A buttery aura flits over a soprano with a banjo and Petite Madeleines fill the air. They swish past horns blaring a Latin beat and go winking by the eternal promise of a midnight alive with “Pura Vida — Mezcal and Dj’s.” This sweetened gold wafts along Calle Guadelupe Victoria and I inhale yummy, magical San Cristobal de las Casas. Such simple, pleasing sensations were absolutely welcome after 12 hours flopping about over the mud crusty, speed-bump ridden Pan Am highway from Panajacel. (The trip, including two breaks, about an hour of frontier crossing biz and a remarkably efficient tourist swap-fest at the boarder edged …unbearable.) Uncrumpling and deftly avoiding a swirl of local vendors, I took another deep sniff of aire du beurre… It was mixed with expresso.
Was I in Alsace?
But, no…a man sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with white letters proclaiming “We will not be silent” in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Huh? New York? Delighted, I crossed the street to ask him about it. The “Philadelphia Granny Peace Brigade” logo on his left sleeve told me Rodrigo was either a tasteful used clothes shopper or very close to my political family. Sure enough, the Spanish activist was just back from the US.
This was my welcome. He pointed me to Tierra Dentro, the local Zapatista co-operativa cum bistro and, best, my new friend would present Gina, the politically astute daughter of my east coast “sister-Granny,” the one who had given him the shirt.
I sped towards my hostel to beat the rain stopping only to greet and admire two vendors in their black sheepskin skirts and satin Guipels. These ladies seemed to be doing a Tzotzil version of “Trading Places.”
This hostel was not very comfortable and far from the center but breakfast gave me a teaching opportunity — I showed Alan how to chart using the method I had been taught by a friend’s father decades ago. My shoes were not yet dry when I went out for travel options and boots. I was most fervently scouting for lunch; and half trying to make a deal on replacing my scratched lenses in under ten days and without buying new frames. This was not going to be easy. Fortunately, lunch was brilliant; Carpaccio and a Cabernet from the Maipo Valley! After that walking got traitorous – not because the wine was so good – but because the lime-stoned city gets slimy when wet. With the Atlantic storm dogging me, I decided to go to Palanque early the next day.
In the sopping dreary morning, I would meet my dorm-mate as she was coming in from a night dancing and discover that she was in route to the ruins, too. Norma was even heading for the same jungle hostel, El Panchán. We caught an informal bus and arrived in time for an early dinner. The young geological engineer recuperated on the bus and danced until the next morning’s bus was ready to leave for Yaxchilán and Bonampak. That night, we would meet Noga an Israeli artist fresh out of the army, who -thanks to her Chilean grandmother – spoke perfect Spanish. The two would party on and I would head back to San Cristobal via Palanque, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha.
I moved to a more central place in San Cristobal where I could make small sorties to San Juan Chamula, Zinacantan, Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo and comfortably pass the unknown number of days while my lenses came in from Mexico City. Rodrigo and Gina Joined me for pizza and wine and discussed their work in the communities. Although they are only in their mid twenties, they had both been activists for more than half a decade. Gina had come to Chiapas first and drifted to Spain discovering Rodrigo in an allied group over there.
The rain kicked the ceiling as Tierra Dentro crowded up. A small group approached the table and Gina recognized the Spanish students she had briefed about their Chiapas target area. They were preparing to document their social work in the territory. My meeting with these two was too brief and really quite fortunate: Rodrigo was headed back to Spain and Gina was bound for Arizona to run with the White Mountain Apaches and Asian youth from her neighborhood in Philadelphia. Gina is attending the twenty-second annual run up sacred Mt Graham…Jumping Federal fences to get to the summit.
These two sober and serious workers contrasted to the idler and professionally festive Hostel mates. Jose a Mexican born translator deftly employed the desiderative mood. This snappy self-styled Mayanist had anchored the Hostel for almost two months and, in his late forties, he was the only other “senior” at the place. He and Jilted Joe spent days fiddling with their I-Pads, checking facts and drinking Tecates on the patio.
My bottom bunk was away from the patio and, once again, I had a 6 person dorm rooms to myself. This being the off-season, I found only felicitous exceptions -like Norma and the two skinny Argentine musicians who were added the morning of the Full Moon. After stuffed Portabello and chicken Milanese chase with a non descript white,I was reviewing the last of FaceBook when one of my roomies came in for his guitar. He offered to pour me a glass from his half gone bottle of Mezcal and introduced me to his new French friend, Arnold. For an hour or so staff and guests were singing and drinking under the “Thunder Road Moon.“ But because of quite rules at midnight, about ten of us went out for Mezcal and dancing at the Pura Vida… It was glorious to dance, again… I would have stayed forever if the shot glasses were not shattering so near my thin flip-flops. Feeling all wise and exalting, I watched the early morning moon ascend over Chiapas – through new my lenses.