Friday, September 30, 2005


We were set to leave the next morning to head to Mexico City for a few days. The plan was to see Xochimilco (a series of water canals with boats you can's filled with floating flowers and the vendors go around by boat to sell food, music and misc. items), Six Flags amusement park, a few museums and to see our friends Polo and Roberto whom we'd met in San Cristobal.

I woke up about 5 am not feeling well, but figured it would pass. We went ahead and took our bus at 9 am and I was able to sleep a bit on the bus. We pulled into the bus station in Mexico City (DF) in the afternoon and headed for the Metro. Having already braved the Metro once, I felt confident I could do it again. I was still not feeling well, and felt feverish and really tired. We weren't sure which direction to go on the Metro, but didn't want to look lost, so I confidently moved ahead and bought our ticket...4 pesos to go anywhere in DF!!

I was looking at the map of the Metro when a young woman walked by with dreadlocks and looked obviously like a traveler...but she looked like a traveler familiar with the Metro. We asked if she knew which direction to head to get to the Zocola and it turned out she was heading there too. She was with an older couple that I took to be her parents. We all set off in the direction we needed to go and got on the Metro...we had to switch cars a few times and I think this was too much for the older couple because she explained they were going to go get a taxi for the remainder of the trip.

We got off the Metro and came up to fresh air (can you really call DF air fresh...DF being the smoggiest city in the world??). We got our bearings and started heading toward our youth hostel, the Hostal Moneda. I was feeling worse by the minute and was wanting nothing more than to collapse on a bed and rest. We only had about 2 blocks to go, but it seemed like a terribly long way. We ended up sitting on the sidewalk for a few minutes. We got to our hostel and had to wait in line for a few minutes while people checked in and out. We ended up getting the last single room (where we didn't have to share with other people), for which I was glad.

We ended up with a room on the 4th floor. I thought I would pass out climbing the stairs. Some guy noticed I was struggling and ended up carrying my backpack the rest of the way for me. We got in the room and I sunk down on the bed and went to sleep. My head was killing me, my eyes were killing me, my body was hurting, I was nauseaus and I could tell I had a fever. A little later I could hear people upstairs from us on the roof...the hostel provides both breakfast and dinner (all this for $10 per night!!) and people were upstairs eating. Sierra was too shy to go by herself so I ended up going with her. The view from the roof is spectacular of the Zocolo and the church, but I was not up to enjoying it. I didn't want to eat, so I just waited while Sierra grabbed something.

I was obviously not feeling well, yet no one asked if I was okay. This is a phenomenon I experienced a lot in Mexico...the seeming lack of care from one tourist to another (remember those Italians??). I was going downhill and was having trouble even sitting with Sierra. After she finished eating, the cook and kitchen helper asked if I was okay...I explained to them I wasn't feeling well. The man, Ricardo, espoused the glories of limes and made me some lime water. He reminded of the Dad in that movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"...the one who thinks Windex is the cure for any ill. The cook, Marie, got me some sort of pain medication to take with the lime water. They were very kind and concerned for me and urged me to send Sierra to get them if I needed anything.

We went back to the room and went to bed. I took my temperature and it was a bit over 103, yet I was freezing. My eyes hurt so bad that I couldn't open them, everything was out of focus and it hurt to close them. I had an intense headache as well as general pain all over my body. I figured I had the flu and it would pass. We fell asleep and I woke up a few hours later sopping wet...I took this as a good sign that my fever had broken.

Throughout the night, this happened several fever would spike, and then break, spike and then break. It never fell below about 100. I spent the next day in bed and continued to feel worse and worse. Sierra was able to wander about the hostel and use the internet. There was a family there with a baby and a little girl who she was able to play with as well. There were some hammocks she relaxed in with a book. The staff all kept an eye on her and there is a 24 hour guard at the front door who also kept an eye on her.

As the day turned to evening I was feeling even worse. I asked Sierra to get the staff and inquire about going to a doctor. One of the staff guys came up and explained a doctor could come see me, but it would cost $400 pesos. He suggested having the ambulance come and they could either treat me and leave, or take me to the hospital if need be.

About a half hour later a paramedic came into the room and looked me over. Soon, another paramedic was there. Eventually, there were 3 or 4. They wanted to bring the fever down and began packing me in ice. There were several phone calls made and they were coming in and out of my room. They came in and told me they were taking me to the hospital.

I was worried about Sierra...I didn't know what would happen to her. The cook Marie said she would stay with her at the hostel, or she could take her home - whatever I wanted. The helper Ricardo came in with more hot lime water and tried to get me to drink it. Sierra started to cry and said she didn't want to stay, and didn't know what to do. The paramedics tried to comfort her and kept saying "don't problem". They said she could come with me.

They took me downstairs in a wheelchair, which was terrifying! At the bottom, they put me on a gurney and wheeled me out to the ambulance...other residents of the hostel were looking on and the streets were crowded with people. There ended up being 3 ambulances! They loaded me up and Sierra got in as well. She was quite upset, and the paramedic had the good sense to start asking her for help to get her mind off of what was going on.

About 25 minutes later we got to the Emergency Room. The paramedics had told me that I should be released after about 3 hours and didn't think I'd be held overnight.

In the ER they started asking me lots of questions and checking me over. They took blood & uring samples and put in an IV. Sierra called my family to let them know what was going on and kept answering every question they asked me. After a few hours, they told me they would be admitting me for the night and put me in a room.

For me, one of the most amazing things I had come across yet was about to happen. They said Sierra could stay with me, in the hospital! There was a bed available for her and she would be in my room. We got up to my room and there was a futom couch-bed there for Sierra. I couldn't help but think that if we had been in the same situation in the States that she would have ended up in Foster Care while I was in the hospital. I was so thankful to have her there with me.

Over the next several days, I continued to feel very sick. I was really out of it. Sierra watched a lot of tv and left occasionally to go hit the vending machine for gummies. She was perfect, absolutely perfect...the entire time she sat in the room with me and helped me out and communicated with the nurses and doctors in Spanish. I wasn't eating, so I gave her my food. We were amazed by how good the food was!!

The doctors still didn't know what was wrong with me. They were taking blood at every turn for more tests, but yet the symptoms remained. The medicine they put in the IV burned unbelievably as it entered my veins, and only took the edge off for about 1-2 hours. It was supposed to last for 6-8. I begged for more medicine all the time just to be out of pain. My eyes hurt, so I couldn't watch tv...I basically looked at my hands most of the time!

My doctor, Laura Jauregui Camargo said I had a virus, and felt it was probably Dengue Fever, something you get from day biting mosquitos. She thought I probably got it when I was in Veracruz or Chiapas. However, they wouldn't have the results of that test for another week. In the meantime, they also were concerned I might have Meningitis. They wanted to give me a spinal tap and CT scan. I'd already had chest x-rays and abdomenal sonogram. Until they ruled out Meningitis, they could not give me sufficient medication to make the pain go away as they had to monitor my symptoms and pain level.

At this, I began to get very fearful. I was trying to push fear out of my mind, but I couldn't help but wonder if I didn't have some sort of brain tumor. There is a country song I love about a man who finds out he has only a short time left to live and how he makes the most of this time and tells his friend that everyone should have the opportunity to live like they were dying. It goes like this..

I was in my early 40's
with a lot of life before me
when some news came in that stopped me on a dime.

I spent most of the next days
looking at the x-rays
talking 'bout the options and thinking 'bout sweet time

I asked him what a fellow does when he's faced with news like this
and he said...

I finally read the good book and I took a good, long, hard look
at what I'd do if I could do it all again, and then here's what I did

I went sky diving
I went rocky mounting climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Blue Banshu

And I loved deeper
and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying

And he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying

And tomorrow was a gift
and you had eterntity
to think about what to do with it
what would you do with it?
what did I do with it?

I was feeling overcome with emotion and fear. I wonderd if I were truly dying, was I doing the thing that made me feel like I was living? Was being in Mexico what I wanted most? I prayed for answers. I felt as though I was doing what I wanted to live life fully and with purpose, but was doubting myself...what if I am only being selfish?

I wasn't hearing from my family and I was heartbroken. Then I received a call from a man named Bill...he is friends with my family and has a house next to their house in Baja. He lives in Mexico full-time and is familiar with the customs, including the phone systems. He was able to get through to call and relay messages from my parents, who weren't able to get through. It was such a blessing to hear a friendly and encouraging voice. He told me not to give in to fear and to keep thinking positive. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Soon my parents were able to get through and my mom prayed with me and sang with me...singing was a balm for my heart and lifted my spirits. I remembered that God was with me, and it would all be okay. He was in control. I felt much better.

After this, I heard more regularly from friends and family. Bill continued to call regularly and his wife offered to come to DF to be with us. My parents and sister called. I heard from some local Rotarians who had heard about my situation and wanted to help. They were looking for a place for us to stay after we left the hospital. Our friend Roberto, who we'd met in San Cristobal, called regularly and came to visit. I was feeling encouraged and the fear was going away.

They ended up doing the spinal tap while I was under anesthesia...this was fortunate because I didn't feel a thing!! The spinal tap came back negative...I didn't have Meningitis. The CT scan, the chest x-rays, the sonogram and the blood tests...all negative. They didn't know what was wrong. They were still going with the idea that it was probably Dengue.

The thing with Dengue, and really any virus, is that there is no "cure" for it. All they can do is keep you comfortable until you start to feel better. Unless, of course, they think you might have some other serious condition and can't keep you comfortable because they have to monitor you!!
After a week, I was starting to feel better. I hadn't eaten for most of this time. Due to this and the toll the illness took, I was very weak. It was difficult to walk, to wash myself, to sit up. The doctor wanted me to eat and try to walk as much as possible to begin to gain my strength back. She said it would be 2-4 weeks before I felt totally back to myself. I began to walk about a bit.

That night as they were checking me over they noted that my heartbeat had dropped down to 40 beats per minute. They wanted to keep me on an EKG machine for 24 hours to monitor it. They did so, and I was set to be discharged the next day.

I wasn't able to get in contact with the lady who was going to let us stay at her place, so we ended up returning to the hostel. My doctor wanted me to stay in DF for a few days to rest before we left and headed up to Guadalajara.

The staff at the hostel welcomed us warmly. Marie and Ricardo were happy to see us and told us how worried they'd been about us. Marie said she would have kept Sierra for the whole time if she needed to. They were all so gracious and helpful over the next few days while I continued to rest and checked in on us often to see if there was anything we needed. It was really a blessing.

After a few days, I felt up to taking the bus to Guadalajara so we headed off. We were going to stay in Guadalajara overnight and then head to our final destination...Tepatitlan.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

El Tajin

The next morning we got up early and went out to catch the second class bus to El Tajin, some ruins near Papantla. It was already heating up and we wanted to get there before it was too unbearable.

The second class bus was really bumpy, and the seats were about 5" too close for my legs to fit comfortably, but I've come to accept this as a normal part of traveling through Mexico. We weren't sure where to get off, but some people gave us directions and made sure we got off at the appropriate time.

We got there shortly after opening time, and I immediately noticed that the entire parking lot and entry to the ruins were filled with vendors hawking their wares...most were selling similar items and I wondered how they make any money if they all sell the same thing!

We headed past the vendors and up to the museum toward the ruins, bought our tickets and headed in. Sierra was not too excited about seeing the ruins and was being difficult and whiny, while the sun was blazing hotter and hotter by the minute. El Tajin has essentially no shade, so I was motivated to get a move on to see it. We approached the first set of ruins, some pyramids. They were really neat and it is just amazing to see what people did thousands of years ago with their bare hands and rock tools.

Sierra was dragging her feet and complaining about how bored she was at every step of the way and I was sooooo annoyed! I didn't want to just leave her to catch up, though, because we were the only people there and I didn't feel safe doing this. So, I pushed her on and she complained louder. Can you feel the love? We were both getting hot and oh, so cranky.

We pushed on to see the ball court, a lovely place where the ancient civilizations played a game similar to basketball...except they used the head of the tribe leader they had just conquered!! There were carvings in the rock and they were fascinating (to me anyway) to look at. We continued on to the largest pyramid and noted that there were 52 niches (thus it's name...Pyramid of the Niches...clever, don't you think?), representing the 52 weeks of their year and planting cycle. The ability of the people to make bricks and mortar was cool, and their craft was not only enduring, but beautiful. I thought my dad would have been interested to look at the building craftsmanship and took plenty of pictures to show him.

Si and I were getting madder and madder at each other. Why didn't I just give it up?? Who knows...I guess we're both pretty stubborn. Besides, I'd paid $3.00 to get in to see these ruins and it was a LEARNING OPPORTUNITY, darn it!! We were getting EDUCATED! Now, pay attention and LIKE IT! Here, a month or so later, it seems pretty ridiculous...but I guess that's the way it is sometimes.

We headed down the path to another part, but didn't even really look at it and started heading back. We took a different path and ended up going up the back side of one of the pyramids, getting a view over the ruins. It would have been pretty, but we were too mad to appreciate it. We headed down and decided to leave...finally!

On the way out I saw a woman cleaning the cracks of one of the pyramids and stopped to talk to her a bit. She was doing preservation work and looked like a regular archeologist. Si and I left and kept walking in angry silence, with a few mean and angry words scattered here and there. We were truly the picture of mother-daughter togetherness, I tell ya! (then i saw a bug. it was carrying a piece of poop!! that was from sierra!!)

And then, yes...Sierra saw a bug carrying a peice of poop. It was lovely!! It did serve to break the chain of our anger, however, and we watched in fascination while this bug took it's little peice of poop and rolled it along toward its' home. We remembered reading about "Dung Beetles" before, and had even seen some replications of them at Disneyland's "Bugs Life" show. We laughed at the bug, and thought it was pretty gross, but in an interesting way.

We kept on walking, and were still a bit annoyed with each other when a man asked if we wanted our picture taken. I said to Sierra..."come on, let's get our picture taken...pretend like we don't hate each other!" Sierra said she still liked me even though we were mad at each other...which I thought was really sweet and all my anger melted right then and there. We ended up leaving and laughing with our arms around each other.

We were hungry and went to where they had a cafeteria, but it was closed. We went out to the vendors and found a place to eat and got some taquitos. They were so good we got another order of them. I tried on a few shirts, but didn't find anything I liked so we went to the bus stop.

We weren't sure which bus to take, but a guy selling fruit juices helped us out. About 30 buses going the wrong direction came by before one going the right way came. We hopped on and were off, back to Papantla.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the Plaza and looking around town. I think it would be neat to go back another time when the Vanilla is ripening to smell the town and see the vanilla ripened on the vine and see the people harvesting it...and also to buy some fresh vanilla beans!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Very Vanilla

After we left Catemaco, we headed for Papantla. Papantla is an out of the way town that is not generally on the tourist trail (in fact, Veracruz is not really on the tourist trail either), but it is known for a few things...vanilla, El Tajin and the Voldadores.

We had been told that Papantla would be warmer than Xalapa, and boy were they right! It was downright HOT. We were told they were in the middle of a must have been over 100 degrees every day we were there. I was really wishing for some cooler clothes.

Papantla is on a hill, with the Plaza at the top of the hill and everything else going down from there...think San Francisco type hills...our hotel was a few blocks down from the Plaza.

Our first night there, we went up to the Plaza to watch the people and get an ice cream. As it happened, they were having a celebration of the Toltec people, the indigenous indians of the people...and also a celebration of grandparents. We watched some Toltec dancing, and then went up to a little restaurant for a soda and watched the people below.

The dancing was really neat...there were several men in red pants and white shirts with these really colorful hats on their heads...the hats were like feathers sticking up. They were on a wooden platform and used their feet to make the rythym. A man at the side played a little flute instrument with a small drum attached and played traditional songs to which the men danced.

Later that night, several artists sang and a bunch of children recited poems and letters in celebration of their was really sweet. While we were watching them, a Toltec man named Guadencio approached me and asked where we were from. He was impressed with my Spanish and wanted to show off his English. He was really nice and he ended up hanging out with us most of the time we were there and acting as our informal guide.

Guadencio told us that he had been born in El Tajin, the Toltec ruins close to Papantla. Apparently back in the 60's the government had allowed about 50 Toltec families to live there at the ruins. We told Guadencio that we were interested in seeing some Vanilla Plantations as well as the El Tajin ruins.

The next morning we went up to the Plaza for some breakfast and had the most fantastic vanilla shake ever. You can't imagine how good it rich and creamy and the vanilla was the most fantastic flavor. While we were sitting there, we were able to watch a really incredible thing...the Voldadores.

The Voldadores are amazing...these 5 men in beautiful Toltec costumes climb this humongous's over 100 feet tall...and all get on this tiny little platform at the top. The platform is really a tiny little spot for 1 guy to stand, and a wooden square shaped frame for the other four. One guy with the little flute/drum contraption gets on the little tiny platform, a hundred feet in the air and dances and plays his flute up there. The other four take ropes and wind them around the pole, one on each corner of the square. The flute guy plays to each direction for several minutes, and when he stops, all four of the other guys fall backwards, head first. Their ropes unwind as they fly around the pole, until they ultimately reach the bottom. It's a pretty amazing sight.

As we were watching this, Guadencio showed up and visited with us. Sierra showed him how to play Dominoes and we spent a nice morning relaxing. Afterward, we went to the market to look at the vanilla items and bought some room spray and some real vanilla for cooking. They had little animal and other types of figurines made out of vanilla pods, vanilla infused coffee...really, anything you can think of, they've done it with vanilla. It was starting to boil and Sierra and I were tired, so we decided to go back to the hotel and rest for awhile.

Later that afternoon we met back up with Guadencio and went to check out a vanilla plantation. Sierra was more interested in the well on the property than the vanilla, but we did find out some really interesting things about vanilla. The plant grows like a bean plant, attaching itself to whatever is there to support it. It doesn't like a lot of sun, so they plant it in among trees to provide shade. It is fertilized by the vanilla bee. When the orchid is blooming, it blooms for only 6 hours and if it doesn't get fertilized in this time period, there will be no vanilla. Of course, not every orchid comes into bloom at the same time and fertilization takes place over about a month or so. Still, I think it is amazing that the flower has a 6 hour window of opportunity! They have observed the bees and now are able to manually fertilize the orchids, but it is a very time consuming activity.

The vanilla then grows out of the orchid and is a long, bean-like shape. It is initially green, and eventually becomes the black pod we are accustumed to seeing. It is very delicate and the smallest thing will ruin the crop. The beans ripen in in January and February and are harvested in March and April. I understand that during the time of harvest the entire town smells of vanilla...this is from the processing of the bean which entails boiling it to get the chemicals to come out properly.

After this we started walking back to town to go the Plaza and let Sierra play. On the way, we stumbled across a new restaurant that had just opened. It was beautiful, but totally empty! It apparently was built primarily for American and European travelers. We went in and visited with the wait staff a bit and they showed us all sorts of pictures of the stars they had all over their walls. We got some sodas and were on our way. At the Plaza Sierra met up with some other kids and ended up playing with them for awhile. There were different types of and red and big and small...and they kept coming down the trees to get the peanuts that were being sold, which was fun to watch. We finally decided to head home so we could get up early in the morning to head to El Tajin.

Friday, September 23, 2005


We hopped on our bus out of Catemaco at about 3:30 am…you might notice a change in the time…so did we when we had to wait an hour at the bus station in the middle of the night because the bus was late!! Thankfully, there were about 5 other people waiting for the bus too, and they had cartoons on!! Sierra went back to sleep on the floor until the bus got there, and then she slept on the bus. One thing I can say for this girl…she can sleep anytime, anywhere!!

We got into Xalapa (pronounced Huh-la-puh), which is also sometimes spelled Jalapa in the morning. The bus station in Xalapa is definitely the nicest one we’d seen…it was big and orderly and clean, and looked like a high class mall! We took some time there looking around, and then took a taxi to the youth hostel we would be staying at. Xalapa is a big city, a college town, and it’s really cute. We had a long list of stuff we wanted to do. We settled into our hostel and decided to take a nap before doing anything! All those late night buses really wear on you…actually, I’d say all those bus rides period were wearing! It’s exhausting to be on the bus for hours at a time, but it’s still a great way to get around. I think we were just getting a little travel weary, and Sierra needed the sleep to help her get better. She ended up sleeping a good part of the day.

One of the things on our list was to go white water rafting, but due to Sierra’s stomach problems we decided to scrap that plan. Instead, we took things easy and looked around the town a bit and found this great little area where they sold some neat stuff. It was a small alley jam packed with artisans, mostly selling hand-made jewelry and beads. There were some great cafes and restaurants where you could get a fantastic comida corrida for about $2.50 which included chips and salsa, a drink, soup, main meal and dessert! I found a neat set of dominoes, so bought those so Si and I could play.

That night we weren’t sure what we were going to do. We came back to the hostel and there was a group of people hanging about. One guy said hello and I asked him what the group was there for. He told me it was a meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ for the local college. I was really excited! I told him that we were Christians too, and doing missions work for 6 months. He invited us to the meeting, so we went.

There were over 100 college kids there, and they needed music so I pulled out my computer and collection of music for them to listen to…they were able to hook it up to a big speaker so it would be loud. We played an ice breaker game where we all got balloons and had to blow them up, then throw them in the middle and pop one and pick it up. Each balloon had a small piece of paper inside with an animal written on it. I got “Leon”….lion….and we had to go around making that animals’ sound until we found the rest of the like animals. I felt a little silly, but it was fun anyway. After this we went in and had a service, and it was great to see all these college students there to hear about God.

After, I spoke with the young man I had met earlier, Jose Luis, who is assisting the Campus Crusade missionary. He graduates this Spring and plans to go into full-time missions with Campus Crusade in Central America. I also spoke with the missionary who is working there. She is a young woman named Heather and is from Georgia. Her friend was there visiting her, another young woman from Georgia named Shu-Che. Shu-Che is a missionary to China, and we talked for a long time about what she does there. I also spoke with many of the students, who were all very excited to practice their English with us. It was such a fun and uplifting night, and I was so excited to be a part of it and felt really blessed.

The next day we went to check out the Anthropological Museum. It is supposed to be one of the best museums in Mexico, and is home to the giant Olmec heads…these are heads that are over 6 feet high, carved out of stone…they weigh tons and tons. We went to the museum and were really impressed. It was amazing to look at things that these Pre-Hispanic cultures had done some 3 or 4,000 years ago! Some of the stuff was so elaborate and detailed and it was mind-boggling to think they did this work with no modern tools. It was fantastic fun to watch Sierra….she was really intrigued by the things we saw, especially the giant heads. We both had headphones and you would walk up to things and they would have a number assigned to them. You punched the number into the cassette and it would explain to what the item was. Her assignment was to draw some of the things she thought were interesting, and to write a paper about one thing the really caught her interest. She spent a lot of time really studying the artifacts and learning about the Pre-Hispanic cultures. We were there about 3 hours and she didn’t start to lose interest until about the last ½ hour. Here are some of the pictures we really liked:

This is another one of the big Olmec heads. The one above is considered the best preserved of them all, but this is also one of the really well preserved ones. They are truly amazing to behold in person!

Here you can get some perspective of the size of these heads. This one is one of the smaller heads!! They weigh some 8-10,000 pounds. How did these people move them and mount them????

Sierra is listening to her headphones about one of the displays, and taking notes. She was really into it, which I thought was awesome!

These are some small heads they found that were made out of clay and fired. I think it's really interesting how they look Asian in their facial features, and have Celtic knots in their headresses. There were lots of little things like this, and also small toys.

These are the twin Jaguars. The Olmecs worshipped the Jaguar, among many other things. These statues are worshipping the sun.

This is an alter, with twins holding it up. Many of the Pre-Hispanic cultures were pretty bloody and practiced human and animal sacrifice.

After the museum we went to check out some lakes that we’d heard about. We walked around the lakes and watched the people, and were amazed at the beautiful flowers. We found an old playground and had fun playing around. There was this impossibly high and steep slide which Sierra wanted to try out…she went up, up, up to the top and came barreling down. At the bottom, she slid on her feet for about 3 feet in the dirt, and then fell hard on her bum…she wasn’t sure if she should laugh or rub her bum, so she did both. She met another kid and they threw bread to the ducks for awhile. Later we found this guy renting these bike things…imagine a golf cart that has bike pedals and you get the idea. We thought this looked fun and so we rented one – it was hard work! We quickly found out the trails weren’t flat and we had to work hard to get up the hills. The downhills were a lot more fun! We were laughing and having a great time. Sierra was steering, which was really terrifying at times! We kept passing this one lady…it seemed like she was everywhere we were. She was wearing a polka dot slip under her black flowered dress, and the slip was hanging way out, which we thought was pretty funny. We finally made it back to return the bike when it started to sprinkle, and then to rain, so we headed out and caught a taxi to go home.

The next day it was time to move on, but we both agreed that we’d like to return to Xalapa and spend more time there.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Monkey Island

I was so tired when we finally found our hotel that I was tempted to crash for awhile, but decided we’d go out on a tour of the lake first.

The town of Catemaco is situated right on Lake Catemaco, which is a beautiful lake in Veracruz. There are several islands around the lake, and you can get a lancha to take you out to explore them. We were particularly excited to go to the Isla de Monos, or Monkey Island. We also wanted to check out Nanciyaga, a nature preserve and the place where they filmed Medicine Man with Sean Connery.

We headed down to the lakeside, stopping at a bakery along the way to pick up some fresh-baked bread. We got to the lake at about 8:30 am and signed up to get on a boat when it was full. There weren’t a lot of people around and we were the first ones signed up…only 10 to go! We decided to look around a bit, but there wasn’t a whole lot other than cheap and gaudy tourist souvenirs. We went back after an hour or so and no one had signed up yet, so I made the decision to just hire the boat for ourselves for $350 pesos.

We ran back to the bakery to get some more food for ourselves, our guide and the monkeys we would find on Monkey Island, and we were off! It was a beautiful morning, and the sun was just breaking through the clouds. The water was jet black and there were lilies growing on it in
places. We passed by one island and our guide told us it looked
like an alligator…Sierra thought it looked like a fat man laying on
his back.

We stopped by a shrine to the Virgin Mary set into a small cave,
and then continued on. Our next stop was at a spot along the
shore where they sell mud masks. They give you a free mud
mask, and then try to sell you the volcanic ash used to make the
mud mask. Sierra and I got the mask, but not the mud. We left there with the mud still on our faces, and went to another part of the lake where they have mineralized water to rinse your face with. It was all a little silly, but the mask was nice.

After the mud mask rinsing ritual we went to the Nanciyaga Preserve, where they filmed Medicine Man…I really liked that movie, so was excited to see where they filmed it. It’s a beautiful spot on the lake, and they’ve taken pains to make it a preserve. They have tried to make it a “mystical” place and have many reproductions of various Pre-Hispanic gods and goddesses throughout the property. A guide takes you through the property along very nicely laid out pathways, with all sorts of little “mini ruins” all over the place. On Saturday nights you can even take part in a “sweat lodge” experience with *real mayan Indians*!! And for only $35 per person! Like I said, it was fairly contrived. As we continued down the path, we came across a place where they would “cleanse the evil spirits” from us…again, for a price….by having us go into a little hut and having some guy waft some sort of smoking herb around us. We declined this treatment as well.

Now, one thing that was kind of cool…they these natural mineral springs there and they let you pull the mineral water up from the well and drink it out of these cups they’ve made from giant leaves. We liked the leaves! You can also get a full body mud mask, and then they put you in front of an old stone oven to dry it, or you can sit by the lake and let it dry…then you rinse off with the mineral water. They have a huge wall dedicated to all the Hollywood stars who have had this treatment, including Sean Connery and Mel Gibson.

Speaking of Mel Gibson…apparently he was there!! We inquired about the rooms at the preserve and were told they were all taken currently. We later found out that it was because Mel was there filming some new movie. We *almost* had a brush with fame….sigh. Oh well.

We finished up our tour of Nanciyaga by checking out the alligators and turtles at the little lagoon on the property and then watching our guide play a few rounds of dominoes.

Next we were off for our much anticipated destination of Monkey Island. I guess several years ago these monkeys were brought here from Southeast China for research, and have lived on the island since. You can go to the island to see them, and even bring food to give them…probably not the best thing, but we were excited anyway!

We got to the island and were a little disappointed to find out we didn’t get to get off the boat onto the island…but our disappointment didn’t last long as we quickly found a monkey sitting on a branch over the water. We got pretty close and began to give it some bread. Soon, other monkeys were making a clatter and we ended up with several that we got to feed. One was this humongous female with a bright red face. Sometimes fish would jump out of the water to get the bread, so if the monkey wasn’t a good catch or dropped their bread, the fish would get it. It was pretty cool. We really liked the monkeys.

After this we returned to where we started and headed back to the hotel. I was really tired by now, so I napped for awhile. After I got up, we went exploring the town a bit. Catemaco is not a tourist town, and is probably best known for its witches’ convention. Apparently, every year thousands of witches come to meet here to learn new practices of witchcraft and witch doctor cures….creepy!! There is a big church there, and I even saw some Christian churches as well, but also lots of occult stuff like palm reading, tarot cards and whatnot. We decided not to hang out for long and that we’d leave that night for Xalapa.

We spent a pleasant enough afternoon at the plaza, which was pretty, and then I noticed a medical clinic at the square. Sierra was still struggling with her stomach and diarrhea, so we decided to go to the clinic...a whole 15 pesos! About $1.50 US. The doctor agreed that Sierra had a stomach infection and prescribed 5 NEW medicines! We were glad to get a doctors opinion and afterward went to the hotel to get to bed early for our 2:30 am bus out of Catemaco.

Monday, September 19, 2005

My Baby Barfed, part 2

We made it into San Cristobal about 9 am, and Sierra was starting to fall apart. I wasn't sure if we should find a place to crash for the day and leave the next day for Palenque or push forward and crash later in the day. It's about 5 hours between San Cristobal and Palenque, so it would have been early afternoon before we crashed if we pushed on.

I did know that I wanted to contact my family and let them know we were out of the jungle. I didn't have a calling card on me, so I put our luggage in the storage area at the bus station and Sierra and I went in search of an internet cafe. It was a Sunday morning and most everything was still closed, so we wandered a bit before finding one as it was opening. Upon reading my email, I found out that my family had not realized I'd be out of touch as long as I had been and were worried. I shot off a quick email and we left in search of buying a calling card so we could call home.

We found a farmacy with calling cards, and I also told them about Sierra's on-going stomach and diarrhea problems...the pharmacist felt that due to the length of time she'd had it that it was a stomach infection and gave us some medicine for this. This is one pretty cool thing in Mexico...the pharmacists are familiar with most illnesses and can prescribe medicines for you - plus, many medicines that are prescription only in the States are available over the counter in Mexico. Anyway, we got our medicine and our calling card and went to call home.

My folks line was busy, so I called my sister. As soon as she heard it was me, she started crying and I started crying and she told me that she and her husband Bill were putting together a "missing" website. I felt terrible. I called my parents again and they were so excited to hear from us.

After this, Sierra and I went into the bus station to figure out what to do. She was sitting next to me and I was looking at the guide book and trying to figure out if we should skip Palenque, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, or push forward. I even considerd just hopping on a 20 hour bus to Mexico City. As I was sitting there, Sierra suddenly threw up...all over her backpack and some guys bags. She didn't even TRY for the garbage can 10 feet away. She started to throw up again and I pulled her over to the garbage can...she missed it. What is it with this kid and throwing up where I have to clean it up and the world can see her handiwork????

I found someone so that I could confess about our mess and started to look for something to clean it up with. All I could find was newspaper, so I started to use that and I was trying to clean that poor guys was pretty much just gross.

My decision was it was just a matter of finding a comfortable hotel to relax in for a day or two. I found a place and we took a cab there and settled in. Hot water!! A BATHTUB!! TV! Two beds with really, really good smelling sheets! Room service! Laundry service! We were in comfort don't even know how much you mis these things until you have them in front of you again.

We spent the next couple of days doing...nothing. Sierra relaxed and slept and I read a lot and left her in the room occasionally to look around town a bit. I took baths. I was disappointed about missing Palenque and the other places, but figured we'd see them another time if it was meant to be.

Sierra seemed to be doing a lot better, so we got tickets to head north, specifically to Catemaco, Veracruz. The bus left at night...about 10 pm. We got to the station and Sierra started acting sick again...she flopped down on the floor and said she was tired and hot and the tile floor helped cool her down. I was so mad at that kid! All sorts of people were staring at her, and a woman and the security guard kept coming over to give me advice about stomach pills, motion sickness pills, water, rehydration fluids, etc. The security guard was so kind and helpful. He got some medicine for her and I ran and got a gatorade. She had just about fallen asleep when I gave it to her, and she took it and laid back down. I was trying to be understanding and motherly, although I was still wondering how real this was.

Suddenly (catch a theme, here??), she sits up and throws up all over some guys shoes...ok, she missed the shoes, but she came real close. I picked her up and we started running...she threw up again by the garbage, and again on the floor and then again...this time smack dab on top of some guys guitar case...we kept running, not afraid of being seen as rude, right into the bathroom, where she let 'er fly again in the sink. Having become accustomed to cleaning up my little princesses tummy contents, I got to the job...again. I started to realize that of the 4-5 times IN HER LIFE that she's thrown up, 3 times it had happened in Mexico. I came to the conclusion that she just didn't know the warning signs of getting sick, and thus it was always "sudden" to her...I'm hoping she's figured out the warning signs by now!

We came out and the guy with the guitar had already cleaned up the mess left for him. He was SO nice about it, and I was really thankful. The bus was set to board in 5 minutes and I was stuck with the dilemma of losing our money and trying to find a hotel at 10 pm, or getting on the bus and hoping for the best. Sierra had perked right up after emptying her stomach, and she felt she could go on the on the bus we went. And guess who we were sitting behind? Oh yeah, Mr. Guitar Case! I did not want a repeat-performance, so I came equipped with several plastic bags. Sierra fell right asleep on me, but I spent the night holding the bag in front of her face and jumping to attention every time she shifted. Needless to say, it was a long night for me.

We had to change buses about 4 am, and got to Catemaco around 7:30. We went to the hotel I had picked out. I had picked it out because supposedly the bathroom was in the middle of the room and I thought that would be interesting. When we got there, the bathrooms were not in the middle of the rooms, which were very unimpressive...and the price was double what it said in the guidebook. We decided to look around.

I was definitely under-impressed with the hotel options in Catemaco. We finally found a place that was reasonable and close to the lake, if not very charming. We were on the 5th floor...accessible by steep, hot stairs. Oh well! I was tired, and it was here we were staying!!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Time to Go

I was beginning to feel that it was time to go. Zapata is not designed to be a town for hanging out, and although I was spending my days helping as much as I could with cleaning, laundry, taking the kernels off the corn to make hand-made tortillas and cooking, I still felt that it was time to move on. I was getting anxious to make my way north to start work at the orphanage.

Leaving is not an entirely easy thing. I could have taken the camioneta out…another 9-12 hour ride in the back of an old truck with 30 other people and assorted luggage, animals and whatnot. However, the camioneta left at 3 am from another town, which meant we’d have to walk to that town at 2:30 am and I was just not up for that! The other options were to fly out when the plane happened by, but that was an expensive option, not to mention totally up in the air as you never know when the plane is coming by. We could also take the lancha, which is what I figured I would do. There was a lancha leaving immediately, but I didn’t feel that gave me the time to say goodbye, so I said we’d wait for the next one.

The next one didn’t leave for several days. There was a group of Italians who came to the lake to spend a few days and were going to leave by lancha, so I figured I’d leave with them. I was assured there were plenty of combi’s going to Comitan, so I wasn’t worried.

We were supposed to leave at Noon, and the lancha driver was there right on time. We were all packed up and ready to go and had spent a few days saying good-bye. I was ready to go. When it’s time to go, I hate waiting around because it feels like it’s just limbo and I’m all about getting a move-on. No awkward silences and re-hashing the same stuff for me!

Well, Noon passed, and then one. Where were these Italians?? Finally one showed up and said that all of their stuff was still up at the lake (a 2 hour hike!) because they didn’t want to carry it out and they wanted someone to go get it for them. They wanted me to run around and get someone to go. They said the girl with them was throwing up on the hike out and someone else had been stung. They said this all very expectantly, as though we should jump up and be outraged that this had happened to them.

A few more showed up. They took all their muddy clothes and just dumped them on Maria’s front porch…no apology, no asking if it was okay…and demanded some cold beers, sodas and waters. I thought they were incredibly rude, demanding and thoughtless.

The girl finally showed up and she seemed fine. I treated the insect bite with some anti-itch cream. Another guy twisted his ankle going to the river to rinse off. They all demanded plastic bags for their muddy clothes. I was not impressed with these young Italians!!

We FINALLY loaded up into the lancha and many of our friends walked with us to the river to say good-bye. Others made themselves scarce and refused to say good-bye to us! We were a little sad about this, but tried to understand. We took some last minute pictures and were on our way. We were all teasing each other about who would cry, and in the end we were all a little teary and thought this was funny. I find that the people of Mexico often meet sad times with laughter or pretending it doesn’t exist…I suppose lots of people are like that.

On the lancha, the Italians were passing around food, but didn’t offer us any. When we finally got to Amatitlan we had missed the last combi going to Comitan. I asked the Italians if we could ride with them as they had come in a tour group and had a private (12 passenger) van waiting for them – they said no!! I was so mad….there were 9 of them plus their luggage and they said they didn’t have room! They were going to leave a single woman and her child stranded. This just capped it off and I was totally offended. Jerks!

Well, I figured we could stay at the same place we had before and take a combi the next day. We started that way, but this old man insisted we come say hello to his wife and visit with his family first. He was not going to take no for an answer, so we went with him. His family was so nice, and I felt sorry for them because he was a crazy old drunk. They were very protective over me and Sierra and kept shooing him away, but he’d bring this little baby pig up to show us how he fed it from a bottle and kept trying to get Sierra to sit in a chair, but she wanted to be right at my feet. We finally left there and went up to the house we’d stayed at before.

Bad news…the room was already taken! What were we going to do? They said to wait there and watch tv for awhile, so we did. Karate Kid was on tv in English, so Sierra was watching that.

I heard some singing and asked what it was; the girl told me it was a church service. I decided to go check it out. I walked down the road about 25 yards and saw a little blue building and some people singing in it. I just went right in and started to sing with the people…well, I actually just listened because they were singing songs that were unfamiliar to me, not to mention they were in Spanish!

Mostly I just sat in the service and soaked in the love of people loving the Lord, and prayed. There were only 6 people there, but they were fervent. Afterward they each came up to me and welcomed me. I explained that Sierra and I were there with nowhere to stay and it turned out that one of the women there was visiting her family, who were all church members and Christians, and she was the one staying in the extra room. She said not to worry, we’d work it out.

We all walked back to the house and visited for awhile, and they invited us to have dinner with them. Meat!!! And no eggs!! It was the best meal we’d had yet and everyone was gathered around – there were about 15 of us in all. The dad had on a “Jesus for Mexico!” t-shirt and I commented that I liked it…he didn’t know what it said as he couldn’t read! I told him and he was very happy. One of the people eating with us asked if I remembered him, and I didn’t…turns out he was the guy with the horse in the back of his truck who gave us a ride from Maravilla previously. I felt so happy and secure being with a family of Christians, and was really thankful.

After dinner I broke out my harmonica and we spent the evening teaching each other songs and playing the harmonica.

We ended up being able to stay in the room. I was willing to share, and put a mattress (another gross one) on the floor, with Sierra on the top bunk and the bottom bunk available for the woman who was visiting. Si and I went to bed early since our combi was leaving at 3 am, and I woke up to see a few of the guys moving the lady’s mattress out of the room into the kitchen…turns out she slept on the floor in the kitchen to allow us some privacy. I felt badly about this, but thought it was really sweet. We were once again very thankful for our sleepsacks!

Two-thirty came quickly, and we got up to catch our combi. The combi’s park right in front of where we stayed, and when they are ready to go, they drive through the town honking their horns! I imagine people must learn to sleep through this racket. We climbed in and Sierra went back to sleep. It was a pretty uneventful couple of hours while we made our way to Comitan, and then from Comitan to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pictures from Zapata

These are our friends Manuel and Manuela.

This was our bathroom and shower combination. One thing I can't figure out is why there is rarely a seat on the toilet???

This is Naya and Zuri, they are Manuel and Manuela's granddaughters. They are taking a bath in the backyard and having lots of fun!

These are our friend Maria del Rosario, Hugo and Sandra. They live across the street from where we stayed and were good friends.

This is the stove we cooked gives new meaning to "keeping the homefires burning", doesn't it??

This is the kitchen, with the stove in the corner.

This man carried these heavy containers...all the strap around his head. I bet he has strong neck muscles!

This is the lane going down to the river where the big tree was.

This is the area where the women would gather to do their laundry. You can see one woman washing her clothes on the log.

This is a group of kids who liked to follow us around a lot. We're in the backyard of Manuel's house. The tall girl didn't talk much...she just giggled all the time.

These are the girls I'd love to bring home with me...Maria del Rosario, Deysey and Magaly. They are really great kids.

It amazed me how everyone carried heavy loads on their heads. I tried, but couldn't keep it balanced.

As we were leaving we wanted pictures with our friends.

This is the tree the kids played on in the was a great playground!

As we were leaving, Alex helped us carry our backpacks down
to the lancha.

Dead Chickens

So, I thought it would be really nice to offer to make dinner for my friends one night, and figured I'd make chicken something or other. There is another town that has electricity not too far from Zapata and I could walk there for the chicken.

My friend Maria said she would come with me to help with finding the appropriate stores. You see, there is not a large grocery store that has everything, but rather lots of little stores that sell a few things, so you have to go to a variety of stores to pick up the items you need. All in all, it can take the better part of the day to get the ingredients you need to make a meal.

We headed over to San Quintin to get the chicken and other ingredients such as onion, garlic, tomatoes, flour, potatoes, etc. We started out at a small store that had some vegetables, but not everything I needed. I picked up what I could and off we went in search of more. About an hour later and walking all over town, we got to a place that had chicken.

Now, having been raised in the USA, I am accustomed to going to the grocery store and having my chicken put nicely in the package, skinless and boneless and with no blood anywhere...let alone flies! It is stacked nicely with an expiration date and plastic covering it in a very nice and sanitary way. I have seen the butcher stores in Mexico and realized that the experience would be somewhat different. Generally, the whole chicken (beak, head, eyes, feet, skin) is hung up from a hook and there is no refrigeration. Flies are buzzing around and the smell is pretty strong. Sometimes there is refrigeration and the meat from chicken, pork and beef is just thrown in, all in a big lump of like meat. It is bloody and messy and doesn't look so sanitary!! Flies buzz around the meat and there is hardly ever a sink for the butcher to wash his hands at. He handles the money, the meat and everything else (bathroom???) with those hands. Have I painted a pretty picture?? Ok...well, I figured I could live with it and it is just a part of living in a developing country.

What never crossed my mind was that I'd have to buy a LIVE chicken. Yes, a live one. Turns out they don't even sell butchered buy the animal and butcher it yourself. Yes, that is correct…you have to kill it yourself! I was freaking out! I didn’t know if I should cry or laugh, but I felt like doing both. I have always thought that as a meat-eater I should be willing to kill my food if I am going to eat it, but when faced with the prospect, it was definitely not something I was up for.

I spent the evening fretting over what had to be done the next day. I felt so foolish for being such a big baby. I woke up several times in the night, nervously worried about our new friend “Feathers” (thank you to Sierra for giving him a name and making it personal!).

The next day I woke up and lingered over breakfast (eggs, of course!) and generally procrastinated as much as possible. I finally meandered over to Maria’s house and got ready to do “the job”…I told her how worried I was about it and she thought that was just the funniest thing. She had never bought meat from the store or a butcher, killing her own meat was just how things were done. My reluctance was cause for great jest. Finally, I was saved by Maria’s daughter, Maria del Rosario. She is 13 years old and declared to me that she thinks it’s fun to kill the chickens and she would do it! Sierra responded with “Cool!!” and off they went, with Feathers in one hand and a machete in the other.

A few minutes later the deed was done. I was feeling let down with myself for being such a wimp, but did run to get my camera to memorialize the event. I found out first hand that the phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is true…after they cut the throat and let the blood drain out, Maria del Rosario held the chicken down on it’s back while it’s feet kicked and ran for about two minutes. I thought it would be kind of cool to actually let it run around, but she didn’t.

Maria brought out a huge cauldron of boiling water and picked up the chicken by its’ feet and plunked it into the hot water for a few seconds. After she pulled it out, we all took turns taking handfuls of feathers and pulling them out. Next, we took the nearly bald chicken into the kitchen and held it over the flames. They were too hot for me and I was grossing out at holding the chicken by its feet and halfway cut off head, so Maria took it and held it right down in the fire.

You would be amazed at how tough the hands of the women are, from cooking over fire all their lives with little or no utensils…they reach right into the fire to get out the wood, or to turn over the tortillas or grab the pots. My hands were not at all accustomed to the heat and I couldn’t do this at all.

The fire crisped up the remaining feather stubs so we were able to get the rest of them out. Next we took some machetes and cut up the chicken…Maria saved the feet and head and innards to cook with.

I spent most of the afternoon removing meat from the bones so I could make some chicken nuggets, and put the remaining bones into water with vegetables to make soup for the next day. No one had had chicken without the bones in and this was quite a novelty. I think it went over pretty well and people seemed to like it. I was able to serve 12 people dinner for 2 days off that one chicken!

Sierra and I agreed that we weren’t too keen on eating our friend Feathers, so we didn’t really eat much for the next few days.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Welcome (Back)!!

We finally made it back to Zapata and I was a little nervous...I mean, what if the people were just being POLITE when they said they wanted us to come back??? As we got out of the lancha and started walking toward Manuel's house, I think we were both a little worried. Soon, a man approached us to see if we needed help. I could tell he'd been drinking and told him no, we knew where to go. He tried several times to take Sierra's backpack to carry it for her, but she was having nothing doing with this and I had to tell him we were just fine several times before he finally stumbled off.

As we got into town, we didn't see too many people. We got to Manuel's house and he wasn't there, but his family across the street were home and invited us over. We sat with them for several hours visiting and eating and our worries were over. They were very excited to have us back.

Manuel and his wife Manuela eventually returned from church and welcomed us into their home. There were two young men there renting one room already, so Sierra and I got the room with one big bed. The two guys were there to study the effects of some rat that had come into the jungle and how it was affecting the other animals. They would leave fairly early every morning and come home in the afternoon to write about about their findings.

We got settled in and had fun catching up with our friends. Over the next few weeks we spent a lot of time at the river swimming, bathing and doing laundry. We learned how to use rocks to wash our clothes. The river was my favorite place. All the women gather there to gossip and wash laundry and bathe themselves. After work the men head down to cool off and bathe and there are always dozens of children there helping their moms or bathing or just swimming and laughing. Even the animals head down to get washed and watered.

A huge tree had fallen across part of the river and it became a giant jungle gym for the kids. They would climb it and jump off it and hang from it. It was a blast. We were all very sad when one day some men cut off several of the branches to dry for firewood. It was still fun, but it wasn't the same.

I came to see the spiritual term "river of life" in a new light, after spending so much time a the Perla river, which most certainly gave life to these people...and not only life as in life and death, but the abundant life of connection and fun and laughter and support. I felt a deeper connection to my faith as a result.

A few days after we were back in Zapata, they were having a big party to celebrate the founding of their town. It was to be on Tuesday night with a big dance. On Monday night at 2 am, they slaughtered 2 cows in the river and the entire town...all 400 of them!...noisily made their way down to the river to get their portion, as everyone would receive some. Being that there is no electricity in Zapata, the only meat generally consumed is chicken or fish, as those can be consumed in a day...however, it is much more difficult (and expensive) to get beef. You can imagine the party!! It went on the rest of the night while they cut up the beef and gave it away. People were whooping and hollering and everyone was in high spirits. The few trucks in town were flashing their lights and honking their horns. Music was blaring and no one got any sleep that night, but everyone had beef the next day!

The next day was one of preparation for the party. The kids helped to decorate the hall and the band practiced most of the day...with electricity outages sprinkled throughout along with the rain. Ladies were taking special care with their bathing and hair and children were scrubbed up extra clean. People were coming into the little store to buy something new for the dance and everyone was practicing their dance steps, even kids as little as 3, like our little friend Hugo. Everywhere we went people would ask us if we would dance at the party and all the little boys from age 9 to 14 were bragging that they would dance with Sierra. Even Sierra wanted a new outfit, and so we bought her a new pink shirt for the dance.

I was disappointed to see many of the men drinking and stumbling around. When we did finally get to the dance, there were all the women and children, scrubbed clean and in their new clothes, the air of anticipation about them was high. It felt like my first junior high dance (yuck)! The men were all outside (more jr high dance similarities!) and there were about 5 men who were very, very drunk stumbling round in circles in the center. One old man would occasionally try to get one of the girls or women to dance with them, which they would refuse. I was in the process of explaining to Sierra how to stay away from him when he came up to me and tried to pull me out in the middle with him. I dropped my eyes and said "no" very forcefully and pulled away. He continued to pull at me and I continued to pull away and shake my head no. Suddenly he was trying to kiss my face! Sierra was shocked and did not know how to react. My friend Deysey came up and pulled him away and began to tell him off and tell him he needed to have "respecta". I was very glad for Deysey and her aunt, who helped me. Deysey is only 16, but she had no fear to get in that guys face!

The police came a few minutes later and escorted the drunken men out, but they were back later that night. The rest of the evening only a few people danced and most just watched. Later they handed out candy and cookies to everyone, which is one of the tradtion of the party. We didn't know we were supposed to bring a bag, but other people had extras they letus have. By about 11 pm I was tired and ready to leave. Sierra wanted to stay to see if any of those bragging boys would make good on their word, but we ended up leaving. Sleep, however, was elusive....the band played until 5 am!

All in all, I was disappointed that the drinking of those men seemed to put a damper on everyone's fun. Alcoholism is a big problem in the indigenous people, and I think they must have the same suscepibility to alcohol that Native American Indians have. This, coupled with a lack of work and poverty makes thier lives difficult and many turn to alcohol for an escape...the lack of hope is the hardest to combat, and I can see the deep need they have for a saviour who gives them a hope and a future.

The women are nothing less than amazing. Despite the troubles they face, they manage to laugh and love and live...all down at the river (shall we gather at the river?). They carry almost all the workload of the home and are too often the subject of abuse when the husbands are drinking. The have a dream of a better life, and many want to come to America to work. I found them to be such an inspiration.

I met many women who told me stories of husbands who had "gone North", never to return. Many leave with a false ideal of what they can accomplish in the US, but this is rarely realized. Too often the men find other women, have another family and abandon their families back in Mexico. I had not realized this happened and it made me very sad. I spent much time trying to give a realistic picture of what life is like in the US for an illegal immigrant, and it is very hard.

I don't want to give the impression that all the men were drinking, or that they all beat their wives or abandon their families when they come to the US...this is certainly not the case. Unfortunately, however, it is far too common and it is altogether heartbreaking.