Getting to Morelia, Part II

Dear readers, sorry about the delay. I am with Marilyn in Sophie’s wonderful apartment in Puerto Aventuras, a resort community between Playa del Carmen and Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán peninsula. I reached Puerto Aventuras last Thursday—a week ago. Marilyn has been keeping me away from my blog. I know it’s not her fault, but I need someone to blame. Continuing with the narrative based on my notes and fallible memory.

Note that the subsequent day of this  narrative (December 5) has already been published as “Shit happens”.

Friday, 4 December, Culiacán, to Tepic, Nayarit

After the usual skimpy included-in-the-room-breakfast at the hotel (bad coffee and a brioche), I went looking for a bank machine first thing in the morning. I decided to walk down the main shopping drag in Culiacán. Well, I found the market. I was somewhat surprised to see that most of the stalls were butchers’ stalls with some fish mongers for variety, very few vegetable and fruit stands. I bought some oranges and mandarins at one and had a licuado de papaya at another, which is a sort of milkshake with papaya.

The Mexican diet seems to be very meat oriented, perhaps making up for the thousands of years when protein was scarce; other than beans and corn, protein sources included only small dogs, turkeys and the occasional prisoner who was ritually sacrificed and eaten. At least that is anthropologist Marvin Harris’ somewhat disputed thesis. We of Christian heritage should not be shocked or disgusted by ritual cannibalism, after all what is communion? And if you’re a practicing Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Lutheran, you believe in some form of transubstantiation where you are actually eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of God.

The climate is definitely getting more tropical and the desert is gone, as the many palm trees attest.

I stopped for lunch in Mazatlán at yet another roadside restaurant, this time a seafood one. I wanted ceviche (raw fish in lime juice) and that’s what I had. The choice was camarones (prawns) or polpo (octopus). I would have preferred fish, but those were the choices, so I had the octopus. The owner also asked me if I wanted some camarone caldo. My Italian brain kicked in: “No I want ceviche, it’s supposed to be raw not hot! Anyway, I want octopus, not shrimp.” The owner and I try to discuss this –quite politely and pleasantly—but, obviously to both of us, misunderstanding each other.  Finally, I admit defeat and tell him just to serve me as he normally does, since I don’t understand and am interested in learning. So I get a bowl of shrimp consommé or broth. It finally dawns on me: “Luigi, you dumb wop! Caldo is hot in Italian, but not in Spanish; it means broth. Caliente is hot in Spanish. You knew that!”

It was an excellent ceviche, made right in front of me. The owner washed his hands, chopped the tomatoes, onions, octopus, put it all in a bowl and squeezed a bunch of lime on it. And it was immediately served to me with taco chips. It was perfect and done in a minute. And the octopus was tender. An orange soft drink completed the meal as those small restaurants do not serve beer.  I had the usual discussion about how cold it is in Canada, especially in the Yukon and how much I liked Mexico. Most people have no idea what freezing weather is like, never mind 40 below.

He also told me he believed in the bible, which he duly pulled out. I asked him if he was Catholic, and he told me he was Pentecostal. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to offend and he was happy not to discuss religion either. I don’t understand the attraction of the fundamentalist Protestant churches to the Mexicans and other Latin Americans. The bible thumping seems rather sterile after the beauty of the rituals of the Catholic church and the adaptation to local cultures, to the point that Catholicism may be accused of providing a thin veneer over the original paganism. But then, I never understood Protestantism: why give up on 1600 years of Christian tradition and only go by the parts of the bible that appeal to one’s prejudices: a bible that was written by Catholics (in the broad sense of the word, before the filioque East-West schism) and whose canon was only decided upon 400 years or so after the founding of the religion. I guess I should mind my own business as I am a non-believer: a Catholic atheist as I like to say. But, as I discovered later in Morelia, you can take the boy out of the Church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy.

I continued on, hoping to get to Guadalajara by the evening. By then it was obvious that I would not make it to the Yucatan by Sunday. Marilyn was scheduled to arrive in Cancun on Sunday the 6th. I decided to call Marilyn and Janne in Calgary to let them know I would be late just after a toll booth on the autopista.

Calgary blizzard

They had just walked in the door and had a harrowing time driving from the airport in a blizzard.Now Janne lives just a few minutes from the airport in normal times. While they were fighting the snow and wind, I was looking at palm trees and flowers.

Autopista toll booth

Autopista toll booth

The last time Marilyn had been in a blizzard like that was in 1990 in Haines Junction where we spent a couple of days in Mom’s Cozy Corner Motel. It was a lot of fun. The one drive I remember was in 1987 or so when it took us 9 hours to drive from Montreal to Quebec City.

I stopped at a roadside vendor for coco frío (cold coconut). The vendor pulled a green coconut out of a cooler with ice, used his machete to cut a bit of the top and some kind of drill to poke a hole in the top, stuck a straw in it and handed me the coconut. I drank the milk which was quite refreshing. He then took his machete, chopped the coconut in four pieces and used a curved spatula tool to get the meat out. He put it in a plastic bag, asked me how much chile powder I wanted (I said not too much), and squeezed a lime in it. So I had coconut for the rest of the day. Put the lime in the coconut…drink it all up 🙂

Tepic cathedral

Tepic main square

Since I wasn’t going to make it to meet Marilyn on Sunday, I decided to stay in Tepic, a rather nice colonial town instead of trying to make it to Guadalajara. Using the Sanborn guide, I decided to stay at the Fray Junípero Serra hotel, downtown right next to the main square near the cathedral. The Blessed Brother Juniper Serra, the Apostle of California, was responsible for the creation of numerous missions in Alta California including Monterrey, Capistrano, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, and San Diego. Given my experience the previous night in Culiacán, I decided to call ahead to reserve a room. It really wasn’t needed. I had a problem with the parking and had to go around a couple of times as taxi drivers refused (understandably) to let me park in their stand which was next to the occupied hotel street parking. We finally resolved matters with the help of a traffic policewoman who gracefully allowed me to park illegally on the other side of the street while I got my hotel room, while she went to investigate the people who were illegally parked in the hotel’s space.

At the desk, I met Giovanni, a bellhop who was much more like a concierge. He spoke perfect English: he told me he lived in the States for a number of years and got deported for being there illegally. A “wetback” in his words. I think his expulsion was a net loss for the US and I would be happy to have people like him come to Canada. Anyway, my camper was too high for the hotel’s underground parking lot, so I had to bring it to another lot a few blocks away. Giovanni came with me, helped me with my bags (quite heavy as they had many books). I gave a really good tip ($M200) and I said this was an American style tip. I also told him the old Florida joke about the difference between Canadians and canoes: canoes tip; and enjoined him to testify it is false.

I went out on the town, which was still busy and found a taquería that used home-made tortillas. The young waitress was rather indifferent but the older women who were making the tortillas and serving were quite friendly. I had a couple of tacos and a couple of quesadillas and three beers. I asked them about beers they had and decided to try a few. One of the women sat at my table to eat her tacos, ostensibly to keep me company since I was alone. She was subject to quite a bit of teasing by colleagues, but I defended her and said I was quite happy to have some company. We talked a bit and I told her I was meeting my wife in Cancún, so things did not go anywhere. She eventually had to get up to serve another set of customers.

I went back to the hotel, wrote a bit on the blog, which did not get published until much later.

Observations on previous entries.

I forgot to mention a couple of things on previous entries.

On the Getting to Morelia, Part I entry.

I handed the chicken restaurant woman a 500 peso note instead of a 50 and told her to keep the change. She could have just kept it, but she pointed out to me that it was a 500, not a fifty. I did leave her a good tip. A few metres away was a stand that sold horchatas. I asked the seller what it was and he made me one. It was a very good thick drink, tasting of rice and milk but sweet.

On the Shit Happens entry

I forgot to mention I got a bottle of tequila in Tequila from an ambulante (street vendor) at an autopista toll booth. It all looked official as the four or five vendors had identification tags from the municipality of Tequila. I paid $M200 for a really tacky and ugly wood covered bottle. I asked the other vendors which one was the best. Then the vendor tried to sell me a 3-litre plastic bottle, first for $M500, then 500 pesos for both, and finally, as I was driving away, 200 pesos for the 3 litres. I guess I paid a little too much for the first bottle, but $CDN18 for a 26-ouncer isn’t all that bad.

While stuck in traffic in Guadalajara, I noticed quite a few gated communities. I reflected that this is not a good thing for citizenship. If the upper middle class and the upper class lock themselves away from their fellow citizens, where is the impetus or support going to come to improve lives, reduce crime and generally improve community conditions. Many social improvements—and as a social-democrat I might not like it but I recognize the reality—happen when the better off people recognize that it is in their interest to improve the conditions of those who are less well off or are motivated by a sense of noblesse oblige toward their community. If these gated communities expand, we might end up in a Randian dystopia of every man for himself and the death of heterogeneous human communities where all are more or less accepted, or at least not denied the right to be part of the community. This is somewhat ironic as I am currently staying in a gated community where locals get checked out before they are allowed in, but somehow one one for tourists does not seem as bad.

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One Response to “Getting to Morelia, Part II”

  1. Bill Says:

    Hi Luigi,

    I’m glad to see you didn’t lose your Italian roots on the drive down south. I particularly enjoy you talking about the food and drinks you tried at everyplace you stopped…..NOW THAT’S ITALIAN!!!!

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