceeded to whine the same line over and over again for ten minutes about buying a bracelet from her as well. She wouldn’t stop. It was like sitting next to a window with a little kitten out in the cold, crying to get in. One part of you says, “A peso is far more important to her than it is to you,” another says, “a peso is all it takes to end this insufferable whaling,” and a third suggests, “You don’t really want to reinforce this behavior do you?”
The older women simply stick their palm in your face along with this bottomless gaze. It is always the same. It is strange to think of poverty as a vocation, but that look is almost too perfect and they all have it. Catch them off guard and they might be laughing with one another. Walk by when they are on their corner, and you get that look. They are working the tourist areas all hours of the day. I’d heard that in many of these communities the women never get any formal education. They speak traditional languages and often only know rudimentary Spanish. They rarely learn to read or write. Boys get only slightly more formal education and seem to know a bit more Spanish.
Soph’s test was on the second of April. I called to see how it went.
“My worst fear is everything smelling like wine, but I can’t have any.”
Apparently she was on the bus to Salt Lake City and somehow managed to break a bottle of Cabernet that she was taking for a friend that had offered a spare room while she was in town. She was mopping the mess up with my birth certificate and other important documents that she had to show to immigration. I can only imagine a bus full of Mormon’s looking on as this gentile woman; slightly disheveled from ten thousand miles of cycling, three flights, and the stress of know that an underpaid government lackey would sone be deciding her future, pours a bottle of red all over the floor and probably takes the Lord’s name in vain.
Generally the hostel was a quiet place. Occasionally I wondered if I was the only one there besides the family that owned it. I went down into the kitchen to cook dinner one night and they all gathered around to watch as I chopped vegetables and mixed them with some molé that I’d bought at the market. Molé is the undisputed champion of Mexican cuisine. It comes in various colors and flavors, but always begins as a strange putty of spices with a bit of fat to hold them together.
At risk of making a sweeping generalization, I am going to go ahead and say that Mexicans are a bit fickle about their food. There is a way to prepare certain dishes, and that is that. At some point I found myself with a little old lady pointing a wooden spoon in my face and repeating that molé is made with chicken, not vegetables. I tried to explain my general love for it with various forms of food but it did nothing to calm her.
Around four in the morning on a Saturday, a couple return to the room next to mine absolutely hammered. They fumble with the door for 10 minutes. I poke my head out to observe the ruckus. There is a pudgy fellow who looks a bit like a round wet cat.
Once inside, they treat everyone to some terrible pop music on full blast from their phone. After several minutes of knocking, the volume drops and the gentleman answers without opening the door.
"Buenos dia," I say.
"Que quieres?" (What do you want?)
"Quero estar amigos." (I want to be friends)
"Somos vecinos, posiblimente podemos estar amigos." (We are neighbors, maybe we can be friends.)
"Ok," he turns the music back up.
I pound on the door several more times.
"Que?" He says.
"Vecino, ya que somos amigos ahora, me pregunto si puedes bajar la musica?" I asked if he could turn the music down.
There is some rustling. The music gets shut off. I thank him and return to bed. As I lay down the vomiting begins. Eventually this stops and the awkward sex commences. The wooden bed creaks in a way that sounds like a child struggling to operate a manual pencil sharpener. Given their observed physical fitness and level of drunkenness, I take comfort in knowing that this won’t last long. There were several seconds of what I assumed to be rapid fire hip thrusts which quickly slowed. It was all topped off by a soft sigh.
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