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A day in Tetelilla

The day starts about 4:30 am when I absolutely haveto get up and walk to the bathroom because I can’t

Bathroom - shower on the right, toilet and sink on the left

hold it another minute. Mex usually walks with me since it is still dark and the dog has a habit of walking in under the curtain and doesn’t understand my scolding in English. We enjoy the brightness of the stars as we walk the 25 yards back to the house where we sleep. By this time the birds are chirping and roosters crowing all around town. (Luckily, Mex’s family doesn’t have any so they aren’t walking right under our bedroom window!)

A little before 6, there is a loud clank as his dad swings the heavy metal door open and scrapes the plastic chair scrape across the cement floor into the door frame to watch the morning come (one morning we saw him out there at 3:30). A few minutes later there are a couple more clanks as his sisters and niece start to come out of their room. The neighbor’s donkey hee-haws just as you imagine an ornery donkey would. At 6:15, as if by some internal alarm clock, the horse whineys a couple times. My husband reluctantly rolls around for a few minutes, gives me a hug and then gets up. Ernesto is away at school during the week so Mex takes the horse down the road to pasture for the day. I think Gabi probably does this when we are not here. I’m still a little unsure why they have a horse since they don’t ever ride it… I wait for his sister Eli to get out of the shower. She works Monday through Friday. She used to work as an agricultural engineer but now she works in an office in Cuautla which lends money to very poor people.

The dogs have usually let out a few morning yelps by now and the man with the megaphone has started his auctioneer-style ranting all before 7. Since there isn’t a lot of local radio or TV or even billboards, people pay guys with trucks and big speakers to drive around town, starting very early in the morning, chanting advertisements. I can’t make out a single word but the voices have the same sing-song rhythm of the very quickest auctioneer.

Gabi runs to one of the small stores down the street to get ingredients for breakfast while Eli gets ready for work and Filo starts to cook. I get in the shower while my husband helps clean his father’s toe since he had the toenail removed last week. Mex’s father right arm and leg don’t work very well, because in his 20’s he had a mini-stroke and has been partially crippled ever since. He can walk but his right foot drags a little bit and he can’t use his right hand. His daughters bring him his breakfast to his chair and if he needs something else he yells “Chiquitin” (a form of chiquita which means “little one”) to get Gabi’s attention and she comes quickly to help him. 

A man comes by in a truck selling alfalfa and Filo buys some to feed the two pigs. They are an investment of sorts. They buy pigs, feed them, and when they are big enough kill them sell off the meat to people around town. We water the plants with what is left in the barrels of water set around the yard. No plant really gets enough water but we try to make sure they all get a little.

Sometime around 8:30 we all end up in the kitchen (except his dad). Breakfast usually starts out with coffee (the Nescafe mix with water variety), sort-of-sweet breads, some eggs mixed with either green beans or nopales (cactus paddles), tortillas, toasted bread, watermelon, cantaloupe or papaya. I’m pretty sure the sweet breads and fruit are an addition just for us. We have had sopes a few times. I love them. They are

mmmm... Sopes

similar to flat tortillas with the edges curled up and you put them on a griddle and fill them with green or red salsa, cheese and sprinkle some onion and cream on the top. Simple and delicious! The kitchen starts out with a slightly smoky smell from cooking the tortillas but it clears by the time we start eating. Some mornings you can hear clicks and scrapes as small iguanas make their way across the tin roof of the kitchen. We hear the door clank as his dad leaves for his day out. He takes a taxi to the next town 5 miles away and sits in the plaza with his friends. Usually Mex’s sister Sofia comes to breakfast and sometimes his niece Karla and her two-month-old baby.

Between 9 and 10 the cattle go by. The clopping of hooves gets closer and closer until they are right outside the house and the horns bob up and down over the stone fence behind the kitchen. Just like the horse, they are brought down the road to pasture for the day because no one has any green grass in their yards. The fields must not be too abundant with food because the cow’s skin hangs loosely from sharp hip bones. The donkey always hee-haws crankily during our meal but I have finally stopped giggling when it happens.
His sisters tell stories about people in town, family members, and all the stuff people talk about at the table. Sometimes Gabi sneaks out to do homework. We usually don’t leave the kitchen until 10:30 or so when we finally decide it is time to do the cleaning before it gets really hot out. The cool breeze has died by this time and it is impossible to find any shade in the yard.

Gabi scoops up the dishes and goes back to wash them in the dishwashing/laundry station that is set up by the bathroom. My husband and I keep trying to scoop up the dishes to wash them but every time we do, his sisters look so offended and mad we put them back down. Next time when we visit we will insist. I think this time they want to completely take care of Mex since he has been gone for so long. Filo cleans inside the kitchen while Gabi starts sweeping the cement outside the house. She then spreads water on the dirt and sweeps that. I am still very confused by this but his family is impeccably neat and clean so for that reason it makes sense. We sweep and mop the inside or our house while they clean theirs. Then Gabi cleans the bathroom and shower.

By noon the heat has hit full force. Sweat is dribbling down my face, back and arms. Thankfully we are usually done with chores by now. Gabi showers to get ready for school which starts at 1 in Jonacatepec, the town 5 miles away. She is the equivalent of a senior in high school in the US. Mex and I pull the blue tarp off the car and try to start it… Not a sure thing anymore since our car trouble began. Lately we have been stopping off at the internet café afterwards since I wanted to get caught up on my postings before we leave Tetelilla.

From 1:30 – 2:30 it is time to fill the water tanks. The town is divided into sections and each one only has water for 1 hour every day. Each home is allowed only one pump to bring the water in. If your plants look too green the neighbors assume you have two pumps and they will “tell on you” to the local water watchers. The pump fills the tank on top of the bathroom first so they have water to shower. Then they move the hose around the yard filling barrels and tubs with water for plants, dishes and laundry. This is the hottest part of the day. If water wasn’t so precious Mex and I would squirt ourselves all over with water like kids running through a sprinkler. It is very hard to feel like doing anything in the sun because it has such a strong intensity. All different kinds of music starts blaring from the neighbor’s houses.
During the chaos of filling the water tanks someone always manages to prepare “lunch.” This afternoon meal at around 3 is the big meal of the day. Sometimes Sofia who lives three houses down makes lunch and we help her carry it over. No matter who cooks, we always eat in the kitchen at Mex’s dad’s house. Sofia, Arlin (her 7-year-old), Karla and her baby are always there along with Mex, Filo and I. His dad is still in Jonacatepec, Gabi and Ernesto are at school and Eli is at work. This meal could be anything… Chiles rellenos, green enchiladas, spaghetti (either with cream sauce or pureed tomatos), fish soup, rice, fruit or jamaica flower water, chicken and mashed potatoes… and always lots of tortillas. The time after lunch is for descansando or resting. It is hot and sticky and there is not much else to do. We sit in the kitchen and chat or rest on the beds. There is no shade making it uncomfortable to sit outside. This early evening time is speckled with the occasional clip-clop of horse hooves, turkeys gobbling, roosters crowing, donkeys hee-hawing and dogs barking. And how could I forget, the “auctioneer” ads. Sometimes we’ll see iguanas skittering across the rocks or climbing quickly up the cement brick walls to escape the heat by sitting under the tin eaves. Although, I can’t really imagine it’s cooler up there so maybe they are trying to go towards the heat.

Finally someone collects the dishes and around 5, Mex’s dad comes home and sits in the chair in front of his room, which by this time has a little shade. Filo brings him a big glass of the days fruit water (jamaica-a dried flower-, pineapple, or orange are the most common) and his dinner. A truck goes by with someone yelling about fruits for sale so we go out of the gate and look at the mangoes and melons. The vendor cuts Filo a slice of mango to sample and once she gives the ok we buy two kilos (4.4 pounds) and a coconut for about $2. Mex and I each peel back the skin of a mango as easily as on a banana and smell the sweetness before we bite. Filo takes a shower and gets ready to go to a neighborhood meeting. At 6, Mex goes back down the road for the horse. The sun is low in the sky by now and it is slightly cooler although still hot enough to keep constant sweat droplets on my brow. When he returns his sister Filo leaves for her meeting and Mex sits outside next to his dad. I sit and read a magazine or name our overload of pictures on the computer so he can have some time alone.

Gabi comes home from school around 8 and immediately starts getting things in the kitchen ready for dinner, setting out leftovers covered in towels. There is a little TV time sprinkled in the evening because we wait for Eli to come home from work before eating. That can be anytime from 8:45 to 10pm. We lay lazily on the beds listening to the TV and chatting. I have gotten more comfortable and this is the time where I usually attempt to communicate and piece together sentences and stories about myself and friends and family. Usually by 9 his dad asks for his glass of milk as he continues to sit in his chair. Only once-in-a-while will he come into the room and lay on the bed to talk or listen.

When Eli arrives home someone calls Sofia and tells her to come over. Then, even though it is still warm outside we have coffee, tea or hot chocolate as we sit around the table once again. This late evening meal starts with either toast or the same not-so-sweet rolls. Then we have leftovers from lunch either exactly as they were or sometimes made into something else like mashed potato taquitos or cheese tacos. This is the best time of day because everyone is together and the conversation flies. Eli tells about her day at work and Filo starts telling about any news from her meeting. Everyone gets so animated when they tell stories and the smiles and laughs fill the kitchen pouring out the windowless windows. During this time there is inevitably a dog fight out on the streets somewhere nearby. Finally, sometime between 10 and 10:30 I leave to start my nightly ritual and Mex stays just a few more minutes to wrap up the evening. We adjust the fan so it blows as much air on us as possible, even though the air is pretty hot and uncomfortable until about 2 or 3 in the morning. We settle down in bed making sure to stay as far apart as possible because skin contact causes even more sweating. A honeymoon this is not =) We fall asleep to the sounds of dogs yelping all over town and a few good night hee-haws. That is our average day in Tetelilla, Morelos, Mexico!

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Filed under Family, Food, Mexican culture, Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos

Patzcuaro

We drove from Aguascalientes to Pátzcuaro yesterday which took about five hours, almost an hour of which was navigating through the capital Morelia (we are in the state of Michoacán). As we drove through the state of Guanajuato there were at least a hundred roadside stands selling strawberries and strawberry products. Keep that in mind if you ever drive in Mexico! We didn’t stop because I’m nervous about stomach bugs at the moment and produce does not appeal to me.

Buildings around Plaza Chica in Patzcuaro

Pátzcuaro is a medium-sized town near Lake Pátzcuaro and is one of the most famous cities in the world for the Day of the Dead celebration, November 1 -2. Apparently some hotels are full up to a year in advance. It also has a huge Holy Week celebration which starts on Sunday. They are already putting tents up in the plaza and the whole town seems busy. This town dates to pre-hispanic times and the thing that makes it stand out for us is the trees. The street in to town and all the plazas are lined with 200-year-old oak and elm trees making it absolutely picturesque. Then the plazas are surrounded by 400-year-old haciendas that are now shops, restaurants

Mision San Manuel hallway

hotels (one of which we are staying in). Our hotel is called the Misión San Manuel and is on Plaza Grande. It is a converted monastery and the rooms are what used to be the monk’s cells. The credit card machine

Outside of our room - Mision San Manuel

was broken which put our cash situation in to a tail spin. We have learned already that cash is definitely the best way to do business in Mexico. Our hotel has no off street parking which, for safety reasons, is a huge down-side anywhere in Mexico. It costs $400 pesos ($35 US) a night and the interior walking spaces are lovely with rich terracotta orange and hanging iron chandeliers. The central courtyard is a little restaurant that serves breakfast and in the evening the sidewalk in front of the hotel sets up in to a little bar which on the weekends is probably pretty noisy but we were here during the week. The rooms have private bathrooms with occasional hot water (ours had a slow drain which is a HUGE turn off of mine). The room was sparse but pretty clean with a double bed and a lot of space, much larger than a typical chain hotel room.O

It is a town of about only 50,000 compared to the 400,000 in Aguascalientes and has a totally different feel to it. We are really high in elevation again, about 8000 feet. We got here about 3 yesterday and walked around, took a nap, walked around some more… I really love Mexico! As we were walking around at night we finally found some crafts that we really want to buy. There are absolutely gorgeous handmade wood carvings and woven baskets. And lots of the skull masks and skeletal figurines but those are not my style. We ate at El Companario restaurant on Plaza Grande last

Guacamole in La Campanaria

night and had the best guacamole! Mex had lake trout that was fabulous and I had great enchilada suizas. We tried to share a pitcher of red Sangria but only made it half way thru. It was sweet and strong with lots of

A little much for two light drinkers

tiny pieces of fruit mixed in. The atmosphere was very nice although the other customers seemed to be from a tour group and were all English speakers.

Delicious trout at El Companario restaurant off of Plaza Grande in Patzcuaro

This morning we took a little bus over to Lake Pátzcuaro and looked across at Isla Janitizio where the famous Day of the Dead celebrations take place. We decided not to actually go over there though. I tried to take a picture but it was pretty hazy and I cannot zoom in or my camera gets spots on it. We did take the camera to a repair shop but they said it can’t be fixed. In two weeks our friend Maren is coming to visit and my mother generously offered to send her camera with so we don’t have to buy another one for the time being. I have to strategically position the items in the picture to cover up the spots.

Templo del Sagrario in Patzcuaro

We walked through an outdoor market today and the amount of vegetable, fruits, herbs, clothes and sandals and just about everything you want to buy is amazing. Just blocks of stalls selling all you can think of. We did buy some mangoes and oranges to try. Now after an hour of typing my hand is cramping so we are going to walk around and look in some more stalls and find some souvenirs, have a little lunch, probably get more cash since we are running out and then walk around some more and people watch in the plaza. Tomorrow we are going to drive to Mex’s town. We were going to stay here another day and take the bus to Morelia because that is supposed to be a nice city but he is getting excited to see his family so we are going to leave a day early instead. We still have five weeks left and plan on seeing quite a few more places.

UPDATE at 8:30 pm. We had a mini crisis this afternoon when we tried to buy our souvenirs and realized

Templo de la Compania

we didn’t have enough cash and the cash machine wasn’t taking either of our cards. Luckily my mom was able to talk to the credit card company while I was on the phone from Mexico on the other line. Unfortunately, it costs about $1 a minute for me to call (at least I hope that’s all it is!) but it was worth the $10 so we could get some money since hardly anywhere takes credit cards. We would literally be stranded since you need cash for the toll roads too. This afternoon we sat in a cafe on the patio overlooking the plaza having cappuccino and cheesecake… Where are we again?

This city has such a huge holy week celebration that it started today. So we got to

Buildings in Patzcuaro

see a procession of young girls in traditional dress with paper flowers in their hair and painted plates and a little band. We ate at the same restaurant again because we aren’t very adventurous because my stomach is “off” since the Auto Hotel. Of course it was the most beautiful plate of food and I forgot to take a picture. We are trying to keep taking pictures of food as research for our future restaurant. =) It was a sampler platter and we highly recommend it! Completely delicious with enough for two people to share and get a good sampling of different dishes including cheese flautas, bean sopes, chicken tacos, guacamole with chips, served over a bed of lettuce and topped with shredded cabbage, sour cream and cheese. Great flavors and everything is cut in half (except sopes) so it is easy to share and enjoy.

Garden of the Chocolate Lady

Parade in Patzcuaro, preparing for the start of Semana Santa - Holy Week

There are sooooo many wonderful things to buy! If you want Mexican crafts I would definitely come to Pátzcuaro. There are wood carvings, straw sculptures, copper, pottery, lacquer, everything under the sun. It was very nice. I wish we had more room in the car (and more money!). One out of the way find was the family-run Chocolate Casero Joaquinita. Since 1898, the family has been making home-made cinnamon-spiced hot chocolate tablets. You can purchase the chocolate from the family’s home, across from the Templo de la Compañia at Enseñanza Arciga 38. When we knocked though, the woman inside was very cautious to open the door. She told us that there had been a number of cars stolen and broken in to right off the street in front of her house in the past few months. Good thing it is our last night parking on the street!

And, in case you were wondering, Pátzcuaro is mentioned in “1000 Places.” Check!

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Filed under Mexico, Michoacan State