Notebook Scraps from Mexico

//Time started here with oranges. On the way from Tuxtla to San Cristobal, when I was giddy with arrival, the bus driver stopped by the side of the road, bought a bag of oranges warm with sun. He passed me one. Its peel was scraped away, leaving a thin white spiral of pith like a planet’s rings. 


//I’m enjoying my newfound status as pure tourist. I wore flip flops in town yesterday and running shoes today. 

But I took photos in a place where they said not to take photos and all of a sudden it felt like I was taking it too far. It was in San Juan Chamula, a church near San Cristobal. The building is a Catholic church, built by the Spanish when they invaded, but its shell protects the beliefs and the rituals of the indigenous community. Inside, there are pine needles on the marble floor and a tree in the back corner by the shrine of the Virgin Mary. The entire perimeter of the church is lined with fire - hundreds of tall candles in glass jars, a tribute to the God of the sun. People kneel on the floor and sacrifice chickens to chase away spirits of sickness, swig from a bottle of clear alcohol, light thin colored candles that leave wax puddles on the floor. I’m still trying to figure out why I couldn’t just see it, why I had to try to take a piece of it away with me. 


//One day, we left at 5 am to drive in a white van with six other tourists to see waterfalls and Mayan ruins. The van stopped at 8 am at a roadside restaurant where the buffet served beans and rice, plantains, or pancakes to people who had emerged from about twenty other white vans. We rolled in a caravan, with a police escort, to the first waterfalls. We ate lunch facing the waterfall and had the bittersweet pleasure of watching people pose for photos that they'll show their coworkers or grandchildren next Monday. They used selfie sticks, drones, long arms, and/or an iPad on a stand in a bush. 

At the top of a temple in the Palenque, the Mayan ruins, a guy in a straw hat held up a black flag of the Harley Owner’s Group of some small town in France. 

The frogs, or the bugs, sound like the whine of an arriving UFO. Not too far from the realm of possibility, if you believe the Mayans built UFOs. 


//They grow coffee here, for Starbucks and Green Mountain coffee. There's no time for much subsistence farming when the coffee day is over, so many of these indigenous communities don't see a lot of vegetables. Beans, onion, tortillas; maybe some tomatoes. The chicken is all free range (on your house floor) and beef is almost non-existent. Kids drink soda, which is cheaper than bottled water and cleaner than well water. Sometimes, Ali said, she stayed with families who could only scrounge together cookies and coffee for dinner, before waking up in the morning to harvest the beans for Starbucks again. 


//On the night bus from Tuxtla to D.F., Mexico City, the driver played a movie about a prison uprising and the bus stopped two times so that federal police could check for drugs in the sides of the bus and in everyone’s backpacks. After the second stop, in the final scene of the violent prison movie, a baby in the front of the bus wouldn't stop crying.   


//Every street corner we’ve passed in D.F. smells like lime. There is so much food on the street in so many different colors. By the Palacio de Bellas Artes, there was a cart bursting with bouquets of fried snacks. Red, green, orange - the same color as the fruit they sell In cups, watermelon, lime, mango, all with a dusting of chili if you want. A woman fries black tortillas with orange filling, lets you ladle red or green sauce. 


//Flying into Mexico City from the flat Yucatan, you understand why Tenochtitlan was the first city of empire.  That Aztec city was made strong by mountains. Today, Mexico’s main city spits houses over hills like its ancestor did. Shafts of light strike the mountains;the clouds are the serpents’ wings.