Tag Archives: Writing

Warning: long entry ahead

Ok. Strap your reading glasses on. After talking about my writing class I figured I should publish one of my writing exercises. Keep in mind I’m terrible at apostrophes (as is my sister apparently, according to an article published at her 40th birthday party… must be in the genes). I also have not proofread this completely so I do expect my mother to comment on my misuse of desert vs. dessert or where vs. wear at least once. However, it is about 7:15 and I have been at Panera mooching free internet for about 3 hours so I figure I better publish this and get home. I never wrote very much about the day we left Tetelilla. It was a very emotional day and was very hard for both of us. Here is what I’ve written so far about it…. I welcome any and all comments and feedback, even grammatical ones (if you must).

THE MORNING WE LEFT HOME
Mex and I awoke slowly that day. The warmth of morning hugged the fruit trees and seeped into our room, stroking our faces and arms, causing us to groan with the realization it will be yet another steamy day. With a loud whinny, the scrawny horse announced it was her time to be fed. She seemed to know the instant the sun broke above the horizon, and immediately begged to be led down the road to her feeding ground. I was never sure why she was so anxious because the dry, brittle grass of the field seemed as if it wouldn’t satisfy a pocket gopher, let alone a full-grown horse.

Mex reluctantly lifted himself out of bed, kissing me lazily on the nose. I grunted and rolled on my side, sounding like one of the twin pigs his sister was raising in the backyard pen. Something darted quickly down my arm. I sure hope that is sweat, I thought worriedly. Keeping my eyes closed a moment longer, I tried to remain calm. Slowly, I rose to check the mounds of mouse “food” Mex had put out three days before. His attempt to get rid of the unwelcome visitors. Sighing with relief, I realized some had disappeared. Wait. Was it actually moving? Squinting down at the blue tiles I saw the small, poisonous fuchsia pellets marching under the refrigerator. I looked on the other side and saw a little pile of our defense system surrounded by ants. Damn, we lost again, I muttered. I guess Mexican mice are smarter than Minnesotan ones and Mexican ants will eat anything.

Mex’s father had told him that mice had only been around town for the last few years. My theory on the situation was the large packs of dogs roaming the streets had created a complete scarcity of cats, causing the mice population to flourish. Thankfully, due to the meticulous cleaning of his sisters, there were never any mice in the kitchen. Chuy and I were so used to our pest-free American lives that, upon arrival, we did not think twice about bringing a pile of snacks into the room, including granola bars and mini bags of chips. However, after noticing holes in multiple granola bars and the corner of four bags of Harvest Cheddar Sunchips (a surprising mouse favorite over the Cheetos and Cheese Doritos) our error in judgment was discovered. The remaining time in Tetelilla was spent battling the rodents, realizing our repeated losses when we would daily find new mouse droppings on the bed which the food had previously sat on.

My casual attitude throughout this war surprised me, since I would not tolerate rodents, insects or any animal in my own home, placing traps or calling an exterminator at the first buzz heard or black pellet found. However, here in Mexico, in the heart of this impoverished country, the problems of drought, heat, and hunger, of poverty, unemployment, and lack of education seemed to drown out the sounds of those scurrying feet.

The metal gate clanked as horse and husband started their morning procession for the last time, snapping me out of my daze. Feeling slightly defeated and very annoyed by my ant discovery, I grabbed a towel, slipped on flip-flops and made my way across the yard to the shower. “Buenos días,” I said to Chuy’s father as I walked past. His teal plastic chair was already sitting on the uneven stones outside his bedroom door. “Sí,” he replied and chuckled, not so quietly. I know I didn’t pronounce that wrong, I thought. After three weeks, I no longer took his laughter personally though, knowing he spoke little and laughed a lot. Sitting in his chair with gray polyester pants and plaid snap-buttoned shirt, a white cowboy hat throwing shade on his wrinkled, warm brown face, I could not see his crippled hand and leg.

Giving him another smile, I continued down the dirt path towards the bathroom. I pushed the curtain aside and took a hurried shower, trying to conserve as much water as possible because I didn’t know how much was left in the tank today. It was only 7am and the water needed to last, through all the day’s functions: showers, dishes, hand washing, toilet flushing, and plant watering, until 1 in the afternoon. Like in any U.S. city, Tetelilla has a main city well that pumps the water from underground, pushing it through pipes that run under the city’s cement and gravel streets. The difference in Mexico is that each street only has water coming down the pipes for an hour every day. Each family is allowed one private pump to bring the water for all the day’s chores into large holding tanks and barrels hoping it would be enough for the next 24 hours. It never is.

When Mex was young, his family who lives on the north side of town, had the ability to pump more water throughout the day if it was needed and his family’s yard was full of fruit trees and flowers. However, people on the south side of town did not even have enough water for cooking, due to poor pumping systems and pipes. Since this process of water rationing was started in recent years, as an effort to provide water equality throughout town, most of the trees have shriveled in his dad’s yard. In fact, if a person in town has actually has healthy trees or a lot of green plants and flowering bushes, a neighbor will likely report them to the water authority who will inspect the yard, making sure the household is not using any extra water pumps.

Walking back to our cement house after my quick shower, I noticed my father-in-law was preparing to leave. Each day, he took a taxi to the neighboring town to sit in the plaza, people-watching with his friends. I was surprised when the first morning we woke up in Tetelilla, his father was already gone.

“Doesn’t he want to stay here and talk to you,” I had said, slightly indignant. After all, Mex had not been back here in over 13 years, wouldn’t his family want to spend every moment possible with him?

“That’s what he does,” Mex had said, not seeming to be bothered in the least. “He likes to talk to his friends.”

Hmph, I had thought, seeing my imagined scenes of this visit burst and pop like fireworks in my head.

”Felipe,” I whispered now. “Does your dad know we are leaving today?”

“I don’t know,” he said, taking out his shorts for the third time and refolding them, nervous about leaving.

“Maybe you should tell him,” I said. “He would want to know.”

Looking out the wrought iron window bars at his dad, I saw Mex’s eyes start to water. Blinking rapidly, he folded his shorts a final time, laid them in the suitcase, and zipped it closed. He crossed the dirt yard to his father and spoke to him. My stomach knotted, hoping his father would not leave, knowing that this time Mex would be saddened greatly. He did not leave. In fact, for the first time since our arrival he joined us in the kitchen for breakfast, though he sat against the wall and not at the table, listening and not eating. Only Mex’s oldest sister, Filogonia (Filo for short) was home today, since his youngest sister, Eli, had gone to work early this morning. We sat around the table in silence picking at our scrambled eggs mixed with green beans, folding and unfolding the warm corn tortillas, afraid any words would bring tears. I mixed a spoonful of instant NesCafe into my mug of hot water, sniffing the faint aroma of coffee.

“¿Quieres papaya?” Filo asked me. “No,” I said. “¿Sandia?” she insisted, pushing the watermelon towards me. Unsure how to explain that sadness had killed my hunger, I smiled and took a plate full of fruit. Abelina, Mex’s second oldest sister who lives a five minute walk across town, suddenly appeared and we were glad. She had come to say goodbye, but everyone pretended otherwise.

I listened to the rapid Spanish as I looked around the kitchen I would not see for awhile. Terracotta cooking pots of all sizes lined the wall and they glowed softly in the morning sun. The hot breeze was starting to gust through the glassless window openings cut in the cement block walls. After finishing my plate of fruit, I fingered the curvy, delicate edge of the small plate and stared at the pale pink flowers trying to decide what I should do next. Breathing in, I pushed back the white plastic chair, the scraping against the concrete floor making goosebumps rise on my arms. I left Mex talking to his sisters and father and went back to our room. Carefully, I finished copying the Thank you letters I had worked on for the past three days from my notebook onto cards. Years of being shy in Spanish class had left me with terrible speaking skills, but I could write almost perfectly and was hoping to express my deep gratitude and joy to his family in a way I hadn’t yet been able to say.

It was 9:30 when I finished and I went back to the kitchen. “We should go see Sofia,” I suggest quietly to Mex. “Where is she?” Mex asked his sisters in Spanish. “At her house making tortas for a party at the school,” they replied. Abelina decided to come with us and we went out onto the rough cement street and three houses down, entering his sister Sofia’s gated yard. She did not look up when we walked in to the kitchen. Understanding, and not eager to start the process of farewells either, we each took a station, Sofia cutting the perfect bread rolls, Abelina scooping the tinga – chicken with red chile and garlic, Mex slicing avocados, our niece Deysi putting on lettuce and tomato, me wrapping the finished sandwiches in tinfoil. Unfortunately, we finished quickly that way and paused not knowing what to do next.

Mex and I went in to the next room where our niece Gabi was changing her baby cousin’s diaper. Mex gave her a hug, saying we were leaving. I handed her the card I had written and felt my throat clench. I hugged her tight and left the room unable to speak. Mex and I stood in the hallway for a minute, sobbing from somewhere deep inside and clinging to each other tightly, trying to squeeze the pain from our bodies. Mex’s face reflected a deep despair I had not seen before and feelings of sorrow pierced my heart. With my arms around him I whispered in my broken voice that we would return soon. This time leaving was different. Whatever the outcome of that interview in Juarez, he would be back soon to see his sisters and his father. It would not be 13 years. Don’t be afraid sweetheart. We will come back together.

Breathing deeply, Mex and I returned to the kitchen red-eyed and sniffling, causing his two sisters to burst in to tears. After more long goodbyes, words of thanks and promises to return soon, we walked out of Sofia’s house and back to his dad’s. There the process of farewell was repeated with his dad and oldest sister. Filo clasped me to her chest repeating words of love and well wishes which I understood perfectly. Holding her tightly to me, I knew that my lack of language skills would never hinder my relationship with my husband’s family.

The feeling of love that surged as I put my arms around each sister told me our introduction had been successful. My heart ached at leaving them as much as it had when we left my own parents in El Paso, Texas. After six years together, constantly fearing the judgment of my husband’s family in Mexico, three short weeks had truly made me a part of them. Even through the language differences, they were able to see my deep love and respect for Mex and his culture. That was my test I realized. Not how rapidly I could answer questions or how well I could conjugate verbs. It did not matter that I was American. I wasn’t too pale or too plump, my hair wasn’t too thin nor my mannerisms offensive. My worries and insecurities were gone in that instant, pushed out of me by the warm embraces of my sister-in-law. Mi cuñada. All that mattered was my love for their younger brother and his love for me. Reluctantly I released Filo, handing her the card I had made. “Regrasamos muy pronto,” I said. We will return very soon. And I meant it.

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Filed under Family, Mexico

Going North to find South

What in the world does that mean you may be thinking…. I’m not even sure myself. Currently, I am amid towering red pines and lairs of woodticks near Cloquet, Minnesota. When I saw the ad for a Travel Writing class taught by Catherine Watson, former travel editor of the Star Tribune, I couldn’t resist. True, my vacation days for 2008 number almost as many as my work days. However, that just seemed to increase my urge even more. Catherine is a writer I have admired for many years, partly due to the fact she was a lead female in a typically male profession, and partly due to the lyrical quality of her writing and the place it puts me in when I read it.

This very blog is what stirred the deep desire to spend a week away from home writing. I know a number of people have read this online journal since my return, probably as many as read it while I was away. I look back now at my writing and am sad by the flatness and lack of detail. I am sure I will now spend the next week or so obsessively going back and adding for my March and April entries, hotel and place names, anecdotes I had been to rushed to mention and spell-checking for goodness sake, a feature I really wish google would fix on this website.

Through a week of constructive feedback and an amazing support group of writers, I have learned how to better capture the emotions of our journey. Maybe I was too fearful before to put them on the page because I felt like putting them in black and white would make them harder to get through. Now I know I have a larger story to tell. Not just of a couple driving through Mexico, but our trip through the immigration process. The decisions we had to make before and after we were married, the risks that were involved, the actual laws that stood in our way. I look forward to expanding on these topics and hope the momentum I feel from this week of class will carry me through the future weeks and help me to flesh out the feelings and bring our reality to others. I’m not sure if this will happen on the blog or not. Maybe snippets here and there. Only time will tell.

PS. Mex was offered a job this week (3 actually). After 10 weeks of looking, his old job at a Deli in downtown Mpls actually created a position for him, offering him a 9% raise. He took the job for now because it will provide him with enough time to continue his pursuit of a US high school diploma. Something he hopes to have by next June. It has been strange to be away from each other for four nights after the daily contact we’ve had since the month of February. I guess I should have left home earlier to write! Time apart can be a little bit of a blessing I guess.

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Putting it on paper

As most of you can probably tell, I love to write. Most of you can also tell that I LOVE to travel. Every summer the U of M offers week long courses in writing or art, called Split Rock Arts Program, where people can go and improve there skills. I happened to be looking through the brochure when we were sorting our mail some time in early May and noticed that this summer there is a class on Travel Writing and it is being taught by Catherine Watson who was the travel editor of the Star Tribune for 25 years. Unfortunately, the classes are quite expensive and our “fun” funds are severely depleted after two months of vacation. They do offer a few scholarships each summer so I decided to apply. I had to send in a writing sample since scholarships are based on financial need and on “merit”. I just found out today that I got a full scholarship for the price of the class AND room and board (it’s at the Cloquet Forestry Center). Now it is quite possible that there was no merit involved and I was the only applicant for the scholarship but I think I will cling to the hope that I have some potential and could someday even get paid to write! A dream of mine since high school! I am incredibly excited about this opportunity and hope to expand some of my blog entries into more interesting essays. It is such a great opportunity to spend a week with an instructor that has traveled the world and, even more importantly, gotten paid to do it! Yay!

No news on the job front for Mex yet… he’s going to speak to the manager at his old job tomorrow and see if he can get something temporary while he keeps looking since he is going crazy being at home. We’re keeping up the search and dropping off résumés though because he would like something new.

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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… Story-style

Here is a more “creative” version of our time in Pátzcuaro.

Our car jostled down the narrow cobblestone street, flanked on either side by two-story, white-washed adobe walls with red doors and overhanging red tile roofs. As we looked at these 400-year-old haciendas with wrought iron balconies and open, inviting patios, we felt the anxiety of the last fifteen days ease out of our tired bodies.

“This is what I thought Mexico would look like,” I exclaimed excitedly.

My husband shrugged and asked me which way he should turn.

Squinting out the dusty car window, I frantically searched the building walls for any kind of street sign that could help me fulfill my duty as navigator. Unable to stop on the narrow street, I saw Mex’s forehead start to wrinkle impatiently. “Izquierda,” I shouted, having no idea where we were on the map. He swerved to the left and the towering 200-year-old ash and elms of Plaza Vasco de Quirago, more commonly called Plaza Grande, came in to view. “Thank goodness,” I thought. I had guessed the correct direction.

After circling the plaza three times in search of our hotel, the crisp uniformity of the buildings in Pátzcuaro became slightly less charming and a little more frustrating. Once the homes of the areas rich land holders, these beautiful haciendas are now restaurants, shops and hotels. Finally, we saw a small circular sign on the sidewalk proclaiming Hotel Misión San Manuel and darted in to the last parking space.

Walking through the grandiose archway, we felt like we were entering a realm of spa treatments and luxury linens. Then, remembering we were only paying $40 a night, we reined in our expectations. The petite woman behind the desk handed us our keys and we toted our suitcases up two flights of cement stairs. Buttery yellow walls, 20-foot archways with pale stone pillars and orange floors seemed to glow in the afternoon light. The central courtyard, which would have been open in the 1700s when the home was built, was now covered by an elevated sheet of Plexiglas allowing air and light but not rain to enter. The iron railings were punctuated with terracotta pots filled with draping plants and flowers.

After putting the suitcases in our quaint, beautifully tiled room, we walked around Plaza Grande looking for souvenirs. In 1536, Bishop Vasco de Quirago arrived in this region of southwestern Mexico to help the Purépecha Indians recover from the blight of Spanish conquistadors. Some say that in order to reduce competition and create proficiency and economic stability, Quirago taught each village surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro to specialize in a different craft. Those specialties can still be found in the shops around the plaza, almost 500 years later. We passed shops displaying delicate lacquer boxes with designs so intricate they seemed to have been painted by elves, and painted pottery with electric blues, pinks and greens. We ducked through a doorway and into a small courtyard circled by copper pots of all different sizes, straw sculptures of people and animals, and hundreds of skull and skeletal figurines, which seemed to call us back for November’s Day of the Dead celebration.

Exhausted from shopping and driving over endless speed bumps, or topes as they are called, we were lured in to a café by the smell of ground coffee and fresh pastries. Seated under the shade of the towering trees, we watched the uniformed school children play in the plaza. Ordering two iced mochas and, at the last moment, a slice of strawberry cheesecake, we felt like we were back in Minnesota living our normal lives. Putting aside itineraries, budgets and travel worries, we relaxed and begin to sketch a menu for the restaurant we hope to own one day.

Waking up the next morning, the peacefulness of Pátzcuaro was forgotten and the ticking of my watch seemed to echo off every stone wall in our room.

 “What do I wear?” I said anxiously. Nothing in my suitcase looked appropriate. Had I not thought of this until now? After six years together I was finally meeting his father and five sisters and with only one chance to make a first impression, I needed to get it right. My stomach wrenched.

“Anything,” Mex said. “They all look nice.”

“This is no time to try and score brownie points,” I sputtered. “I need help! My hair looks terrible.”

Seeing that there was no right answer, and clearly a lot of wrong ones, he chose to turn his attention to refolding clothes in the suitcase. Looking at my husband’s face I saw his cinnamon skin wrinkled in thought. Remembering that this day was his, a return to his father’s house after 13 years in the US, I grabbed my green travel pants and pink striped shirt and hurriedly put them on. With a quick hug, I said, “Let’s go, olorosito. I’m tired of travelling.” 

As our car left the shadowy canopy of Pátzcuaro and returned to the sun-drenched highway of Michoacán, I squeezed his hand, looked at my map and pointed east, counting the miles until we would arrive home.

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Filed under Mexico, Michoacan State