Different Worlds

I can’t do this. I can’t. I’m whispering to myself while surveying my surroundings. The more I take in the more I am ready to scream or possibly bolt, but instead I keep talking to myself with hopes of staying calm, and convincing myself to do what needs to be done. Oh man, I can’t…

There is no need to reveal the details of how I got there – it happens to be mostly Colin’s fault. Actually, it’s all Colin’s fault. A situation of meeting a generous family and then asking for the facilities. Since Colin went first he gave me the rundown as I was getting our camper bed set up for the night, “It’s a little hard to see, take your headlight, walk straight from our camper towards the house, it’s right behind a big tree, be careful of the steps they are a little unsteady.” I was looking directly at him as he gave me these simple instructions. His expression seemed normal, to the point. I grabbed my light, strapped it around my head, clicked the button and a soft glow led the way. It was really dark despite a dull light outside the main house across the yard. I took a second to scan my headlight around me, get my bearings and then focused on walking in a straight line just as Colin described. Soon I located the tree and could see a tarp hanging above a few steps. The steps were concrete blocks stacked loosely on top of each other to create a staircase leading up to the outhouse. I put my weight on the first block and then the second. I could feel how unsteady they were so I picked up my pace to the top and reached for the door. The floor was squishy and sagging under my weight. The walls were enclosed with a few tarps, the toilet was to my left, the lid was closed. As I shifted my weight to lift the lid the floor squeaked and a terrible feeling of falling through nagged at me. And then I wondered how deep the waste pit was below. All of these pings of fear would soon be replaced because I bent down to open the lid and in seconds a village of bugs scattered in every direction and a few launched down toward my feet. I started to kick my legs to make sure none of them clung on or crawled up my pants. This feet kicking dance worked and scared most of the bugs away. But then I looked back at the toilet seat and saw how many more were not frightened by my presence. I could see long antennas poking out from under the seat. Then more bug feelers were joining the party. I counted 5 long pairs while chanting in a whisper, I can’t do this. I played the scenario of what was getting ready to happen; drop my pants to expose a vulnerable bare bottom and then hover over the bugs and pray they don’t jump. I’m also praying I don’t fall through the floor and join whatever is down there. With my fist in my mouth I know this is the only choice and while Colin saw all of what I am seeing he could stand back and shoot for the hole…a few more roach like characters scurry across the floor and now I am taking it up a notch. Carrie, stop it. You can do this. You are going to do this. Hold on, hover, eyes closed and kill Colin.

Sun glowing on San Cristobal | Chiapas Mexico

Showers and Restrooms. Two reasons why so many folks upgrade to a camper with indoor facilities. Kicking up a toilet seat to find a party of wolf spiders, standing under a rusty pipe with a trickle of smelly water called the shower, and other fun times run in replay when we find ourselves with nice, clean and functioning showers and toilets. We sometimes wonder what we ever complained about in our former life of having full access to indoor plumbing. These are the things we dream about as we work our way back to the U.S.

City dog | San Cristobal, Mexico

Chiapas Mexico

Late night on the streets in Oaxaca

Art show in the streets in Oaxaca

3 More Borders To Go

From Honduras, we crossed back into old territory and a favorite place – Antigua, Guatemala. This time our stay would be short. Our vehicle permit was getting ready to expire so we needed to be in Mexico within a couple of days. We cut around Lake Atitlan on the CA-1 aiming for the border along a 4 lane highway. Over and around low hills, and busy Mayan towns. Here I go again pointing and hollering at Colin, “Look at that guy! Ooo, there’s another one over there! Check him out.” In groups, walking back from markets, sitting along roadside stands – it was the guys making the fashion statements. Flowy pants cut from busy colorful patterns, a matching flat skirt to go over the pants, a coat with more colors, and topped off with a hat. Some guys were combining more colors and patterns than others, but they all looked dressed for something or someone special. I took a few seconds to pull my eyes from the window and observe what I was wearing and took a glimpse at Colin. If our clothes were any indicator of our personality one would guess we like to be comfortable…in a bland sort of way. We are certainly not taking risks or pushing any fashion limits. I start thinking about New York City’s fashion week and wonder if the top designers have ever seen some of the outfits in Mexico or Central America. Along with their full line of accessories to match. From blazing neon dresses on the Guyami (Ngabe) women in Panama to the geometric hand stitched molas and string leggings on every Kuna woman, to the black goat skin skirts on Mayan women in Chiapas, Mexico and then these guys. All made and sourced locally. Not pictured on one pop culture magazine cover – it’s better, this is under ground fashion. We were once again awed by Guatemala. The beauty of the people reflected in the landscapes of the country.

Driving out of Guanajuato, Mexico

Coming Up Short

It’s our second time in San Cristobal, Mexico (Chiapas). We managed to put in a long day of driving.  Even before the sun could touch the streets of Antigua, we were already packed and vibrating over cobblestones heading out of town. We made it across the Mexican border with only one minor problem. It is mandatory to pass through the fumigation station where each vehicle drives into what feels like a brushless car wash. Instead of water we get doused with a formula that requires the handlers to wear masks and gloves. We don’t ask “What’s in that stuff?” We know it must be something strong because: here comes a side note…

{Way back when we picked up our camper from storage (November of 2014) we noticed a township of ants had made a nice life for themselves inside. We used traditional methods to kill them off, but every few days one would appear. We used different forms of poison and were starting to wonder if these ants were adapting and turning into super-ants. This continued to happen as we traveled across the country and finally stopped right after our first border crossing into Baja Sur. So, whatever they are pumping out of the spray station is strong enough to kill a rare breed of super-ants. We never saw one again.}

San Cristobal, Mexico

The agent managing the fumigation asks us for 150 pesos. I dig in my purse and come out with a look of oh no and a handful of coins which do not add up to 150 pesos. We try to explain the situation. Ummm, we don’t have enough money. The guy laughs at us and waits. We fling open the console with hopes of finding change that may have fallen between the phone charger cords, loose paper and other junk that gets shoved in a console. We find a few quarters, a couple quetzals and one penny. It’s not enough. The agent laughs again and tells his co-worker, who also finds this situation hilarious. They ask us if we ate too much lunch. They start to become real smart-asses. We translate their tone to mean, they think we are lying. We ask for an ATM and they laugh more. Ignoring us to allow paying customers to go through the spray, we sit and wonder, how did we decided to cross a border with no money? They will not take what we have and tell us an ATM is several kilometers away. We sit longer and finally Colin tells the agent we are driving through or driving by. They remind us, in a very sarcastic tone, to come back once we find the ATM and then watch us go through the spray while laughing. We get through, we get safely into Mexico and find an ATM about 70 km from the border. We do not go back.

Waterfalls in Chiapas

Happy Hiking, Mexico

 

Waging A War

Faces covered with black handkerchiefs, only the eyes left exposed. Women with their hair pulled back, braided. A single red star. And these letters – EZLN. Since arriving in Chiapas, the most southern state in Mexico, we start to see this image all over. Graffiti on city walls, posters in windows, painted on sidewalks. At first glance we think, thugs. We start to learn the truth.

Store in San Cristobal, Mexico

We stay at Rancho San Nicholas about a mile from the city center in San Cristobal. It’s a peaceful spot. Secured with a tall wooden fence, and filled in with pine trees, grass covered and nice areas to set up camp. They even have a community building with tables and chairs, a fire place and small kitchenette to share. It doesn’t feel like a hostel but more a like a cozy mountain retreat. After logging in so many hours driving the last few days we stay for a week. Almost every day we walk to town. A beautiful colonial town built on low hills and tucked between mountains. A few streets are pedestrian friendly, blocking off traffic and bursting with cafes. It’s an easy town to stroll through and find places with good food. The longer we stay the more we uncover. Tiny art shops along alley streets, a single-room craft beer bar, a courtyard to drink wine, museums and churches built on the high points of the city. A screen printing shop showcasing the image; the woman with her face covered, EZLN. I walk into a bookstore and see a section of books with the image on the cover. Back at camp I peel open the pages and start reading. It plays out like a history book – dry but also with alarming details. I feel rage and several times take a break to fold Colin into what I’m learning. EZLN stands for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). San Cristobal was the center of the first revolt where Zapatista became a name people started to hear, started to know, started to follow. When playing by the rules leads to starvation, what do you do? For a group of Indigenous people along with other farmers living in rural Chiapas who all need the land for food and survival, and that land gets taken away, what happens? The Mexican government promised at one point that each family could submit a claim for land. Once the claim was accepted the title would be granted. The only problem was the many hands each claim must pass through…”land claims involved some 22 different government groups and public agencies a 27 step process…it took an average of more than 7 years for the federal government to approve a claim that had already been provisionally accepted by state authorities.” (Basta! Land & The Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas).  What were people supposed to do in the meantime? These claims were for tiny lots, not for commercial use but for family survival. After years and years of voices getting lost in the distance from poverty to power and government promises trickled down to a puddle of water on a hot desert floor – something had to change. In an effort to send a message that would not get lost or forgotten, a group in Chiapas got organized and took up arms. They marched into the center of San Cristobal and started ringing bells. There are more details, pages filled with the Zapatista movement and the root of each problem – so many problems – to get to the point of the group’s beginnings. What I have described is a very summarized piece. With so much suffering in our world; the covered face, the eyes full of anger and justice, EZLN – the image of change, the image of hope.

Working – Mexico

We don’t want to buy your trinkets, but we will pay you for a picture!

Sunset over San Cristobal, Mexico

Selling Trinkets…

A Personal Touch

We didn’t realize how much we love colonial towns until looking back. Some of our favorite places have been the old towns. Cobblestones, blocks of crooked buildings tightly tucked around squares, each a blend of different colors, open markets, food crisping over flames, the smell, the sounds, the people moving through their lives and us sitting back to watch. From San Cristobal we climb back to Oaxaca and run into more travelers – a couple we meet for the first time and another we are seeing for the second time. They convince us to head towards Guanajuato. It’s their favorite city in Mexico. We can’t possibly skip it and they all sound so convincing.

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

A nice centerpiece, Guanajuato, Mexico

A nice centerpiece, Guanajuato, Mexico

City Camping…Guanajuato, Mexico

They love color in this town! Guanajuato

Sprite meets a friend.

On our way to Guanajuato we get off track, on a mission. When we were in Todos Santos on the Baja we browsed a few pottery stores. Pottery was everywhere – cups, bowls, plates, you name it. We purchased 2 coffee mugs from one store in Todos Santos and the gentlemen packing up our cups explained what we were curious to know; Where does all this pottery come from? Several families in the Pueblo region in Mexico make it and ship it to touristy areas along with someone in the family who speaks English (not always with an English speaker but in this case it was true). Once we got to the state of Pueblo we had no clue where to look, but sometimes the road knows where to go. And took us past a store just outside of the city of Pueblo with pottery flowing out of the front doors and spilling onto the lawn. We pulled in. The sweet young gal working at the store gave us the full scoop. Her family made all the pottery and they live just up the street, “Do you want to come over and see?” “Sure!” The dad and mom pull up, they lock the store and we follow them around town (trying to keep up) through traffic lights and traffic. They stop in front of a house with a large garage door. The dad hops out and waves us over. We walk into a huge workshop. Pottery is stacked in piles, and next to piles, and on the wall, and on every shelf. Moving into a side room the dad explains in Spanish what’s happening. A worker sits on a wooden stool dipping a clay pot into primer. The next room there are about 5 women sitting on short stools around buckets of paint, holding pieces of pottery close to their eyes and carefully painting designs. An open doorway leads to a courtyard with troughs lined up full of clay in different phases. Grabbing a hunk of clay and rolling it into his hand, dad goes through the process. Breaking down chunks of rock, to fine grain like pieces, to clay, drying it out, working a blob on the pottery wheel. Then the primer, paint, cooking time and show piece.

Finished on the wall – Pueblo, Mexico

Before cooking

Done!

Carefully Painted

We are thrilled with this unexpected tour and meeting their family. For around $37.00 we ended up with 2 large platters (one would later get smashed by USPS), 4 cups and they gave us a tea cup at no charge and said, thank you for coming in and taking the time to meet us.

Dip Time

Coming Home

Our last night in Mexico we park under a light post near a cement guard rail at a Pemex station. The attendant directed us to this spot, the bathrooms will be open for 24 hours and so will the gas station. There is heavy traffic coming in, filling up and heading out. We are not surprised since the U.S. border is just a few miles away. In our camper, under the pyramid of light from the lamppost, we discuss what lies ahead. After almost 6 months living in countries so different from home, it’s a strange feeling to realize that the next morning we will wake up, drive a few miles and cross a line.  A line so many go to unbelievable and unimaginable extremes to cross.  We can’t choose which side we are born on.  We have never felt so grateful.

{More pictures below…}

Guanajuato

He smiles and waves after this picture!

Side street – San Cristobal

Nacho Libre, anyone?

Love these! We purchased the two in the background. Oaxaca

Back in Oaxaca…food is sooo good!

An entire town filled with homes just like this…near Pueblo

Sprite, tucked back by Colin’s shoes (poor thing)

Guanajuato

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6 Comments on “Different Worlds

  1. Carrie, this is such a great roundup of impressions — and your photos are fabulous. You have a real eye! Thank you for sharing your journey with us readers all year. I am so curious at what a year like this does to your plans for the rest of your life!
    Christa

    • Like Christa, we too are wondering how this will affect your future. We do hope you’ll continue blogging from time to time. We will certainly be watching for new “Wake the Dead” blogs. We have so enjoyed sharing your adventures since November, 2014. We met you guys at a state park near Natchez, MS after Thanksgiving, 2014.
      —Ed and Pat from Alabama.

  2. Carrie,

    The pictures are amazing with such vibrant colors!! You have a great eye and skill in capturing the areas people, towns, and landscapes. I love the closing about where we are born and having no choice in the matter!!! A perfect ending to the “Different Worlds.”

    Lots of love,

    Mom and Dad

  3. Carrie you are a great writer and your pics are great too. And Colin and Sprite are very photogenic. Regards, Gary and Brenda Walker

  4. Wow! What awesome experiences for an awesome couple! I am delighted that you have joined my team. I am so blessed!

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